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Money Talks: Moving Past Financial Gridlock

It’s always an adventure working with partners who have very different approaches to money. Maybe one insists on upgrading to the newest luxury car every few years while the other already has lucrative college savings accounts set aside for their future children. Then there’s the type that shoves the bills in the freezer with vague plans to sort it all out later. 

The Prepare-Enrich curriculum uses an exercise that ranks the meaning of money to each partner in four categories: status, security, enjoyment, and control. Similarly, the SYMBIS assessment identifies spenders vs. savers, as well as some of the financial fears each partner brings to the relationship. Both are great tools to get couples talking about money, ideally before they tie the knot.

If you and your partner have mismatched money values, navigating finances as a couple will likely pose some challenges. Will we spend or save the tax return? Do we have “fun” money for shopping and eating out, or does every extra penny go toward our 401K?

It’s easy to say, “My partner is reckless with money,” or “My partner hoards every penny,” but we rarely get under the hood to find out why.

If money is a perpetual conflict for you (i.e., issues around money pop up frequently, you’re both highly invested and get emotional discussing it, and neither of you are budging from your positions), you’d be wise to heed Dr. John Gottman’s advice. You need to discover where your partner’s view of money comes from and “peel the onion,” so to speak, to better understand their perspective. In learning more about why your partner views money the way they do, you are far more likely to give them the benefit of the doubt and extend some grace when you butt heads in the future.

Perhaps you view your partner as “cheap” or “stingy” and hate that they “hoard” all the money so you can’t have any fun. That’s a pretty surface level observation. When you dig deeper, you may learn your partner grew up in a home where the power and water were frequently shut off and phone calls from creditors interrupted dinner every night. While this knowledge won’t change your desire to spend more and “live it up,” you’ll be more aware of why your partner is pushing back on a big trip or purchase and can approach those discussions in a way that makes your partner feel safe vs. attacking them for being boring. You realize money represents security and stability at a core level, and recreational spending is perceived as a deep threat to that.

Maybe you had a similar background, but you went the opposite direction. If you didn’t take family trips or eat at nice restaurants growing up, you may see extra money now as your opportunity to finally treat yourself…and you fully embrace that. Your partner says your spending is excessive, but you think it’s completely justified since you finally have a financial cushion in place. Once your partner learns money represents enjoyment and freedom to you, they can shift away from dubbing you “reckless” and better understand the core desires that drive your purchases.

While you’re still bound to clash if the way you value or prioritize money differs dramatically, having conversations that get at your root needs and/or insecurities related to money is the place to start. Deep down you both have a lifetime of messages and experiences about money that have shaped your current views, and you owe it to each other to go beyond the tip of the iceberg on this. 

Do you know where your partner’s views of money come from? If not, ask open-ended questions with the goal of understanding their perspective more fully (not to push your financial style or priorities on them).

Understanding the raw human needs at the heart of financial gridlocks can be a game changer for your relationship.  

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