SGR 027 | How to Stop Fighting About Money
Happy New Year!
Where have we been??
We know, we’ve been off the grid for a few weeks. You’ll find out why in a few episodes (although, some of you may know already).
It’s 2018. We are all feeling ambitious, goal-oriented, hopeful, a bit exhausted… and financially strapped.
All the gifts, travel expenses, and holiday attire really do add up. They take a toll on your bank account, but also your relationship because it’s hard to see eye-to-eye on spending. One of you loves to treat yourself and those you love, while the other is focused on ensuring the credit cards are paid off each month and the savings account is well-funded.
Sound familiar? You are not alone...
All couples fight about money!
Regardless of financial status, couples tend to fight about how to make money, how to manage it, how to spend it, how to save it, who to leave it to, how to protect it, how to invest it… basically, everything.
Why does something seemingly straightforward cause so much turmoil?
Our personal relationship with money predates our relationship with our partner. We all have our own unique beliefs and meanings we attribute to money. While you may see money representative of security, opportunity, and freedom, your partner may see it as a sense of accomplishment, power, and success.
So, after saying “I do” two people are expected to see eye-to-eye on how to spend, save, and manage their money while (likely) having differing views of what it means and what you’re “supposed” to do with it.
It’s no wonder all couples fight about money.
Luckily, it is possible to get on the same page and make peace with this topic. This week, we are sharing the ways we help couples get out of the financial war zone. We’re discussing:
- What makes it so hard to talk about money
- Why couples fight about money
- How to (finally) get on the same page when it comes to finances
For a step-by-step guide to working together to achieve your financial goals, be sure to download this week’s bonus - The Happy Couples’ Guide to Shared Finances - and help improve your relationship with money for good.
SGR 001 - Communication that (Actually) Works
SGR 004 - How to Get Divorced: What Not To Do In Your Relationship
SGR 005 How to Win a Fight
SGR 006 - How to Get Your Partner to Say Yes
SGR 013 - When Marriage Doesn’t Feel Like A Fairy-Tale
SGR 015 - How to Get Your Partner to Support Your Life’s Dreams
SGR 017 - Talking About The Scary Stuff: Being Vulnerable
SGR 020 - Surviving Thanksgiving
SGR 026 - How to Have the Best New Year’s Eve
Short on time? Here’s a list of today’s topics and when to listen:
What makes it hard to talk about money - 1:56
Money is emotionally-charged - 2:01
Money is a stressor - 5:58
Money is tied to expectations - 7:21
Why couples fight about money - 11:22
Where our beliefs about money come from - 16:40
How to get on the same page when it comes to finances - 22:32
Meredith and Marina’s takeaways - 35:47
Marina: Hey there! And welcome to episode 027 of the Simply Great Relationships Podcast. We’re so glad you could join us today. I’m Marina Voron and with me is Meredith Silversmith. And today we’re talking about “How to Stop Fighting About Money.” A topic that I think is near and dear to a lot of couples’ hearts. We’ll be covering some good stuff - what makes it hard to talk about money, why couples fight about money (one of the most common fight), how to get on the same page when it comes to finances. So make sure that you stay until the very end because we’ve got a really great bonus for you and we’ll tell you how to get it when we get there.
Meredith: Yup! You bet! I think this is a really good topic because I would say it comes up with probably every couple that I’ve worked with.
Meredith: And in our lives as well. You know, finances are a touchy subject so I’m glad we’re finally covering it. So Marina, what makes it so hard to talk about money do you think for couples?
Marina: I think money is a tricky thing because we think of money as something that is so tangible.
Marina: But it’s actually something that’s very, very emotionally charged because it’s so emotionally linked. We’re not tied to the pieces of paper. We’re tied to the meaning that we attribute to them but we don’t take the time to sit down and really process and then converse with our partner about what is that meaning. We just expect they have meaning, our partner has that meaning. And that creates a room for a lot of head butting.
