Relationships and Money: Two Sides of the Same Coin

by Tara Struyk on 6 March 2012 3 comments
Photo: Ed Yourdon

Have you ever met someone who’s an extreme risk-taker in life but very careful with money? What about someone who is measured and cautious in everything except money? I sure haven’t. It’s no wonder, then, that money issues overwhelmingly come out on top of reasons why couples bicker, argue, and all-out fight with each other. It’s because, for better or for worse, the way we deal with money is a reflection of ourselves. Unfortunately, most of us are about as well equipped for balancing money and our relationships as we are for deep-sea diving. In essence, we’re all thrown overboard and are forced to flounder around.

If you think about what really has an impact on the way you live your life, chances are your finances and your relationships will come out on top. After all, it’s problems in these areas that tend to cause the most stress. Fighting with your spouse? Stress. Fighting with your spouse because you can’t pay the mortgage? Major stress. But while our financial behavior is probably deeply rooted in our life experiences, we all have a choice about how we live and manage our money. Let’s take a look at some of the common disagreements that revolve around money — and what they might say about you and your relationship. (See also: Coping Mechanisms for a Spender-Saver Relationship)

Frugality

My partner recently won $50 in a poker game. My reaction: “Let’s go out for dinner!” His reaction: “Are you crazy? This is for my retirement account!”

Clearly, I have a smart guy on my hands. Unfortunately, a lot of people take frugal too far — even to unhealthy extremes. I’m not talking about people who have to resort to extreme frugality out of necessity, but those who earn a good living but pinch every penny they make with no long-term goal in sight. Perhaps they’re afraid of risk, or it physically pains them to part with their cash. Whether they’re looking for the secure feeling a big bank account can provide or just don’t believe they’re worth any luxuries, those who are too insecure about spending their money may have a hard time reconciling those feelings in a relationship, especially if expenses are split down the middle.

Division of Labor

Have you ever noticed that money and control seem to go hand in hand? After all, money is like the wild card, providing a proxy for power, control, and freedom. Whether one partner makes more or just makes all the decisions, it can definitely leave one person — or both — feeling hurt and angry. In this case, it isn’t money that’s the problem, but the way two people are relating to each other — or using money to avoid really relating to each other. This is why if you have a spouse who’s controlling, chances are he or she is controls the finances, too. 

I’m not sure it has to be that way, though. I think of managing the finances as a chore, just like taking out the garbage or doing the laundry. As with all chores, the division of labor is rarely 50/50, but it’s a great goal to have. Maybe next time you’re arguing about who should walk the dog or wash the windows, you should even out who will pay the bills, do the taxes, and balance the checkbook at the same time.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

Debt

Overspending is a key point of contention for couples; it’s also the second-biggest source of argument. I think the way we like to spend our money is very personal, which can make us ultra-defensive if we’re criticized about what we choose to buy (I know I am). That said, debt can drag a relationship down faster than you can say “Honey, I maxed out the credit card.”

In the world of money personalities, spendthrifts are known for living in the moment — at the expense of their financial future. If you’re the one who overspends in your relationship, have you ever thought about why you do it? It’s worth considering. If you’re a gotta-have-it-now kind of person at the mall, you probably tend toward making impulsive decisions in other areas of your life.

The Bills

If there’s fighting in your house about the bills, it’s probably because they aren’t getting paid. This isn’t good for a relationship, and it’s disastrous for your credit score. According to the 2011 Consumer Financial Literacy Survey (PDF), a full 28% of people admit to paying their bills late. Not having the money to pay your bills is one thing, but that usually isn’t the reason we put them off, right? According to money psychologists, this strategy of avoidance is a psychological trap everyone uses from time to time to avoid situations we find stressful.

I see procrastination a bit like a form of self-torture. It feels good, but it also prolongs the agony of what you’re trying to put off. Plus, it’s pretty clear that too much avoidance can become a very deep hole — dig it too deep, and it’s likely that neither your finances nor your relationship will be able to find their way out of it.

Your Money, Your Life

Think about how you deal with your money. Chances are, it reflects who you are, and the issues you struggle with in many other aspects of your life. Maybe that’s why making big changes to the way we deal with money can be so hard — I know it is for me. That said, the only way toward change is in self-reflection. That goes for money and for relationships. The more you understand the reasons behind why you do the things you do, the more you’ll be able to undermine the bad psychology that drives you to act on impulse, seek shelter in avoidance, or hole up under your insecurities.

This post is a part of Women's Money Week 2012. For more posts about relationships and money, see womensmoneyweek.com.

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Meg Favreau's picture

One of the reasons why my boyfriend and I get along so well, I think, is that we value the same things financially and generally enjoy the same splurges. Good (not necessarily expensive) food and good comedy shows are worth the cost; fancy, giant living spaces and a constant influx of new clothes are not.

Guest's picture
Carl Lassegue

This is so true! I'm not a risk taker in my personal life and the same goes for the way I handle money. Great article!

Guest's picture

This is so true. How I handle my money is how I handle most area's in my life.