Money is often cited as one of the biggest problems in both romantic relationships and families too. According to a survey conducted by Wells Fargo, 44% of people ranked personal finances as the most difficult topic to talk about. The challenge is that when we don’t talk about money, we’re not able to resolve our differences and anyone who’s ever been in a relationship knows how detrimental that can be. It’s no surprise that mutual trust is eroded when relationships and money are misaligned especially because money and trust work hand-in-hand.
A study published in 2013 in the Family Relations journal examined more than 4,500 couples and found that fights about money were a top predictor of divorce regardless of income, net worth, and debt levels. Some of the issues that partners fight about the most include:
Money management and budgeting
When couples have financial arguments, they feel less satisfaction in their relationship and trust can weaken. Going back to its roots, money is a social convention where one party accepts it to have a certain value and trusts that the other party will honor and it as if it has a similar value. So, when it comes to disagreements about money, it can be challenging to know who is best to trust - yourself, or your partner. And, no, it doesn’t help that money is layered with beliefs, suggestion and innuendo that cause it to mean different things to different people.
Money also reflects the dynamics of trust issues that might’ve played out in your childhood home. Granted, how you engage with money may be the opposite of how your your parents handled it. Even still, the more you understand the root causes behind your money disagreements, the better chance you have to improve your partner relationship and your money.
Relationships are here to help us live our lives to their fullest potential. I’ve been in a relationship with my husband, Tim, since 1987. He’s the person who has stood by me through many huge life changes, including acting as my supporter when I decided to dedicate my life to this work. To be together with one person for over 30 years has been far from easy. We’re both strong-willed and determined people who had a lot of growing up to do and we (unconsciously) choose to do our inner work together. Without Tim I feel I would not have many of the things that bring me the most happiness in life -- our kids, the homes we’ve created together, and the ability to do work that we both deeply enjoy. Thanks to our partnership I feel great wealth both inside and out. My husband is my tower of strength and continuously provides me with shade in the heat of the desert. Words fail to describe the extent of my love for him.
Although we had a lot of work to do in various areas of our relationship, one such area was learning to work together with our finances. And, we are no different from any other couple. All couples, yourself included, must learn to work together when it comes to money, or sadly witness your relationship fray because your money is a mess. For many years, I took care of just about everything related to our finances and because we were in agreement, it worked out well enough. I thought everything was ideal with this arrangement, however, a few years ago Tim told me that he felt stressed about his lack of involvement and asked to take over paying our bills. It took me stepping back to see that he wanted to have more control over our money than I had given to him. Realizing that it wasn’t a bad thing that he wanted more responsibility made it easy to hand over bill paying to him. I had never thought about the fact that my doing so much wasn’t in his best interests. My point in mentioning all of this is that I think our ability to work together financially is one of the highlights of our relationship and through our experiences we’ve developed great trust for each other that has crossed over into other areas of our marriage.
I realize that it isn’t always so simple for many couples to make changes in their experiences with money which is why I encourage my clients to take a step back to examine what’s working and what isn’t when it comes to money dynamics.
Max Planck, quantum theorist and Nobel Prize winner famously said, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Nowhere else is this statement more relevant and evident than in your relationship with those closest to you. It might surprise you to know that many of our challenges with money are closely connected to our feelings of self-worth and self-esteem which developed early in our lives.
How you feel about yourself now, has plenty to do with what happened as a child. For this reason, I think it’s incredibly helpful when we can dig deep to uncover how the past is affecting your life today. Things that occurred in the past are often the reason we react harshly to problems that occur in the present. By better understanding your own relationship with money, as well as, your partner’s relationship with money, you can begin to respond (consciously and thoughtfully) rather than react (impulsively and mindlessly) to whatever challenges life serves up.
How Does the Past Affect Your Money Today?
In my upcoming book iPROSPER, I share the story of one of my clients named Danielle. Danielle is a hair stylist who was dealing with lifelong problems as a result of never feeling like she was enough. Unresolved conflicts that started early in life had turned into a perpetual cycle of not being able to control her spending and then trying to make up for her financial mismanagement by working long hours. Without being taught about her about her own value as a human being when she was young, Danielle was left trying to figure out life and taking care of herself as an adult. Yet, the wounds she carried were so deep and vast that she couldn’t restrain her tendencies of using money (and spending it) to help her feel better.
Chronic “not-enoughness” works like this — when we are caught in its web, we will do anything to try and fill the hole inside of us. For some we think that buying things will help us to fill the hole and for others we may try overconsumption with food, hoarding things, and using alcohol or drugs. Any which way, the desire is the same — to feel as if the void inside is no longer empty. Feelings of not-enoughness are what cause us to operate from a perspective of scarcity and fear in life. Sadly, even when we succeed at turning our finances around, it’s only a matter of time before we work to fill the void again. Why? Because we still haven’t dealt with the root of our problems.