Meredith: Yeah! Absolutely! And it can mean, like you said, it can sort of mean different things to different people, and it’s not always something that gets talked about. It’s not like you sit down before you get married and say, “So, what does money mean to you? What are your lifelong goals financially?” But some other things that come to mind when we think about what money can sort of symbolize for people. It can symbolize freedom, right? Freedom to do what you want to do and to be free from burden in some way or free from stress in some way. It can be a form of accomplishment like they’ve reached a certain level or a certain goal and that makes me feel like I have attained what I’ve wanted to attain.
Marina: Mhmm! I think going with the accomplishment, this is same but a little bit different - is really attributing success to financial success and failure to financial “failure” because people get stuck on “magic numbers.”
Marina: And when we internalize and put contingencies on the success like, “I’ll only feel successful when I hit x number.”
Marina: And before that I’m a failure, that’s a really self deprecating narrative. Very powerful one.
Marina: I also think money = power.
Marina: I think that’s a very socially propagated narrative that’s very true for a lot of people. They associate having money with feeling a certain sense of autonomy, a certain sense of personal power and a certain sense of social power.
Marina: And they see going without as a weakness because that’s the opposite of power.
Marina: A lot of emotionally charged stuff there.
Meredith: Definitely! And I’m thinking about - I know you and I have spoken about this, I have a disproportionate number of clients reference this show and that they’ve really connected on some level with the show and I think you know what I’m going to say.
Meredith: Billions on showtime, right?
Marina: Great show!
Meredith: It’s a very interesting show and we like it for the psychology and the story line. But there’s a lot of power play in that show. And a big way of that is portray this through money. You’ve got, oh man! I can’t remember his name, my favorite guy.
Meredith: Yeah, yeah! Axe has tons of money and then you’ve got the personal “right side of the law” who’s sort of judging ahead and struggling financially as an individual. And the way that the power sort of interplays between them does come up like bubbles up around money. And I’ve had many clients actually reference that show because it seems to portray something that sort of hits people in a really like they can relate in some way.
Meredith: So I think that’s just a great representation of what we’re talking about how they can really play into the bigger picture.
Marina: Yeah! And I think a really good takeaway from that show is regardless of how much money you have, money is a stressor.
Meredith: Yeah! Yup!
Marina: And fear of losing and fear of not getting enough and fear of not keeping up momentum is always a stressor because I think another really common projection on money is, “When I have this number in the bank, a switch will turn on and I’ll feel at ease and everything will be great.” And I think that show is actually a wonderful representation of the fact that that’s not really true. And I know, you and I both have clients in this demographic where the money they have doesn’t necessarily make them feel more at ease. It makes them feel more stress.
Meredith: Yeah! Absolutely! We see stress - stress around not having enough and then when you do “have enough”, there’s a lot of stress around losing it.
Meredith: So, there isn’t necessarily a point at which people feel peaceful and calm around money unless they really I think actively working on that emotionally.
Marina: Yeah! And I think that is a possible place to get to but again, working on it emotionally. I also think money is really tied to expectations and expectations are really tied to our hopes and dreams and we have kind of our money reality versus our money fantasy almost sort like our money’s goals and our money’s dreams and what it would mean if we had X, Y, Z and how it would feel. That’s the expectation is how we would feel once we hit that magic number. And a lot of people hit their magic number and say, “I don’t feel that different. What’s going on here?”. And this expectation, how I see it at least in my work is it’s not only a self-expectation. It’s an expectation of your partner. “When my partner makes this much, when he makes this much, life will feel like this. So until then, let us hold our breath because the magic switch is gonna go off and everything’s gonna be fairytales and roses.”
Meredith: Yeah. It’s kinda like, “Don’t worry about resolving the issues we’re experiencing now because as soon as we reach that point, they’re gonna go away.” And odds are they’re not gonna go away when you hit the switch.
Marina: Yeah and odds are that when you hit that target, you’re gonna encounter a whole other clear of responsibilities that comes with that target because money is also very tied to responsibilities.
Meredith: Mhmm! Definitely! And I think when you get into that zone of partner A and partner B and what they each expect of themselves and each other around money, you’re likely to find that there are differences there and there are different perspectives, there’s different levels that they’re looking for. They may feel differently on, “How we’re supposed to get this money. How we’re supposed to spend it, save it, use it, not use it.” There’s so many little pieces around finances that odds are you’re going to disagree with your partner and there’s this feeling that “I’m right and you’re wrong” no matter what.
