It’s no secret that money is tight for a lot of people at the moment, with the converging forces of rising interest rates and inflation. It’s something that’s not only putting strain on our wallets but also on our relationships. Dr Rowan Burckhardt, the director of the Sydney Couples Counselling Centre, said that arguments in a relationship over money are common as money can “represent many things to different people”.
In light of that, Dr Burckhardt provided Lifehacker with some tips on how couples can resolve arguments related to money.
Why do we argue about money?
When it comes to arguments over money, sometimes the question can just be “why?”. Dr Burckhardt said the problem occurs when one person doesn’t understand or meet the needs of the other, or when needs are clashing.
However, it’s not the conflict that’s the real problem, it’s the resolution.
“Differences about money in a relationship, like other differences, are not a problem in itself. In fact, it is not the actual difference that creates conflict, it is our way of resolving that difference which causes the conflict.”
“If there are fights over money, the couple should look at their way of resolving their differences, rather than focus on the money issue itself. They have done a study looking at conflict in a relationship over money and they found that the level of conflict relating to money was unrelated to the income of that couple. Even the most wealthy of couples would fight just as much as couples with low income.”
“When resolving conflict about money, it is essentially where each person puts their thoughts and feelings on the table and then figures out how to make the pieces fit together,” Dr Burckhardt explained.
In order to do this, it’s important each person is able to express what Dr Burckhardt calls “primary emotions”. In a relationship, these are anxiety, sadness and shame. Secondary emotions like anger, frustration and disappointment also come into play.
“Many people switch from their primary emotion into their secondary emotion and then react to their partner from that place, which triggers a defensive or attacking response from the other, leading the couple into conflict and away from being able to understand each other,” he said.
“If a couple has not been connecting with their primary emotions for a long time, it may take therapy to work through the process, but there are things that couples can do at home to work through the issues.”
What can couples do to resolve money arguments?
Some of the steps you can take to resolve arguments over money, according to Dr. Burkhardt, are as follows:
- Select your moment carefully for raising the issue. Pick a time when you know that your partner will be relaxed and more receptive to talking about a difficult topic.
- Ensure that you talk about how you feel and not blame your partner for those feelings. It is the difference between ‘I feel anxious about not having enough money to pay the bills’ compared to ‘you’re not working enough hours, and that is stressing me out’
- Ensure you provide space for your partner to also express how they feel, the conversation should not just be about you sharing your feelings. It is also very important to truly listen and try to understand the other person’s experience and feelings about money. Communicating back to them or showing them that you understand can help.
- Think of ways you can meet your partner’s needs regarding money and other aspects of the relationship, not just asking that your partner meet your needs.
- Be prepared to have several conversations about this over time, it is unlikely that a conflict over money is the type of issue that a single conversation can fix.
- Always recognise and show appreciation for any effort your partner is making, even if things are still a long way from where you would like them. If you don’t, they will quickly feel like even when they try, you are still unhappy, and so what is the point of even trying?
If you’re in a new relationship, you might want to know when the right time is to start talking about money. We’ve broken that down for you here.
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