Instead of living in this perpetual cycle of filling the hole, we must dive into our unresolved inner conflicts that brought about feelings of scarcity and not-enoughness to begin with. This is the only way to fill the hole once and for all. Through this, we gain understanding way beyond what we had the capacity to figure out in our youth and we start to see that there are ways to change how we see things going forward.
Being inspired to bring abundance (rather than scarcity) into one’s life starts by being honest that your relationships are often reflecting back how you feel about yourself. The more you love and trust yourself and feel a sense of gratefulness towards your partner, the more your partner will love, trust and support you. The opposite applies as well and so the less you trust yourself, the less your partner trusts you. When you learn to see things in this way, you realize that many of your past challenges with your partner likely stem from things you haven’t wanted to look at within yourself.
Learning about my own inner money story and how it was affecting my relationship with Tim helped me take responsibility for turning things around for the better. It started by paying closer attention to the root cause of our challenges and then engaging in a lot more communication than I had been accustomed to. This helped me notice how conditioned I was by parents who rarely engaged in positive money communications and the fact that I needed to work harder to create a different situation in my own life.
As mentioned earlier, money is one of the biggest sources of stress and arguments in partner relationships. Disparities in socioeconomic status growing up, income, values, beliefs and spending all contribute to the many challenges we face in our relationships. Power plays, greed, attachment, desire, shame and guilt are also playing a big part in our money communications — most of which are happening without our being consciously aware of these differences. Sometimes the only way to deal with these differences is by getting professional help or by engaging in a process like iPROSPER which I created to help people learn how to heal their money backstories so they can create a new reality with money going forward.
The Repeating Conflicts
I’ve witnessed numerous occasions with couples not being able to understand one another’s points of view which leads to lack of communication and frustration for both partners.
I’m including a few of the most common situations that arise and how a process like iPROSPER helps partners look at their own and each other’s relationship with money and then use this as a way to create better money alignment for the future.
#1. Partners Cannot Agree on How To Manage Their Money
Sheila grew up poor and her husband, Drew, grew up wealthy. He thinks nothing of spending $10,000 on a vacation where she thinks that an expensive vacation shouldn’t cost more than $1,000. It would be okay if they could afford it, but they struggle to keep up with Drew’s desires for more upscale vacations. This problem is the one that that causes most of their fights and they’re both wondering if they should even stay together.
Disagreements over money, more often than not, stem from lack of understanding of each other’s belief systems. Without some idea of what’s happened in the past and why we feel the way we do about money, it is incredibly difficult to create alignment between two people. The disagreements quickly become arguments and hard feelings are created to the point where both partners feel some degree of resentment towards each other.
By going through the iProsper process and digging into the stories behind why the couple was not able to solve their differences with money, they had many realizations. First, they discovered that Sheila’s family treated money as sacred, special and an act of love to spend less money so they could have more time together. Sheila’s parents both worked in less demanding jobs so they could take longer vacations and have more time freedom. Their ideal vacation included low cost camping trips that would last several weeks. It was during these trips that Sheila knew some of her fondest memories were formed and it was a great reminder to her that the most enjoyable vacations cost very little. These memories also helped her to remember why she was self employed and earning less than what she could make in a full-time job.
Drew, on the other hand, came from a family where they had a lot of money but not much time together. So vacations were about short and top of the line vacations that would focus on the decadence and exclusivity of the experience. This was his parents way of showing their love to him and he remembered those vacations fondly. Similar to his parents, Drew had worked hard in school and later in his career to ensure he earned a high salary and yet he, too, could not hold onto his money for very long. This was upsetting to him because he was now watching his parents struggle financially as a result of so many years of living lavishly and didn’t want to end up in the same pickle later in life.
By learning about each other’s experiences with money and vacations, they quickly realize how unnecessary their fights had been and the importance of helping each other find common ground so they both could enjoy their vacations. Without making either person wrong or right, they accepted their differences by understanding how their parents had shown them love and appreciation in different ways growing up. From this understanding they decided to try taking a few short weekend trips where they could stay at hotels located in cities that he enjoyed visiting and then use vacation time to take longer camping vacations together.
Knowing the story behind why they were struggling made all the difference in helping them to create alignment that supported each other’s needs. By working together they eventually figured out what they wanted for themselves outside of what they had witnessed being modeled by their parents growing up. Their relationship flourished as this lesson of acceptance crossed over into many other areas of their lives.
#2. Partners Blame Each Other for Their Money Problems
Dan had always been responsible with money. He was careful and methodical with his spending and always trying to save and pay off any outstanding debt. His partner, Julie was the complete opposite and as much as she said she was trying to be more careful about her spending, he kept finding shopping bags hidden away in the closet and new charges on their credit cards. It was enough to drive him crazy because he worked so hard to be fiscally conscious and yet she didn’t seem to care. As their trust in each other waned, the wedge between them grew wider.
