When Couples Fight About Money

This article is contributed by Dr. Mary Gresham. Dr. Gresham is a psychologist who practices in Atlanta, Ga. She is an expert on the psychology of money.

One of the most conflict-laden topics for couples is money. It takes a very mature couple to speak openly and calmly about their money differences. There is still a taboo about money discussions and to break this taboo often takes an emotional outburst….not the best beginning for a discussion. In addition money tends to bring up fear and anxiety so it is easy to believe that your partner is doing something that will threaten your survival if you and your partner have differences about handling money.

Many couples unconsciously divide roles in their partnership; one partner is designated to be the Spender and the other partner is designated to be the Saver. In this way, certain checks and balances are provided to the couples’ system. Distributing fixed roles tends to increase the amount of conflict a couple will have about money. It is very hard to step into your partner’s shoes when you feel an obligation to speak up for your money role whether it is to advocate on behalf of fun and comfort or to be the spokesperson for responsibility and saving. The longer a person remains in one assigned role, the more polarized the couple tends to become.

How do you break through this kind of conflict? It is not always easy to do but it can be fun to decide consciously that for a designated time you will experiment with switching roles to see what it is like to be in charge of your partner’s task. This can be quite funny as you take on a role that is unfamiliar and awkward. Another possibility is to change the ways you do things so that you are both involved in each money task. You shop together and pay bills together and decide on a budget together and review savings and investment decisions together. It is harder to get out of touch with your partner’s dilemma ,whether it is being unaware of how much groceries cost or being unaware of how poorly funded the retirement is, when you are both exposed to all aspects of money functioning in the family.

Often there are gender roles such that women are trained to spend and men are trained to save and invest. However this can vary from couple to couple and is not always the case. Look carefully at the roles that you each play in your money system and ask yourselves if you are truly operating as a money team. If not, how do you want to change it?

Dr. Mary Gresham is a psychologist who practices in Atlanta, Ga. She is an expert on the psychology of money and has been quoted in the Wall St Journal, Money magazine, Redbook magazine, the Atlanta Journal, the New York Times and numerous other publications for her work with families and money. She has been practicing for 25 years and is grateful on a daily basis to have work that she loves. Her degrees are from Tulane, Emory and Georgia State University. When she is not working, she volunteers at the Georgia Psychological Association where she is a fellow and helps young psychologists with early career issues. Her website and blog can be found at www.doctorgresham.com


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