Meredith: And it’s sort of interesting because we talk about that a lot around a lot of different issues but I do feel like with money, people tend to get very, very rigid and ingrained and feeling that their way is the right way.
Marina: Yeah. Everybody becomes like the world’s best financial planner when it comes to money because it’s so emotionally tied and there’s also a lot of fear around “If I have this plan that I’ve set out for myself and I expect my partner to be on the same page and they’re not, what kind of vulnerabilities does that bring up for me in terms of my own work and in terms of our relationship? What does this say about our relationship?”
Meredith: Mmm yeah. Very true. So one piece that you can start to work on if this feels familiar to you is go back to episode 005 - “How to Win a Fight”, and download the bonus - “The Win-Win End to an Argument Guide” because that’s gonna walk you through how to get unstuck and how to stop focusing on where you differ and start focusing on where you are aligned. So if this is at all touching on your reality, pop back there real quick and listen and download that. Let’s talk a little bit more about why couples fight about money because we know why money is so emotionally charged now but what does it do between partners do you think?
Marina: Well, I think the biggest thing is couples fight about money because, again, they look at it as tangible pieces of paper or credit cards or whatever without asking “What does it mean for me and what does it mean in the context of our relationship?”
Marina: So if you’re working, you know, people love their jobs, I love my job, I know you love your job. But at the end of the day, we’re working because we also love our incomes and the things they afford us and when we are not able to get on the same page in terms of “What does it mean that I trade my time for money? What does it mean that I’m putting my effort and I’m investing in this way in order to get money in. And I bring that into our relationship and what does that mean and what does that look like and how do we allocate it and what are the things we value? What are the things that are important for me as an individual? What are my non-negotiables around my values?” There’s just a ton of expectations and projections there that create your perfect battlefield.
Meredith: Yeah! I agree in what you’re describing is each partner come in from their own individual place. And when you’re coming from your own individual place and bringing those beliefs and those values to the table and you don’t necessarily agree completely, it’s really easy to get polarized and to focus on where we don’t agree and get more ingrained and entrenched in your position and just be on complete opposite ends of the spectrum. So if one partner who is like, “We have to save all of our money” and you have another partner who is like, “No, we have to spend all of our money”. And it’s a little greyer than that but this is what tends to happen. We start with “I think we should save X amount for month.”, “Well, what about taking a trip or going out to a really nice dinner once a month?” And it sort of pushes each other and you can see it when couples talk about it and they get more and more rigid and ingrained and then all of a sudden, you’ve got this sort of extreme perspectives being communicated.
Marina: Yeah! I feel like it almost brings out that oppositional adolescence that feels so vulnerable to their parents’ power and rule and wants to rebel against it so bad.
Marina: Like we’re no longer communicating with our partner that equal seeing eye to eye all of a sudden feels very skewed. It’s like “Well, why does my partner think that they’re up here and they can tell me what I can do with my money?”
Marina: Or the other way like, “Why is my partner not listening to me? I know everything!” So it makes the relationship that should be between equals a hierarchical one and that’s kind of the foundation for destruction.
Meredith: Yeah! Absolutely! And it starts to feel like an enemy. And you feel like your partner is against you, and again, you’re coming at it head to head rather than coming at it together against the money, right? If there’s an issue with money, let’s pair up and team up against that issue rather than fight each other on it. Something that can also come up, I mean, there’s so many nuances as I’m just thinking through what has come up in the past - if both partners are working, if one partner’s working and one partner’s not, the connection, the value to the finances and the areas of sensitivity can really differ but they play out in so many different ways but even looking at long term versus short term goals, “What are our long term goals, what are our short term goals?” which are things we’ve talked about in our previous episodes that a lot of couples don’t necessarily even look at which could be really helpful to pop back to last week’s episode, episode 026 - “How to Have the Best New Year’s Eve” - because we talked about creating your individual goals for the year, creating your couple’s goals and finances are not exempt from that.
Marina: I think finances should definitely be at the top of the list for that actually because finances are always gonna come up.
Meredith: Mhmm. Yeah!