After going through the iPROSPER process, the couple discovered several things about themselves and the root cause of their fights. First, Dan learned that Julie was still struggling with the aftermath of a childhood filled with deprivation and abuse. She didn’t tell him about things that happened to her because she was afraid he wouldn’t love her if he knew the depth of her “baggage”. Although the abuse wasn’t something that would have gotten her parents into trouble with the law, it was enough to cause her to feel severe self-doubt and anxiety in all areas of her life. She knew it was connected to her desire to shop because it was the only thing that made her feel better. Through the iPROSPER questions and healing practices, she was able to come full circle in feeling a sense of forgiveness to her parents for what happened and towards herself for being on the receiving end of the abuse. This shift was enough to open the door to discussing more productive ways of healing than shopping.
Understanding her past and how hard she had tried to avoid thinking about it also brought to light things that Dan was doing in the relationship with keep them from being intimate. His habit of working long hours and then being too tired for sex was creating distance between them and keeping them from feeling connected. As Dan learned more about his own money backstory, he saw how his drive to work hard and push himself came from having a perfectionist father who never told him that he was good enough. He saw how the goal of pleasing his father was still motivating him after all these years and how important it would be to let that go if he was ever going to spend more time at home with his wife. This meeting of minds created greater alignment so that they could help each other grow stronger and resist the temptations left over from unmet childhood needs. Rather than disagreeing they now knew how to help support each other going forward.
#3. Partners Do Not Trust Each Other with Money
Jenna runs a successful coaching business that is earning multiple six figures and her husband, Joe is a business executive earning over $500,000 a year. Together they’re living a very expensive lifestyle that includes two homes, two golf club memberships and three children who attend private schools.
Jenna grew up in a wealthy family that had a financial meltdown that left her family penniless when her father’s business fell into bankruptcy due to financial mismanagement. Joe grew up in a single parent, financially strapped home, where his father abandoned the family when he was only 3 years old. The challenge is that while he enjoyed many aspects of their lavish life together, he worried constantly that something bad will happen and it would come crumbling down. His worries about losing everything were causing him to lose sleep and have trouble focusing at work.
Having had this exact doomsday situation occur in her home when Jenna was young, means that every time he shared about his worries, she’d get triggered into remembering the pain of losing their home, having to move to a less expensive neighborhood, leaving her private school and so on. Whenever he started stressing about money it created a chain reaction where she quickly followed and their fights became so intense that neither of them trusted each other. She was afraid that if, for any reason, things did get challenging that he wouldn’t be able to handle adversity and he’d be the reason for things falling apart. This caused her to consider leaving him so that she wouldn’t have to be worrying about the future all the time. He had a sense of what she was thinking about which caused him to worry even more that she would leave him just like his father had.
Jenna suggested going through iPROSPER together as a last resort to see if they could uncover and heal the problems they were facing with money induced stress. Within a few weeks of starting they both learned how their trust issues were connected to much of the trauma they had both faced growing up. This gave them an open line of communication to support one another as they continued to heal themselves through the process. Realizing that they both had their own set of challenges that were triggering each others worst fears came as a huge relief because now they had something to work with.
Neither wanted to share their worst fears with each other but the journaling exercises prompted them to see how valuable the process really was. Their biggest win came when they both saw how the only way they could make their marriage work would be talk more and at the same time take a hard look at the life they’d created together. This prompted them to begin decreasing several of their expenses including unloading one of the golf memberships and several other expenses that weren’t important. They knew that only by regaining trust could they be in alignment with each other and how important that was to staying together.
#4. Putting All The Responsibility With Money Onto One Partner
Jeff and John were in a relationship for many years before they decided to get married. After marriage they decided to commingle their money after having kept it separate for nearly 10 years. That was when all hell broke loose because they didn’t realize just how differently they approached money. While their challenges could happen to anyone, it is also helpful to note that there can be additional challenges that can arise in same sex couples that can be compounded due to social, cultural, and legal pressures that arise.
Jeff had come from a tough home where he started working early and taking care of his financial needs by the time he was 14. He knew how to manage money like a banker and was incredibly diligent with budgeting and saving money. John was very different in his approach to money. He’d come from a more traditional home where he was given an allowance and then didn’t have to work until after college other than some part time jobs in the summer. When he made money, he spent it all. He didn’t know what it meant to conserve and save and so he didn’t.
When they got married, Jeff agreed to manage the money and this is where the problems started. John knew it was in his best interests to have Jeff take care of the finances and so he released all of his responsibility onto him. At first Jeff was excited to be in charge and yet within a few months, it was clear that John’s financial behavior needed to change — he was spending too much and needed to reign in his spending behavior. In order to get by each month, Jeff found himself having to pay a portion of Jeff’s bills. This went on for several months until Jeff realized that if they didn’t get things under control the money was going to destroy their partnership.
