Money fights are a hot spot I am asked about frequently by couples. Money has a lot to do with power in relationships. Here’s an example.
Q: My partner and I fight about the money and never get anywhere with it. He wants me to tell him about every penny I spend, and I just can’t keep that close of track of it all. He has always been in charge of our bills, and I don’t mind that, but when he questions me for buying a new outfit when I work a full-time job too, it really angers me. He thinks nothing of getting a few drinks with his golf buddies, spending his money the way he wants, so I really don’t see what the big deal is. It’s not like we don’t make enough money between our two jobs. Why does he demand to know exactly what I spend? I don’t ask him what he spends. BTW, you should know we love each other, it’s just these money fights that get really annoying.
A: There are several issues in there we could unpack. Since you asked, let’s just talk about the idea that you argue and never get anywhere. Taking personal responsibility for your actions in these situations is step one. Asking for what you need is number two. And number three is an action plan where when you meet his needs, he meets yours. And don’t bring up the subject if don’t have time to complete the conversation. In other words, don’t fling your frustrations at your partner when they are walking out the door on the way to work.
Change your response from whining about not remembering. From a practical standpoint, many easy, simple solutions exist to your record keeping conundrum.
- Use a charge card for your purchases. All transactions will be documented on the statement.
- Establish one location for all of your receipts (a basket on your dresser perhaps).
- If you collect receipts, see aside one time/week to turn them over and answer any questions about them your partner might have—without being defensive.
For him, since he appears to like having control over the finances, knowing you will do this is very reassuring. Obviously you have to follow through. When you make this promise, he should then agree to let up on trying to pin you down with every little purchase. You can smile and tease him in a friendly way to let him know you aren’t counting his cocktails, so he shouldn’t count your couture.
Money Fights and Meaning
If this is the end of the disagreement, great. You have each approached the problem with new responses, changing your behaviors in a way that provides a simple solution. However, if the problem is deeper, and you are genuinely having trouble with your differing views on money and what it means to each of you, that is a different discussion altogether. Income equity may be in play. Or perhaps your partner feels the need to plan and save for retirement, or a specific large purchase. Maybe your view is more short term, and money for you is a way to enjoy your career success now. Any or all of these viewpoints are valid. We always bring our “money baggage” to a relationship.
So when you argue, are you really struggling with basic differences in how you each meet your security needs? Nothing will send someone’s anxiety up like feeling their financial security is being threatened. Discussions about serious issues like this need to occur early and throughout a relationship to make each partner aware of the other’s needs. Money fights are not necessarily bad; they can awaken you to getting some important needs met. You both deserve to have your needs met, and there are ways to compromise and put systems in place that do so, such as the above example. Strengthen your emotional connection by working through this when you are both calm and focused on finding healthy compromise.
Page Rutledge, LCSW, MSW, MPH is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker practicing in Wilmington, NC. She specializes in anxiety management and relationship repair. Visit her website and blog at www.pagerutledge.com