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How To Deal With Financial Issues in a Relationship – 6 Relationship Experts Share Invaluable Insights

by Randi Gunther – Phd, Becky Bringewatt – MA, LPC, NCC, Diana Lang  – Counselor, Amy Sherman  – M.A., LMHC, Deborah Cox  – Phd and Sally LeBoy – MS, MFT

How To Deal With Financial Issues in a Relationship

“Money may not buy love, but fighting about it will bankrupt your relationship.”

~ Michelle Singletary

Michelle Singletary Money May Not Buy Love Quote
Sally LeBoy

Money. I think that word raises more anxiety in a relationship than any other, including sex. 

People have strong emotions about money. We need money to survive and thrive. Except for procreation, we don’t actually need sex. I think money makes us more anxious.

This anxiety flows directly out of our families of origin. 

Economic downturns and upswings are a constant reality that none of us has a lot of control over. My parents lived through the depression. My grandparents were Jewish immigrants, poor and physically threatened before they made their way to America. 

Although I grew-up in relative affluence, the family anxiety about money affected to some degree my own ability to think rationally about money. 

Money has meaning- safety, or threat, success or failure. 

I think today’s children will probably also be anxious about money because their parents lived through the recent great recession.

In our culture, a person’s value is very much tied to his or her ability to create money. We talk about other values, but unless you’re mother Theresa, you will be judged and valued in large part by how financially successful you are.

In a relationship, we bring our familial history and our insecurities with money to the table. 

Unfortunately many couples don’t talk about their attitudes towards money. Some assume that everyone thinks alike, while others are so anxious about it they just want to avoid the topic altogether. This is a mistake. 

You need to talk to your partner to understand how they think about money and what their goals are. Of course they need to know the same information about you.

Money often causes people to feel ashamed. People worry that they aren’t doing a good job, that they aren’t working hard enough, they’re not smart enough, they’re too greedy or they spend too much. These are subjective emotional states often not based on anything other than fear.

To be able to talk rationally and usefully about money, you have to strip away shame and fear. 

Money is a commodity and even if you haven’t been great with it, that doesn’t make you a bad person. You and your partner must agree to eliminate blame and shame and focus on solutions. 

Once you feel less defined by your monetary history, the more easily you can look at your goals both individually and as a couple to map out a strategy to reach them. 

Ironically, the greater your emotional anxiety about money, the more likely you are to act out. 

Acting out could include, binge spending or unnecessary frugality. Either over spending or believing that the wolf is right around the corner interferes with being able to use your money for what it’s for- to provide the best possible life style for yourself and your family, now and in the future.

Sally LeBoy, MFT – www.sallyleboymft.com

Becky Bringewatt

There is no right way to deal with finances in a relationship. 

And just as there is no right way, there is also no wrong way. Each of us has different financial needs, stemming from how money was handled in our family of origin, amount of risk we feel comfortable managing, previous relationships, how much money you have or plan to have in the future, and the list goes on. 

The best way of working with finances is the way that makes you feel most financially secure. 

It’s a sure bet that you and your partner have different expectations when it comes to money and how you will spend it – or save it.

It’s important to have conversations about finances early and often before something becomes a problem that can no longer be solved. 

If you feel he spends extravagantly on a meal, make a mental note of whether this is purely a once in a while celebration or something that happens every Friday night because it’s the weekend. 

If he feels you should always pay your own way and will not even buy you a cup of coffee, you might want to store that information away, too, and see if there’s a reason. 

Notice spending habits and behaviors and see if they are in line with your own or make no sense to you (meaning they’re out of line with what you prefer).

Talk about how you budget and the kinds of things that are important to you. 

  • Are you saving for a down payment on a house or a car? 
  • Do you like to go out on Saturday night, but only use cash until it’s gone so that you stay on your budget? 
  • How often are you broke, and what do you do for fun or to make more money when that happens? 
  • Do you loan money to your friends or family, and on what terms? 

Talk about your goals for saving and retirement. 

Set some ground rules for the types of purchases that you both need to agree on (refrigerators vs. shoes). Learning these things about each other allows you to let him know how you work with finances and allows you to find out his money style, too.

  • I know of couples who pool all of their money together and pay the bills, put money into savings, and have an equal budget for each to spend how they choose. 
  • I know other couples who break out bills equally for each person and then negotiate the rest. 
  • I also know couples who choose to keep their money separate because one has a lot of credit card debt or is not responsible spending, and the other needs to know how s/he will be financially secure. 
  • I know other couples who don’t know what the other even makes because it is of no consequence to them since they know how to take care of themselves. 