By digging into their money backstories through iPROSPER, Jeff and John learned how little they knew about each other’s pasts. Jeff had disconnected from his family emotionally in his teens when he knew his own sexuality would not be accepted by his family. One of the ways he did took care of himself was by working hard and saving money which brought him a great deal of personal satisfaction.
John had grown up in a home where both of his parents were super supportive of him and his sexuality. They only cared about helping John to be happy and one way they did this was by spoiling him, often lavishly. He never had to worry about where money was going to come from because it always showed up right when he needed it and his parents didn’t mind helping him out financially even into adulthood. John couldn’t imagine a life without being able to spend on things he wanted and he loved the freedom that money brought to life.
Learning more about each other helped them to see the disconnection with their money behaviors. They were working on the opposite sides of the table rather than finding the middle path between the extremes. The process helped them to acknowledge the problems they were facing and then develop solutions for going forward. John agreed to cut down on his spending and to talk to Jeff before he made big purchases, and Jeff agreed to give updates to John about when his spending was getting into the red zone. John also realized that it was important to Jeff that he feel appreciated for all that he was doing to take care of their finances. This led to great epiphanies and took their relationship to a new high because of the trust they felt towards each other.
The benefits I’ve seen occur for couples going through the iPROSPER process include:
Less money stress
More useful and solution oriented money conversations
Strategies for paying off debt become more clear and “do-able”
More trust and greater intimacy
Ongoing communication about money
All said, iPROSPER helps you and your partner to become more communicative and supportive of each other when it comes to your money. So you can support each other while creating a life that works for both of you. Knowing and discussing what matters most while agreeing upon your beliefs about money can make a lasting impact in your relationship and help you to create a financial future that works for both of you.
Immediate Steps for Financially Improving Your Romantic Relationships
A few tips and tools inspired by the iPROSPER process that can help you right away in your relationship and with your money challenges include:
#1. Take the time to identify and document the troublesome emotional reactions and behaviors that come up for each other when dealing with money.
#2. Learn about each others backstories with money and beyond. How was money treated growing up? What was your happiest moments with money and what causes you lots of stress? Share these stories with each other to see what breakthroughs arise as a result.
#3. Be open to forgiving yourself and your partner for past challenges with money.
#4. Take responsibility for how you feel and how you act with money — never blame anyone else for how you feel. Instead see all challenges with your partner as an opportunity to look inside to see what is the root cause of the problem.
#5. Accept each other for who you are — not who you want them to be. Give each other freedom to be true to yourself and also see how you can align together to support each other’s happiness.
#6. Practice unconditional love every day.
#7. Never go to sleep angry at each other – always take the time to speak your truth and agree to work on finding resolution for any and all challenges that come up along the way.
In summary, acting almost like an aphrodisiac, many of us think money has the ability to bring us great love and happiness. It’s true that it is acting like a magnet, just not in the way we may think. Money has an uncanny way of reflecting the struggles we have within ourselves and cause us to project those struggles into our experiences with money and into our relationships. When you project your problems, hang ups and mental triggers onto other people or things outside yourself, your problems only get worse which is why we need to develop solutions rather than hoping they go away on their own.
Your relationships are a critical part of creating financial wellness for yourself and those you are responsible for. By understanding ourselves we can lighten the burden of how we feel about our partners and create much more loving, supportive and compassionate relationships for ourselves while improving our money at the same time.
All said when it comes to relationships and money, there is lots to learn that can dramatically benefit your life. Now you’ve got an idea of some of the most common challenges that can arise and how the iPROSPER process can help you create solutions in your own life.
If you’d like to learn more about iPROSPER, feel free to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I have several virtual workshops and retreats coming up in 2019 and would be happy to provide you with more details.
Leisa Peterson is an author, podcaster, educator, and coach who helps her clients create a life of abundance. She’s the founder of WealthClinic.com, the Art of Abundance podcast, and maintains a thriving business and money coaching practice in Sedona, AZ where she’s a regular guest on podcasts, radio shows and has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, FastCompany, Forbes, The Week and Huffington Post. She combines her skills of being a long time entrepreneur and money expert (CFP®, MBA in finance, 25 years in finance) then mixes in mindfulness practices, and other mindset shifting techniques to help entrepreneurs reconnect to their true selves while growing businesses that make the world a better place. A native of northern California, Leisa now lives in Sedona, AZ with her husband and college sweetheart, Tim and their two children, Aidan and Zoe.
To learn more about iPROSPER workshops, retreats and Leisa’s upcoming book, iPROSPER, go to thewealthflower.com to download your WealthFlower Toolkit and get started on transforming your relationship with money.