Marina: So being proactive in tackling them really has a huge advantage in your relationship. I also think the big thing here is our views and attitudes about money usually don’t come from the most rational place. It’s not like we all read financial books and go like, “Yes, this makes a ton of sense.” It usually comes from our family of origin. They come from what we saw growing up, what we went with, what we went without, and that really impacts us, and again, if we don’t talk about it and we just expect our partner to know, it causes a lot of room for arguments to happen. And I think we talked about this in a previous episode. We’ll have to put in the show notes which one - if one partner internalized “Mom loves me because she buys me presents so the way mom shows love is by spending money on me.” Like “Wow, what an emotional connection.” That could be so different from your partner who, “Dad works three jobs and we never saw dad and we live without and we had to make these sacrifices for money.”
Meredith: Mhmm. Yeah. And I feel like you can play out different ways even in those scenarios, right? Because you’re gonna have someone who internalized the way their parents did it and says consciously or unconsciously, “I wanna do the exact same way because that way was right.” And then you have someone who want to do the exact opposite of what their parents did because they didn’t like the way it felt or they saw a conflict around money. So it can play out either way and it’s likely that you’re gonna step on each other’s toes and that you’re gonna hit those buttons of sensitivity because you weren’t raised in the same family, you weren’t raised in the same house and we certainly wouldn’t expect you to come into a relationship having the exact same perspective on money. So it’s really important that you take the time to understand where each of you learned about money, what you learned about money, what emotional ties you have about money to really get a deeper understanding of what’s there for you emotionally, mentally, hopes and dreams-wise, values-wise. So a really good way to talk through that is using the Communication Tip Sheet from episode 001 because without that, it’s really hard to move forward from there.
Marina: Yeah. I would just add to that list of things to talk about money is fears.
Marina: I think for a lot of people, money is security lack of it is fear, uncertainty and fear. What a vulnerable part of you to share using the Communication Tip Sheet, it’s all about sharing those really vulnerable parts of yourself that’s why we made it for you because that’s not easy to do. And I think our Halloween episode is also a really good one to listen to before having this conversation if you know it’s gonna be a really emotionally charged one for you to talk about what are the fears around it and what are the fears that came from your family around money? What were the narratives that you heard growing up? What makes money a bit of a tense thing for everybody? We all have a different story behind that.
Meredith: Yeah. And I heard some really interesting narratives lately with some of my clients. I’ve heard I think like the most polarizing, well maybe not the most polarizing but like a very polarizing two views has been “We need to live our lives now and we need to enjoy ourselves now because we could end up late in life without the health or ability to enjoy ourselves, and I don’t wanna regret not having done things now. I wanna live in the present being paired with someone who feels fear around retirement and being prepared for the golden years and having a really peaceful and well established retirement life and being able to do things.” Those are really polarized.
Marina: Those are really polarized, however, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a little bit of both if you are very vulnerable and then you’re very strategic. If you really build that understanding first and then problem-solve and build a strategy on top of it.
Meredith: Mhmm, absolutely because without that, you’re fighting this fight and you don’t know where the other person is coming from. You just think that they’re disagreeing with you.
Marina: Yeah. Like, “You’ll never see my side.”
Marina: And then all that doubt creeps in of “What does that say about our relationship?”
Marina: What it says about your relationship is you haven’t had a really critical conversation you needed to have.
Meredith: Yup! Absolutely! So let’s talk about how to get on the same page for finances.
Meredith: Woohoo! Same page! So obviously, first, you have to go through the process of getting the depth of understanding of where each person is coming from and only then can you move forward and what would they move forward to?
Marina: So my big thing, again, I’m not a financial advisor, I’m a couple’s therapist. But I really encourage couples to agree to financial transparency.
Marina: Once that understanding piece is really checked off, you really get where each of you is coming from, what’s important to you, what are the fears, what are the apprehension, what are the bigger picture goals. I think that there really needs to be transparency because to me, transparency is the ultimate depth in compromise and strategic problem-solving.
