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Many couples tell me that money discussions often get heated and escalate very quickly

In such situations, behaviors that Dr. John Gottman dubs “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (“Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt and Stonewalling”) come into play and suggest a relationship that is struggling and can be a predictor of divorce.

Couples who are struggling financially as well as those with higher incomes can all run into problems.

Do you recognize any of these behaviors in your relationship and how to resolve such conflict?

The first step is to for both partners to have a good understanding of current spending and future financial demands. Together, a couple can sit down and get a clear picture by going over a year’s worth of bank statements and credit card expenses.  The results are often surprising and can be a starting point if changes are needed.

Before doing so and during a review, an important factor to understand is that everyone comes into a relationship with their own life experiences and assumptions, including about money.

The whole subject of “money” can be a broad heading that encapsulates how one felt about “money” during childhood and adolescence. “Money” is inextricably bound to “security”, one of our most basic needs.

The childhood experiences of what money meant in either partner’s family while growing up and how these impact their views about money today can be surprisingly different.

Such knowledge of one another contributes to their level of friendship and intimacy, and these conversations can lead to an exploration of what money means to each person.

Perhaps it is about security from a partner who frequently heard their parents arguing and stressed about making ends meet. For another it might mean being able to show success by acquiring luxuries in life and caring less about saving.

So rather than practicing a zero-sum game of one being right and the other wrong, a more empathetic approach recognizing that past experience plays a part can be very helpful.

Consider the example of a man who grew up in a family where his father made all the financial decisions who goes out and buys a car without any discussion with his wife. She is appalled, both because there had been no discussion and because the car was one that he knew she disliked.

This action can easily lead to resentment, a lack of trust and a weakening of the relationship.

A further factor to consider is how to have a stress-free conversations about partnership issues that cause conflict:

  • Talk regularly when you are not stressed, tired, hungry or hung over
  • Make space for each partner to express thoughts and feelings
  • Make clear that each partner is being heard by expressing what you have understood about their point of view
  • Take a break if either partner is feeling stressed or overwhelmed

Even in relationships where money is not usually a problem, there can be times when the couple’s ideas clash and some help is needed. Weddings, college tuition, retirement planning, adult children returning home, individual health crises and caring for elderly parents are issues that I have helped couples navigate.

If and when you are ready…

If you want guidance to make changes in your life arising from topics touched on here, I invite you to call me today to set up an appointment held on Zoom by either phoning me at (941) 306 1235 or emailing me at [email protected].

I offer a complimentary 15 minute by phone if you have questions you would like answered before beginning counseling.