Your financial situation, age, and many other factors are the best determiners of how to handle money in your relationship.

Becky Bringewatt, MA, LPC, NCC – www.mantiscounselingandcoaching.com

Randi Gunther

This would not have been a question ever asked when men and women had more clear expectations of who they should be, and how they should behave, in an intimate relationship. 

The power status of men and the concomitant passive female knew who would be responsible to pay during the initial courtship, or be the automatic provider should the relationship mature. 

In fact, men who were financially dependent in their relationships were looked down upon, as if being beholden to a woman for support made them less of a man.

Money is only one resource in a relationship. 

Time, energy, availability, focus, and priorities are some of the others. How two people in a relationship distribute those resources tells a lot about what their relationship is like. 

But many new lovers and too many committed ones have never really talked about what portion of each of their resources should be delegated to their relationship and in what manner.

There are a number of important factors that come into play. Some are more important than others to different people but all count.

Disparate Incomes

Though many couples today are both in the working force, it is most likely that one will earn more than the other. 

  • How is that disparity faced? 
  • In a new relationship, does the one with the greater income have an obligation to pay? 
  • Does that come with a matching obligation to behave in a certain way, or to feel appreciative for the indulgence?

When a relationship matures, that initial disparity may have to be re-visited. 

The partner with less available financial resources may not want to feel obligated, but offers emotional or behavioral services in return. I’ve seen partners who take each other out to dinner, but to restaurants where each can afford. Or, sometimes, one partner will cook at home as an alternative. 

Gifts are proportional to what each can afford, but may feel too out of balance and the one who is wealthier understands that he or she must keep things more equal. 

Vacations are hard, because financial security buys many more options that the other may not be able to afford. Some of my patients have a vacation/fun account where each contributes the same proportions of their separate incomes to save up for a joint adventure.

Before committed couples decide to marry, they must agree on how they are going to deal with disparate incomes going forward. 

The traditional relationship, now very rare, always assumed that there would now be a joint income resource that would be fairly tapped by agreement as to what priorities both felt. 

The problem that most commonly arises is what to spend and what to save. 

That has a lot to do with people who would rather have a wonderful moment and not worry about the future married to people who are always concerned about the future, and gladly sacrifice the present to insure that outcome.

Money also parallels other contributions in committed relationships that are hopefully seen by both partners as equally valuable contributions. 

The most natural is, of course, who stays home with the children. Whether moms or dads or shared, it is commonly understood now that good parenting would be worth a great deal in the open market. 

Or, one partner may be very willing to sacrifice while the other is focused on a new career path, certain that he or she will be amply rewarded by sharing in the profits later. 

Some partners are very willing to invest in a partner’s dream, though it may take a disparate part of their shared income, just because they both believe in that aspiration and love each other enough to make it happen.

How People Feel Differently About what Money Means to Them

Children hear multiple messages in childhood about money, often the subject of parental conflict. They are rewarded for specific behaviors by the things that money can buy like adventures, material things, and surprises. They often have to deal with “magic money,” that financial reward that comes out of nowhere when there is no option at other times. 

Each parent might gladly spend money on some things and absolutely become totally ungenerous about others. One child in a family can be indulged while another feels slighted.

When people first date, regardless of who has more money, they are highly likely to watch the other as to how she or he chooses a restaurant, tips a waiter, or opts for the least expensive dish on the menu. 

While outwardly offering the other to comfortably indulge him or herself, that person may later complain about how much things cost, inadvertently slipping resentment into the conversation that clearly references what happened earlier.

Many people are not comfortable letting another person know not only how they allocate their money, but how much they have, or owe. 

Perhaps the fear of being seen as either inadequate or too adequate prevents them from being open and honest. 

Most people are uncomfortable sharing indebtedness, particularly if it’s been for things they wanted, but could not afford at the time. 

They might want to appear more successful than they are with hopes that the big bucks are just around the corner and they can catch up with their presentation.

Some people just look like they might need expensive upkeep, when they just want to look more valuable to attract someone who can keep them that way. 

Others may actively play down their appearance, drive older cars, and live without extravagance because they are either miserly towards themselves and others, or don’t want to be seen as valuable just because of what they have.

Whatever the case, most people fear bringing money into early relationships and risk multiple misunderstandings because of that discomfort. 

Differences in status, options, and the financial means to pursue dreams, before a couple is committed, may either scare people off, or be experienced by the other differently than that person wants to be seen.

