Money Fights in Relationships, are They Normal?

       The topic of money in relationships is a touchy one, one that can lead to money fights. These fights are based on the feelings and emotions you have about money—sometimes called money stories. We all have them, though we may not know where they come from, and you and your partner likely have different money stories. When discussing money, you may believe that your money expectations and goals, are right and your partner’s wrong (and vice versa). This leads to tension and frustration, which results in fighting about money. Generally speaking, our society portrays couples fighting about money as normal, even expected in a relationship. The truth is they don’t have to be. So, how do you resolve them? By first understanding where your individual money stories come from.

Our Background Creates Our Money Story(ies)

         As children, we learn by example from our parents, grandparents, siblings, relatives, and other people who influence our lives. Some things are taught to us with intention like how to bake cookies or throw a football, while others are taught unintentionally, through what we observe or what is modeled to us. As an example, if as a child, we observe our mother always spending money and our father never spending money, we may have developed the belief that wives/mothers spend and husbands/fathers make money. Money beliefs are shaped by what we see as much as by what may be said. Other things, such as budgeting and financial planning, you may learn intentionally or you may not learn at all—either way, what you know impacts your relationship with your finances and eventually your partner

         When partners join together, their finances merge too. Whether there are separate accounts or not, you have shared bills and expenses that you share the responsibility for. You may also have larger plans for the future, perhaps a wedding, buying a home, world travel, or planning for retirement, and you each contribute financially (or otherwise) to these plans. This is where those original family money stories come into play. You were each raised with a set of beliefs given to you by your family-of-origin (intentionally or unintentionally). Your views on how to handle money will be different from one another, and though neither may be wrong, they create a conflict and can lead to money fights.

An Example of Conflicting Money Stories

        Let’s look at the hypothetical couple, Jack and Diane. Jack was raised in a loving family—mom, dad, and two siblings. His dad had a good job, but it was one that required him to travel a lot. His mom dabbled with some part-time work but raising three kids with his dad frequently away required her to be at home primarily, tending to the day-to-day needs of the family. Jack’s mom was frugal, as his dad mainly held responsibility over the finances. When his dad came home, he was generous with gifts and activities which Jack assumed was to compensate for his absences. 

         Diane was also raised in a loving home but her family struggled financially. Though both parents worked, money was tight, and sometimes there wasn’t enough for the bills or even food. She remembers having to go with her parents and sibling to food pantries to ask for help. When Diane and Jack married, they began to see the vast differences in how they viewed money and wanted to use it. Jack wanted to spend on material things, to keep up with the latest and greatest things. Diane was content to live a more modest lifestyle, saving money for a sizable emergency fund, so they could always provide for themselves, and not require assistance at any point as her family had. Jack and Diane’s frequent money arguments included statements such as, “This is how we did it” and “My way works for me.” These arguments are hurtful to both of them while each is coming from a place of their own experience and not meaning to be hurtful to the other.  

What is a Family Money Tree and How can it Help?

         Before you can fix these differences, you have to understand them. These money stories and beliefs are deeply rooted within you. You likely do not understand them yourself. So how can your partner? A great starting point is to work through the Family Money Tree. This is as it sounds, a family tree that examines where your money beliefs come from and how they affect you and your beliefs. When you each explore your stories and share the results, you can then begin to understand each other on a deeper level. This is the first piece to resolving your financial arguments. 

How Developing Empathy for Your Partner can Resolve Your Money Fights.

         I would hope that Jack and Diane, or anyone facing these divided views on money, would find that there is help available. Through financial therapy, you and your partner can openly discuss your individual beliefs, and by hearing and understanding the feelings and emotions behind those beliefs, you will find financial empathy for your partner. That empathy is key to your healing and turning conflict into conversation and compassion around your finances. When this financial empathy begins to be established, you can walk toward financial wellbeing and develop a mutually agreeable path forward to your goals and dreams.

        If you would like to begin to understand your money stories and how they originated with your family-of-origin, explore The Money Tree Course on my website. It is a great place to begin to uncover the roots of the financial stress you face with your partner.

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