Money is a common source of conflict in marriages. A counsellor recently told me that in her experience, money is the primary reason for divorce and separation. Fights over money are also often the symptom of a lot of other issues. So why do we fight about money?
So here are a few lessons I have learned from my own experience and through conversations in my classes and with relationship therapists.
We get into the relationship with assumptions and we also assume that our way of doing things is the only way. We then get frustrated that our partner is doing things differently from us, and we do not communicate that frustration well – if at all.
That cycle of frustration and lack of communication is a recipe for disaster. Always communicate expectations at the right time. It is best not to talk about money when tensions and emotions are high. We must also remember to communicate when the expectations we voiced have been met.
Different beliefs about money
We come into our relationship as two different people who have been socialised differently. We may pretend to share beliefs for a while, but after months of being together, the pretense will fall apart. One person may have been socialised to save, and the other to spend.
Take the time to understand how your partner grew up, what experiences they had and what money beliefs they have come into the picture with. Accept that people are different.
Money as a control mechanism Many people, and women in particular, feel that the fact that they do not earn much – or nothing at all – is used against them in decision making. Many stay-at-home parents feel financially disempowered. Society has also drilled into us that the more money you have, the more power you should have.
However, it is not money that makes us equal in relationships. Money should not make one feel inferior and the other one superior. If this is you, look for ways in which money could be making you feel this way, then figure out what structures can help you both resolve this. If this issue goes unresolved, resentment will build up. Nobody likes to feel controlled or unable to make decisions.
If your relationship suffers from issues such as trust, money fights will be the symptom. This has led to people hiding assets, accounts and salaries, among others from their spouses.Try to figure out what the underlying issue could be and work on that; the money problem will then resolve itself.
Lack of a common vision
Relationships perish for lack of vision. Two people from different backgrounds need a common vision to bind them together. This applies for money as well. It helps to have something that both of you are committed to achieving.
It will then be easier to compromise on certain beliefs or habits if you are both motivated and vested in a bigger vision. For example, it is easier to cut down on spending when you are committed to achieving something, for example, going on a holiday, buying a car, starting a business and creating a retirement fund. This is more effective than simply telling someone to stop spending because spending is bad. I would suggest that couples take time every year to outline goals and if possible, keep reviewing them during the course of the year.
Just like with anything in life, this money dynamic in relationships changes. It is not a one-off conversation and the topic has to be discussed as intentionally as we do children and other aspects of the relationship. Keep learning, going back to what works and revising what doesn’t. Do not expect perfection from anyone. It’s a continuous fine act of balancing personal independence and shared objectives.
Be a team
As you and your partner discuss your household finances, avoid using the word “budget.” Some people have negative associations with this word which may set up a feeling of deprivation. Instead, think in terms of developing a spending plan. Deciding together what goals you want to save for and what goods and services you want to spend your money on can make for a much more satisfying conversation.
This story was first published in Daily Nation