Why are we fighting about money?
It's not the lack of money but the lack of communication and compromise that damages so many relationships, particularly in their early stages.
Young couples who underestimate the strain that bad money habits can place on a relationship are setting themselves up for a fall, says Kathleen Gurney, founder and CEO of Financial Psychology Corp. in Sonoma, California and author of Your Financial Personality: What It Is and How You Can Profit From It."Many people talk about looking for their soul mate, but little thought is given to finding their financial match," Gurney says. "People are more likely to discuss sex than finances. Yet it is money issues that cause many of the conflicts couples experience today."
Until facing the first major decision with 'our money,' couples may not even be aware of how far apart their money attitudes really are. In fact, most fights occur not because of the amount of money spent but because of unspoken attitudes that couples are unwilling to discuss.
If not addressed, money tiffs can quickly escalate from tense silence to full-blown fights. And while the arguments may seem to be about something else, they're really about the incompatibilities between a couple's spending and savings priorities, she believes.
For some people, money may mean love, nurturing and caring, while for others it may mean strife, struggle and a source of problems. More women than men relate money to negative emotions such as fear, panic, spite and anger, while men tend to associate money with love and happiness, Gurney suggests.
To men, money represents identity and power, but to women, it represents security and autonomy, she says. And these traits generally only start to manifest themselves once people start living together. Money fights are especially common during the early child-rearing years, particularly when one parent switches to part-time work or maternity leave to care for the child.
In an effort to ease the likelihood of more marital showdowns, Gurney has developed a profiling system that identifies which of nine principal traits drives a person's money management style. The comprehensive program is available to advisors through a licensing agreement, although you can take the test online for a small fee.
Although you won't find any accompanying analysis, here's a stripped-down sample to give you an idea of what the basic questions look like.
Her nine categories are as follows:
Entrepreneurs. Have successful careers. Are highly motivated. Might not necessarily be good with money.
Achievers. Involved with money management and investing. Like conservative low risk investments. Practical. Don't believe money equals status.
Highrollers. Like the thrill of risk. Are emotionally driven. Enjoy spending rather than saving. View money as status.
Safety players. Passive with money. Feel out of control, but aren't worried. Believe their money situation is due to outside forces.
Perfectionists. Anxious and worried about money. Critical of their financial decisions and those of others.
Producers. Frustrated that their hard work hasn't brought financial success. Have difficulty asking for what they want or need. Find value in accommodating others.
Money masters. Successful in accumulating assets. Confident and content with money. Trust their money decisions.
Hunters. Avoid risk. Enjoy emotional spending. Use money as a reward
Optimists. Content with their financial situation. Want somebody else to handle their finances. Believe no matter what happens everything will be fine.
Gurney claims her system can help couples, with or without the help of an advisor, understand their financial makeup so they can broach money issues in a more balanced way.
Psychotherapist Olivia Mellan, a consultant in the field of money-conflict resolution and author of Money Harmony: Resolving Money Conflicts in Your Life and Your Relationships, says it's normal for couples to assume opposite money roles and engage in a balancing dance of opposites. You can try her online 'money personality' quiz.
Most couples fit into one of several husband-wife combinations, Mellan says. Typically, these include a hoarder and a spender - the most common combination - or a worrier and an avoider. Avoiders don't focus on the details of their money life, such as mortgage payments or credit card interest; they just spend.
If opposites don't attract right off the bat - and they usually do - then they'll create each other eventually, Mellan says. So even if a couple starts out with two spenders, usually they'll fight each other for the dominant role. Eventually though, one will begin to function as the heavy by comparison - setting limits, delaying gratification, talking about budgets, and worrying about the spending.
When this happens, make it a dialogue, not a dispute. And then stick with it - those who do often discover that there's a lot less arguing and even a bit more money.
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