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Why Couples Disagree About Money

If you’ve ever been in any kind of relationship, whether dating, living together, or married, chances are you have experienced differences with that other person about money. It’s an age-old problem and it rates high on reasons why couples seek counseling. Whatever the living situation, it’s a fact that when human beings huddle up together under one roof or even spend a great amount of time together, money challenges are bound to occur.

Families of origin often have a great deal of impact on how we experience, feel, and think about money. Observing parents handling money and discussions about money can stamp long-term money behaviors. Experiencing agreement and strong signs that parents worked together to create financial success may make it easier to create similar relationship interactions around money. Conversely, if childhood memories of strife and arguing or power struggles about money remain, then children may grow up with more adversarial money relationships themselves. Discussions about early money experiences may help avoid any pitfalls and to recreate successes.

To ward off major disagreements and arguments with your other half down the road, consider exploring these typical money problems that haunt most couples before you take the plunge:

1. Starting out without a plan of action or similar money goals can kill any otherwise great and loving relationship pretty quickly. Most couples soon find that there are differences as to how money that comes in the door goes out the door. Creating a budget from day one can alleviate a lot of common misunderstandings. In addition, establishing three or six month goals right early on (for savings, for fun spending and so forth) adds a layer of accountability that otherwise may not exist between partners.

2. Debt, whether held by one or both people who are entering a more permanent relationship, is one of the secrets that just cannot exist in a loving relationship. If one or the other person has a tendency to charge up credit cards or to overspend and hide purchases from the other, then the opportunity for resentment and trust can fester and cause long-term damage. Putting all the cards on the table ahead of living together or falling too deeply in love can allow for conversations and joint efforts to remediate debt and unproductive behavior around debt in an organized and collaborative manner.

3. And most importantly, being sure that money values match is simply critical to relationship and financial success. Values reflect the most deeply held beliefs and feelings that, more than realized, impact how financial resources are managed. Certainly, relationships have existed, survived, and maybe even succeeded without any deep intentional conversations about money values. But there may be losses at the end of the day that could have been avoided if these discussions had been a normal part of life.

As the story goes, an older couple attended a daylong retirement seminar held by the HR department of a governmental agency. Employees who were nearing retirement were encouraged to bring spouses along for the day. So, fortunately, they came together. One particular hour was devoted to a discussion about money values and how they might impact decisions around retirement.  Through this session, it was noted that the older couple in the back of the room kept whispering back and forth.

Near the end of the session, the man raised his hand. When called on, he shared an amazing story. He said that he and his wife of over 35 years had made relatively good money throughout their life and work. He commented proudly that they had raised four lovely children who all went to college and had their own great families now. He shared that they had tried hard to spend and save wisely, but that they never could really decide if they were ready to retire and when to take the plunge.

The gentleman went on to very honestly admit that he and his wife had never thought about or been told or even considered how their different money values might impact this, one of the biggest financial decisions in their lives. He said that he was always a spender and she was always a saver. And that, over the last hour, they had come to realize that their failure to look at retirement from their different value perspectives was the very thing that was keeping them from making a decision together that they could both be comfortable with. So that day, they had vowed to make their values a serious discussion so they could comfortably live out their lives, assured that the finances were there to sustain what was most important to them.

No matter what type of or how deep a relationship, it’s never too late to stop and consider these concepts. Sooner than later, working together to recognize and avoid potential financial pitfalls can make all the difference in having a successful money life together.

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