Meredith: Yeah! I totally agree and transparency around any area in your relationship builds trust and it’s easier to feel like you’re on the same team rather than opposing sides if you have trust around finances. So if I know my partner’s history with money and I know why they think the way they think and I know what they think and believe around money and we have transparency where I know what they’re doing and they know what I’m doing, then any disagreements you come to, you’ve got all the information you need to come to a resolution and understanding. So you’re starting from a place of being able to be successful and resolving disagreement rather than sort of like all the way down the mountain and having to go through so many other paths before you can even get to think about we’re gonna resolve this.
Marina: Yeah and I think just from a shearly strategic point of view, when you have financial transparency, there’s this kind of mystery karat being dangled in front of anybody but also you have a clear picture of everything that’s going in and out and I think that’s very grounding. I really like Mint. My husband and I have separate accounts and joint account but all our accounts are on Mint so we can see where everything is. And just from an organization and transparency point of view, just makes a very mentally palatable to see everything and to be transparent, and I think it really reduces feelings of criticism and contempt when you’re like, “Well, where did that money go?” You don’t need to ask your partner because that can feel like a really attacking question, you can just go on your app and see.
Meredith: Yeah! That’s a great suggestion! I would say the next step after creating transparency around money is to work towards a shared vision for your finances. So consciously compromise and integrate your beliefs into a shared plan for your financial health. A great way to do this is go back to episode 006 - “How to Get Your Partner to Say Yes” - and download the Compromise Cheat Sheet because that’s gonna help you walk through step-by-step how to integrate your different perspectives, but basically, you’re gonna look for areas of agreement, right? We start with where we agree. Find your shared goals, you shared dreams, start there, expand on that and that’s how we sort of begin the compromise process.
Marina: Yeah. I think couples lose sight of that because it’s so easy to focus on what you have not in common but really pushing yourself to find the places you do agree is great and a really, really big way to move forward. So the next step would be to review the areas of disagreement. And after you go through where you agree, I think very rarely do couples really have minimal things they work on. We all want a house and we all want a vacation and we all want to be able to go out for dinner but we all wanna feel secure in retirement. Bigger picture, I think people are not that different but our areas of disagreement will tend to blow them up - is there flexibility or are they non-negotiable? And this is where you really have to go back to, I want to say is also episode 006. We will put it again in the show notes. Are your non-negotiables or are you in oppositional teenager mode because the hierarchy in your relationship is a little skewed right now and you’re just digging your heels in for the sake of digging your heels in? In the areas where you disagree, where can you be a little bit more flexible?
Meredith: Yeah. Yup! “Compromise with me like I’m someone you love.”
Meredith: John Gottman (I think). Definitely not a Meredith Silversmith original. If there is flexibility, right? So if you find those areas of disagreement and you can create some wiggle room, create some flexibility, move through the compromise process from episode 006. Find little pieces of commonality between even your disagreements. “How can we achieve both of our goals at the same time? How can save for a house and spend for dinners out at the same time?” Compromise! Agree on “We’re gonna devote this to this and this to that and we’re gonna work towards both of our goals because they’re both valuable and important.”
Marina: And this is where I think that focus on quality of life is really, really comes in strong to go in with the attitude of “This problem may not have the most clear cut solution. The solution is improving the quality of life we have around it.”
Meredith: Yeah. Yeah! And I mean if you’re finding that you have a non-negotiable and really there shouldn’t be more than two or three, very, very minimally are beliefs around finances that each of you have really, truly, non-negotiable. But if you find you’re hitting that wall, the question moves away from “How are we gonna compromise and agree on this?” to “How can we live with this perpetual problem?” This is gonna be one of those 69 percent-ers that never gets resolved that you have to learn how to cope with. So, how can we live with this? Do we need to have separate finances in some areas? So maybe it’s “If I have a spending goal and I have a saving goals, maybe we’re gonna have separate accounts with those particular goals. Maybe I have my side account that I put money away for the things that my spouse doesn’t necessarily agree with and here she does the same.” You know, sort of handling it that way and still having transparency but setting a boundary around what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not.
Marina: Yeah! I mean that makes a ton of sense and I think this is where a lot of people don’t do that intersection is, “Where are my boundaries?”
Meredith: Mhmm! Yeah!
Marina: And that’s more like that individual self reflective process comes in.
Marina: First is, figuring out your own stuff before all of these conversations, where do you think boundaries come from?
