Fighting Respectfully 1.6: Money

Money and Power

Like conflicts about sex, which we addressed in yesterday’s post, conflicts about the control of money often mask issues about power. When the same partner is in control of both sex and money, the other spouse often becomes dysfunctional in some way (addictions, psychosomatic disorders, under-functioning, etc.). That dysfunction can then give the other partner even more power in the relationship.

Four Common Circumstances

More commonly, however, one partner controls sex and the other controls money. Mutual management of financial assets becomes conflictual in four common circumstances:

  1. One partner may leverage control by withholding money or distorting the financial picture.
  2. One partner may spend beyond the financial means, often criticizing his or her partner for being a poor money manager or for being “cheap.”
  3. One partner may experience a financial windfall, such as when a relative leaves an inheritance or when a family business meets with sudden financial success.
  4. The couple may experience a shift in earning patterns, such as when one partner gets a significant promotion.

While it is important for couples to agree on how to manage their money, it is also important to uncover the underlying relationship problems masked by the more obvious conflict. This is where Attentive, Active Listening (see previous post) is vital. Slow the conversation down so that you can be conscious of and show respect for the feelings driving the conflict for each partner.

There’s no need to resolve the conflict in one conversation. If money is a perpetual problem, don’t even try. Purpose only to get to know your partner better and negotiate temporary compromises as tension ebbs and flows.

Helpful Guidelines

The following guidelines help resolve many money problems so that the real issues beneath the surface can be addressed:

  • Money inherited prior to marriage belongs to that person, unless this is negotiated before the marriage.
  • Money earned by either partner during the marriage belongs equally to both, unless otherwise agreed prior to marriage.
  • Money inherited after the marriage is established belongs to the partner who inherited it, unless otherwise agreed at the time of the inheritance.
  • The biological parents are financially responsible for their own children, even after divorce, and even if a stepparent is wealthy.

The general principle that “what’s mine is mine and what’s ours is ours” can help couples separate the money issues from the relational problems and power dynamics between them.

Tomorrow, we’ll address another common conflict: In-laws.

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