Discovering What The Fights Are REALLY About.
Conflict can be deceptive. Intense, frequent, irresolvable fights in a marriage relationship may cause feelings of dissatisfaction, disconnection, and hurt. According to CBC News, 2010, 40% of Canadian marriages end in divorce. Money problems is one of the most frequently reported contributor to marital breakdown in many studies. (This applies to those with lots of money as well as those with little). When couples’ fights about money escalate and persist they may feel hopeless. They can mistakenly focus on the dollars and cents thinking, … “If we can get this debt down, we will be happy again”. Or, “If they will stop spending out the money, we would have enough to enjoy our lives”. They blame the money. Some couples do resolve the money issue and still find themselves in divorce. What if money is not the problem?
Hidden Sources of Conflict
People, and therefore the relationships they form, are very complex. Things are rarely as they appear. As a counselor I have seen couples who come in complaining that they fight all the time. “What do you fight about?” I ask curiously. “Money” they state in chorus. However on further exploration of how the arguments occur I uncover that there are often other problems underscoring a couples disputes about money. The following are some of my own observations.
1. Unresolved baggage.
Individuals bring values about money and finances from previous experiences within former relationships, whether a former partner or their own parents. In this case the distrust does not originate from any actual action, belief, or values of their present partner. An expectation is projected onto a loved one based on another’s actions. It is like holding an innocent party accountable for another’s crime. The fears are real, but sadly so is the jail around the accused; this punished party may feel enslaved by guilt they cannot resolve. It inevitably drives a wedge in the relationship.
2. Power difference.
There might be a difference in the power to influence the decisions within the relationship. One person has a stronger voice, or their actions are less questionable than the other. Sadly, many women fail to recognise that monetary control is one form of spousal abuse. If every dollar that you spend is regulated and rigidly monitored, that’s a big red flag. Men, if your wife is frequently buying designer handbags at over $1K each racking up your credit card debt in the process, and she persists regardless of your expressed displeasure, she is definitely in control in your relationship.
In some instances spending is one partner’s way of reclaiming their personal power in the relationship. Have you ever gone revenge shopping? No judgement here because this is a widespread practise. Once, a lot earlier in their marriage, Joy (alias) was so hurt by her husband’s actions that she went out to a high end store (one where she’d never shop at) and bought 2 leather jackets and a handbag. While charging it at the cashier, she felt recompensed as she thought “There… you pay for that”.
Partners are not living from the power of being securely loved by an equally valued partner. The aim is not to perpetuate a cycle of domination but to find ways for each person’s voice to be heard and valued, strengths to be incorporated into the relationship with a culture of “we” instead of I vs You.
3. Low Faith in Relationship Sustainability.
Someone is reluctant to share or partner equitably with the other because there is an underlying fear that the relationship will not last. Persons whose parents had a bitter divorce or who previously experienced a torn relationship may be vulnerable to these feelings of doubt.
4. Low Trust or Belief in Partner’s Financial Competence.
Simply, one partner does not trust the other with money. This could be because of their partner’s history of gambling, or high accumulated debt, a perceived irresponsibility to pay their own bills on time, or a perception of their ‘over-spending’. The root of this condition may be a real, evidence based problem, or it could be a matter of perception of the differences in money values. Scott & Bethany Palmer talk about 5 different personalities that people have regarding their values with money (saving, spending, risk taking, security, and the casual flyer). Effort to conform a partner to another’s personality is commonly met with resistance. Seek to find and focus on your partner’s strengths and avenues in which they have grown financially.
Commonly this springs from the other partner’s previous errors of money judgement or mistakes. For example, s/he quickly invested in a quick-rich scam which cost you substantial loss or the memory of the cost of funding their now resolved addictive habit (drugs, gambling). The innocent partner is still holding on to the feelings of distrust and blame for the previous incident(s). Forgive. (Often this is hard and you may need support, reach for it).
6. Unmet Emotional Needs.
Sometimes stuff is used to fill the emptiness and void in the heart. There are many ways in which people receive love and appreciation and when our partners’ emotional needs are not being met they seek to fill the gap with other things. In many married relationships this can become an unbalanced focus on the kids, striving in ones career, or sometimes spending money on desirable items. There is a thrill or “high” that is experienced when one is shopping. This dynamic is one of the most challenging to admit to. To reveal my emotional unhappiness is to risk your rejection and judgement, the pain of that exposed rejection is more than the pain of living with the quiet sorrow with being unfulfilled in our relationship.
Each of these conditions is highly complex and I could not begin to address real solutions in a brief article. (Wait, don’t search “South Edmonton’s divorce lawyers” just yet). The purpose of this post is to increase your awareness of some underlying issues that are commonly unrecognised in a relationship. Many couples only see that they are fighting about money and not see what the fights about money are really about. The best recommended remedy for these relationship issues is to seek individual or couples counselling. While couples counseling might be best, and most efficient, it is sometimes difficult to agree upon or arrange. If you are recognising these issues in your relationship and you are motivated to be a source of growth and change, it could be beneficial to talk with a therapist yourself.
Actions You Can Take NOW.
While you wait for your scheduled appointment with your counsellor here are a few things you can do.
- Read together the book: Smart Couples Finish Rich- David Bach. (Edmonton Public library has e-book and print copies).
- Connect with The Money Couple – Scott & Bethany Palmer. Their website has great resources for couples dealing with financial differences and difficulties.
- Browse our Facebook posts & Notes on Family Money Tips for more practical advice on how to budget, monitor funds, save more money, debt reduction, apps to help with money management, etc.
4. SUBSCRIBE to this Blog to continue to receive tips and tools to help you … Build a Happy, Healthy and Successful Family.
Help for Families Canada serves South Edmonton – Summerside, Ellerslie, Heritage Valley, Terwillegar, Beaumont & Leduc. We offer counseling appointments in the evenings and Saturdays.
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