How to Talk About Money Early in a Relationship

The most important thing to remember in a new relationship is the difference between sharing personal information and creating an atmosphere of wonderfully intimate exploration. 

Examples of personal information would be: 

Talking about how much money one has, how much debt he or she currently owes, how one apportions that money towards the present or future, what one earns, what one gets in support from others, or how he or she is entangled financially with obligations to others.

Examples of intimate exploration would be:

The values one has about what money is for, what dreams a person has that would require substantial investments, how they feel about using resources in the present or saving them for the future, what things seem legitimate to spend money on and those that do not, how their parents felt about the distribution of their financial resources, and whether or not their life dreams require the acquisition of large sums of money or just time and drive. 

These areas are not only legitimate to talk about very early on in the relationship, but absolutely necessary to get a feeling about how someone uses and values money in their lives.

Before people commit, it is crucial that they talk about the personal items that might affect each other were they to join their finances together. 

  • What would be held separate? 
  • What would be easily comingled? 
  • What do they want to spend money on in the future? 

Those questions are part and parcel of every other potentially conflictual area in any relationship that is extended into the future. 

How people raise kids has to do with money. Where and how they will live has to do with money. What they give away to friends, family, political forces, or charity has to do with money. 

Whether they choose to invest in the future or spend their money living adventures in the present has to do with distribution of financial resources. What they expect of each other to earn each other’s financial support has to do with money.

When people realize that money is just a vehicle for the way people choose to live their lives, these questions become the foundation for mutual trust, generosity, and appreciation, the core feelings great partners feel about each other. 

Each automatically absolutely wants the other to have whatever he or she needs, but must temper those feelings with fairness and potentially competitive desires. If money is used for control, power, or unfair bargaining, most relationships will not thrive.

Dr. Randi Gunther – www.randigunther.com

Diana Lang

How you handle your finances with your partner will tell you a lot about what kind of a relationship you have. 

Right away, you can know if it’s a generous relationship or a stingy one. 

  • Do you share your resources, pool them, or keep them separate? 
  • Do you share everything, or are you keeping a running tally? 
  • As the relationship progresses, do you have totally separate accounts, or blended ones? 

These are important questions in a relationship. 

The bottom line, when it comes right down to it is: how your partner is in relationship with their money is likely how they will be in relationship with you.

From a metaphysical perspective, everything is energy ­– even money ­– maybe, especially money

The way we spend it, save it, share it, or hide it, are all indicative of how we feel about abundance, or the lack thereof.

If you are paying attention, you can know right in the beginning of a relationship what your partner’s relationship is with money. 

It is evident in everything they do. Unfortunately, we might not see these signs, because in a desperate effort to stay together, we may overlook some of the most blatant signs.

Here’s the hard truth: if someone is stingy with the waiter, they will likely be stingy with you – maybe not right away, but eventually. 

As nice as things might appear, or as good as things might look on paper, if you read between the lines, you can see, if you’ll look, what your partner’s financial philosophy is – and therefore where you may stand, too.

So, pay attention. 

Remember, it is not about how much money you have, or spending money you don’t have, or being reckless with the money you do have by giving it all away. It’s about the energy you have about it. It’s about your relationship with money. Is it open or closed – whatever amount you have. It’s that simple.

And, of course, this works both ways. 

You need to examine your relationship with money too. 

  • Where do you stand on the subject of money? 
  • Is there never enough, or is there more than enough? 

I can tell you for sure that people will come to the same conclusions over and over again, based on their fundamental financial philosophy, no matter how much they have, or don’t have.

Because it’s not about how much money you have. It’s about WHATEVER money there is

If it’s $5 or $500, $5000 or 5,000,000, it’s all the same. It’s our relationship with money that we’re talking about here. Are we miserly or plentiful? A person can be as tight OR generous over $5 as much as with $5000. It is relative.

And, if this person is going to be your life partner, then it’s worth your time to observe their relationship with money. 

  • Are they calculating or magnanimous? 
  • Are they honest and ethical in their business dealings, or greedy and bending the rules? 
  • Does your partner save money, loan money, or give money? 
  • If they give it, do they expect something in return?

Sigh, the return. This is the bottom line. In accounting the bottom line means the final total. In this grim, monetary world, business is business, and in a dollars-to-value world this IS the bottom line. But in the world of relationship, it is the death knell of a relationship. 

Love is not a business transaction. So beware the man (or woman) who thinks so.

Like in all things relationship, communication is the bridge for better financial relationship happiness. In a healthy relationship there should not be any taboo subjects. 

Subjects that are off the table, tell you where the problems will be

If your partner won’t talk about money issues, there is a money issue. If they won’t talk about their mother, there are mother issues. Get it?

So, be aware. Money can be a difficult subject. People sometimes feel that they can keep it separate somehow because it is mathematical. It seems black and white. But the very black-and-whiteness of this money perspective will be a literal manifestation of how much we will let ourselves be connected to someone. 

Money is not a separate subject. It is a living demonstration and expression of how connected we can be!

Love is inherently generous. Love is sincerely unselfish. Love is wholly sharing, what little or much we may have. If money is where we draw the line, then that very line, describes the depth of what our relationship can be. And that, my friends, is the real bottom line.

Diana Lang, Counselor and Spiritual Teacher – www.dianalang.com

Dr. Deborah Cox

Common counseling wisdom around couples and money is: talk it out, hash and negotiate, create shared goals. 

And sometimes this prevailing model actually works. Occasionally, two partners get on the same page, honestly and transparently, set shared goals, and feel closer because of them. 

Occasionally, this conversation results in real change – one partner stops their secret over-shopping and the other stops their over-fretting and the two meet someplace midway.

But in my experience, at least half of us see less-than-satisfying results from all the empathic money conversations. 

For those of us who find these talks impossible to have – or who achieve beautiful money talks in therapy and then see zero change afterward . . . we need a different strategy.

Money interferes with intimacy. 

It’s one of those differentiation issues that depletes desire and works against our ability to appreciate our partner as a person. Differentiation is how we learn to be our own separate person while inside a committed relationship. 

So, if we have an otherwise wonderful connection, but cannot agree on how to spend and save, do we have to scrap the relationship and hope to find our perfect money match next time?

I don’t think so.

I suggest we stop talking about it

Take that energy and put it somewhere else. First, in sex. Second, in your own personal financial plan. Visit with a financial planner, by yourself

Ask her the questions you’ve been afraid to ask. Show her your budget, your salary, and your checkbook. Find out how you can keep yourself solvent and prepare for the future.

But what if he ruins my credit? Great question. What if I ruin his? 

If you get married, you may indeed be responsible for each other’s debt. This deserves conversation. But even married couples can have separate bank accounts, separate investments, separate credit cards. 

Learn to be responsible for your own half of things. 

Let him screw up if he must.

But what if we go bankrupt while I let him screw up? 

Another great question. 

What if I lose everything? What if he makes me show him my bank balance? What if I can’t pay half? What if he makes more than me? What if I make more than him? 

And here you have the real crux of the issue. Here’s what you take to your couples therapist for discussion…

Do you love me enough to care for my financial well-being?

This is the attachment question that underlies all those fights about money. Nurture the attachment between you two – but learn to allow for separateness. This gives you a common platform on which you can build joint financial ideas. 

Securely attached couples can agree or disagree about money. 

They can talk about it or not. But they can also cooperate just enough (e.g., life insurance, joint savings, mutual sharing of funds) to show love, caring, and commitment to each other’s financial health.

Dr. Deborah Cox – www.deborahlcox.com

Amy Sherman

Relationships end over many reasons, but one of the main factors in couples having conflicts is because they are not on the same pace when it comes to financial issues. When couples don’t agree on how money should be spent, saved or shared, problems can arise.

Here are some tips to help sort things out:

1. Each partner needs financial independence, which means living within the boundaries you set for yourself that is comfortable and doable.

2. If money issues come up, ask yourself if it is really a financial problem or something more intrinsic in the relationship. That may help you decide how you will handle the situations as they arise and whether you feel the relationship is worth the effort.

3. Be able to negotiate and compromise and make decisions based on what would work for you both.

4. Gain some insight into how you spend your money and if your habits are healthy or part of the problem. Be objective enough to know if your partner exhibits any controlling behavior over your finances, which could be a red flag for future problems.

5. Discuss your issues with a financial planner to work on budgets, spending habits and discretionary funds available for fun and entertainment.

Remember, you are not in this relationship alone so you can’t continue following financial habits that are good for you only. 

It creates incompatibility, resentment, mistrust, bitterness and of course more conflicts. 

As a couple, you need to build a lifestyle around habits, activities and mutual interests that are not destructive or insensitive to the needs and wants of your partner. 

Working together, you learn to compromise, even though you disagree on some fundamental financial issues. The strategy is to not let these differences get in the way of your overall goals as a couple.

Amy Sherman, M.A., LMHC – www.yourbabyboomersnetwork.com

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