Relationships and Finances

How to keep your financial focus in your personal relationships.

How to resolve fighting over money: look below the surface

Q: My partner and I fight about money all the time. She’s a spender and I’m a saver. She says I’m too controlling about money and no fun, and I think she’s too frivolous with money and doesn’t care about our financial future. If we don’t start figuring this out, I’m afraid this could break us up. Do you have any advice for us?Fighting over money is like an iceberg. What you fight about is only what's seen on the surface.

A: Money is one of the biggest stressors in a relationship. Money isn’t just about dollars and cents; it’s about values, beliefs, behaviours and feelings, which complicate things.

It’s important to remember that you both brought your individual values and beliefs around money into your relationship. And until you understand each other’s perspective and are willing to work together, you will always fight about money. The good news is that it is doable, especially if you both commit to learning more about yourselves and each other in relation to money.

Think about it—where did you learn to be a saver and she a spender? You both likely learned this growing up from family and life experiences. What you need to figure out is what saving and spending means to each of you. Visualize an iceberg—the spending and saving are behaviours that are the tip of the iceberg, there for everyone to see. What’s underneath, the values, beliefs and history, are where the answers are.

Here are a few questions to get below the surface:

  • How was money dealt with in your family? Was it spent until it was gone? Saved for a rainy day? Was it ever discussed?
  • Who handled and controlled the money in each of your families?
  • What were the messages that you heard about money? (e. g. it’s good, rich people are selfish, etc.).
  • When you save or spend money how does it make you feel? (e. g. free, safe, fun, secure, etc.).
  • If you had your way what would your finances look like now? In five years?

By uncovering some of your history, beliefs and values you will start to see below the surface of your behaviours. This kind of understanding can move you and your partner away from blame and judgment toward understanding each other’s needs. This will enable you to work together to achieve your financial goals. Money may not buy happiness but having a deep understanding of your relationship to money can!

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