by Jonathan Rich, Ph.D.

Part I: The First Three Reasons:
Where it Goes, Where it Comes From, and Risk

Money seems cut and dried Ė you can represent it with numbers and decimal points, and if you stick your hand in your pocket you can probably find some. But itís not that simple: money is one of the most complicated substances on earth. It can represent power, a sense of self-worth, protection, and love. Put two people together with different ideas about money, and you have a sure formula for disagreement. In couples that Iíve seen (and friends Iíve known) the same themes come up again and again. Here are the first three of six reasons why couples disagree and fight about money.

1) How to spend money:

Anne announced, "I have to have a new car with airbags -- that's my bottom line. I don't want to be stranded and I don't want to be hurt in an accident." Tom looked at Anne with a concerned expression. "I understand that, but we can get a nice, solid used car that'll work fine. You're talking about safety. Hanging onto that extra $10,000 will keep us a lot more secure than airbags. It'll help me expand my business, and we need some money for a cushion. People have been driving cars without airbags for almost 100 years. That's really not a priority."

Security meant two different things to Tom and Anne. For Anne, physical protection was important. Tom saw money itself as a form of security. Both were using money to protect against their worst fears, fears that they had learned from past experiences and the experiences of friends and family.

2) Where money should come from:

"It's just temporary," Kim pleaded. "We can move in with my parents until we can get on our feet. It'll give us a chance to save some money and we'll have the whole upstairs to ourselves."

Fred was tired of their tiny apartment too. But he wasn't ready to move." I know your parents mean well. But we're adults. We have to stand on our own feet. I couldn't respect myself -- I'm not a moocher."

Fred had always heard there's no free ride, and he knew that living with Kim's parents would have many costs. They'd lose privacy, he'd feel embarrassed about not completely supporting his family, and he worried about being a burden. Kim felt that her parents should help her out when she needed it, and, by everyone sacrificing a little, she and Fred could have a better future.

There are a few different ways that people can disagree about where money should come from. Kim and Fred had a different philosophy about accepting support from parents. Other couples might disagree about which of them should earn most of the money. There may be disagreements about accepting other kinds of financial support, such as government assistance.

3) Security versus taking risks:

Pedro had worked as an attorney for the County for five years. He got a small raise each year, vacation and sick time, health benefits, and a retirement plan. But he was becoming restless. His future was limited, he was tired of the politics, and he felt he could do better on his own. His wife, Maria, was nervous about the change. If Pedro opened his own practice, it would mean long hours and lower pay for a few years. There was the potential for more money in the future, but the baby was due in two months. This just wasn't the right time to take a risk.

A lot of life's most important decisions involve weighing risks. If you and your partner have a different tolerance for risk, you can expect some disagreements. If you take risks that your partner is uncomfortable with, and things don't work out, it may be hard for your partner not to blame you and feel resentful.

In the next section, Iíll talk about three more money issues that couples fight about.

Part II | Part III

Jonathan Rich, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist, practicing in Irvine, California. This article was adapted from his new self-help book, The Coupleís Guide to Love and Money.

Please help support our SelfhelpMagazine mission
so that we may continue serving you.
Choose your
support amount here: