Money is a touchy subject to begin with. Toss in a romantic partner who has their own wants and needs and, well, you get the picture. More often than not, the fight is more than just letting your partner (or your partner letting you) splurge on something flashy and shiny. So the issue can’t be resolved simply by purchasing or not purchasing the item.
The root of money-related fights between couples can be traced back to each partner’s history and relationship with money, which began way back as a child, according to Michelle Brody in her book, Stop the Fight! An Illustrated Guide for Couples: How to Break Free from the 12 Most Common Arguments and Build a Relationship That Lasts.
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At its core, money can represent either the dream of financial freedom, power, and security, or it can trigger fear, a loss of control, and uncertainty. Depending on how money impacted you throughout your life—also known as your emotional history with money—you can feel completely different from how your partner feels about it. Having conflicting values about money, like if you err on the side of being frugal because your parents struggled with making ends meet and your partner experienced the opposite, could polarize a relationship and make it incredibly difficult to meet in the middle, especially when both perspectives are reasonable.
“Money fights are tough because major dreams and fears are at stake,” Brody wrote. “The fights can easily become polarized and then intensified by the shadows of past history. Stopping the Money Fight is about finding ways to take into account both values of security and freedom.”
To help you stop the Money Fight before it spirals out of control, here are a few of Brody’s methods to help you understand and compromise with each other’s values surrounding money:
Identify and agree on the real problem
Instead of becoming defensive or accusing each other of having the “wrong” outlook and behavior with money, start by simply acknowledging that you have differing views on money. “Naming the problem as a mutually created one, in which neither partner is blamed, gets both partners more engaged in solving it,” Brody wrote.
Come back from polarization by empathizing with your partner and learning why they feel the way they feel about money. “No one can predict what lesson any individual will learn from their particular family history about money (siblings often take away very different lessons), nor can one predict which financial events will be the ones that make a lasting impression,” Brody wrote. This might be a moment of introspection outside of the heat of the moment, but regardless, this compassion will take you a step closer to a joint solution.
Don’t stop at simple compromises
The answer isn’t typically as easy as “save half, spend half,” Brody reminds us, because the solution doesn’t consider our key values involved. Most likely, we won’t feel satisfied with whatever temporary solution we come up with, which could lead to more resentment towards our partner. Sharing with your partner your fears and dreams about money helps you guys come up with a solution that includes all the factors that affect your final and truly satisfactory decision.
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