Meredith: Yeah! And I think just a touch on fully separate versus fully combined finances. I know this is something that comes up with couples at times and I actually don’t know that you and I have talked about this in detail. So I’m curious if we see eye to eye but I don’t think there’s anything inherently good or bad with either. I think it’s really about communication and transparency and respect for each other. So if you do choose to keep your finances separate for a particular reason, I think the risky area is this feeling of “What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is yours and we don’t have so much of a we.”
Meredith: So I do think that’s probably an area that I would always focus on with couples with separate finances is how do you create a feeling of “we” even if you’re maintaining separate bank accounts or separate money. I don’t know what your thoughts are on that.
Marina: My thoughts are very much so in line with yours actually. Which I’m not surprised about but yeah, I think this is an important distinction to draw. You can have transparency without having combined finances. Very easy to do. I think transparency is the first step but I do think there is something to, I don’t think you need to combine all your finances like they’re a pool but having some combined finances that makes you feel like you’re building something together financially and you’re working towards a bigger picture together as opposed to where that finances are completely separate. What does that communicate in your relationship versus how my each partner internalize that? I know that for some people that’s a big wall.
Marina: And that’s a big, maybe, “Do they not trust me? Do they not see this as long term? Do they not see me as financially compatible?” You know, there’s a lot of ways this can be read into.
Marina: And I just think that for most non-complex situations because I know financial situations get extremely complex. Having that completely separate always brings up a bit of a flag for me. It’s definitely something I explore with couples that I have because there can be a lot of feelings internalized and a real mismatch between the message a partner internalizes and the other partner tends to send.
Meredith: Yeah! Definitely! And it comes back to communication, right? At the end of the day it’s all about having your message be clear, be accurately understood, be free of the four horsemen. You can pretty much make anything work as long as there’s open and honest and transparent communication and understanding.
Meredith: So, it’s our two cents on separate versus combined finances. Gosh! I feel like this was a doozy of an episode guys. For two people who are not financial planners, I feel like we just spent a lot of financial advise on the table. So listen, as always, we don’t want you to just listen. We want you to listen and integrate this into your relationship. So we have put together a bonus - the Happy Couples Guide To Shared Finances for you - and you can get it on our website at www.simplygreatrelationships.com/027
Marina: Let’s talk about takeaways.
Marina: What’s your big takeaway?
Meredith: Oh gosh! I think the idea of financial transparency which I see it as... How do I put this? So there’s intentionally not being transparent. There’s hiding things from partner. There’s like doing online shopping and hiding the boxes or stuff like that and then there’s just not taking the time to be transparent and I think those are two different intentions but the outcome is the same. So I think that is something that I am taking away that even if it’s not intentional, it’s still damaging and you really need to set aside the time and the energy to have conversations around your finances and build that open communication on the consistent basis.
Meredith: What about for you?
Marina: I think that idea that a lot of people forget about that we have our beliefs and thoughts and ideas and goals around money that probably predate our relationship.
Marina: And when we’re working in a certain way, it’s not necessarily because we want to work against our partner.
Marina: But if we don’t have that conversation, I can certainly feel that way.
Meredith: Yeah! Definitely!
Marina: So my big takeaway is to have that conversation. And you know what? Sometimes, it’s not a one time conversation. Sometimes, it’s the conversation with a whole lot of follow-up with pressure questions.
Meredith: Very true!
Marina: So my big takeaway is that we’re all kind of a product of our histories and our relationship with money is very much so tied to that and we need to build self awareness and couple awareness around that before we can do any problem solving, any strategic goal settings.
Marina: That’s very important.
Meredith: That’s a great point!
Marina: So, that’s all for today. This was I think a big episode but hopefully a very useful one. One that resonated with a lot of people.
Marina: We hope that you take these tips and start using them right away.
Marina: We’d love to continue the conversation with you on our Facebook group where we will be hooking you up with tips, with tricks, with live streams exclusively for our members. You can find our group at www.facebook/groups/simplygreatrelationships or you can just go on to our website and click the link at www.simplygreatrelationships.com.
Marina: We’ll see you next week guys!
Marina and Meredith: Bye!