When money styles differ

Can a committed relationship go farther, onto marriage, if one person's money style is drastically different than the other person's? What if one person does not agree to the other person being "in charge" of how the money is spent? What kind of comprimises can be made? Is a relationship like this doomed?

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

Money, sex and children are three big hot spots in a marriage! So, yes, drastic differences in the way you want to handle money could be a mega stumbling block to smooth matrimony. It will be up to the two of you to make it work.

Doomed? Not necessarily. Many couples have worked out compromises with money. But let's start by taking a step back and looking at an overview of what the law says about money and marriage. If you live in a "community property" state (such as California), the law grants the two of you complete ownership of the other's income. This is important because it literally means that you own half of your husband's money that is acquired during the marriage, even if he is the only one bringing home an income -- or vice versa. With 50 percent ownership should come 50 percent of the power, or influence, in decisions on how money will be spent.

If one person is unilaterally "in charge" of decision-making about money, you do not have a level playing field. Power imbalances such as these often spawn deep and unrelenting struggles over control as the marriage evolves. Intimacy suffers when spouses do not feel equality in their relationship. Affection is gradually replaced by resentment. Trust diminishes. And divorce looms over a marriage of inequality as a resolution that enforces the legal fact that resources are jointly held.

The topic of money can be enormously charged because it translates into the deeper and more scary reality of how power is experienced in the family. Gentle, persistent and deep sharing around the vulnerability presented by a person needing total control will be necessary in order to move the relationship forward. But it may well be worth the effort if your beloved is special.

The joining of two individuals is the joining of two different family cultures. It may prove helpful for you and your potential mate to review how money was managed in childhood by your own parents. Decision-making about money may stem from watching your parents interact. Share histories in an attempt to understand where the other person is coming from.

A basic sense of autonomy and having control of our lives may rest upon our relationship to money for many reasons. Being unable to meet your own needs as a child because you did not have access to money or making money may be a source of childhood trauma. Not having a "say" or identifying with a parent who did not have control could be at the root of feeling the need to unilaterally take charge of money matters now. In this case, money literally symbolizes the key to emotional survival and independence. However, a good marriage relationship is based on mature interdependence rather than autonomy guarded at any cost.

If your parents struggled over money, how did it affect you? How is your sense of independence and being able to meet your own needs tied to being "in charge" of money today? These discussions could be useful in determining what is blocking the development of your relationship at this time. Moving forward towards commitment means building trust in sharing power in your relationship.

It would be wise to delay marriage until you get to the bottom of what fears come up based on sharing the control of the finances. This negotiation truly revolves around intimacy. Trusting that we can negotiate around our needs and fears is part of the maturity your relationship needs to proceed. Ask friends, relatives, and others how they have handled finances in their marriages. Talk with your beloved about these solutions. But the crux of your marriage will be based on forging your own answers based on what you decide together are reasonable goals that take into account both of your needs to be in an adult to adult relationship. To fail to work this through before marriage would undermine trust and intimacy.

Naturally, if your partner has knowledge about money matters that you do not have, he could be afraid you would not consider his concerns. Or if your lover experiences anxiety about your style of handling money, it is critical that this be spoken and discussed openly. Compromises will come out of speaking and relating your fears to one another. Take your time with this one! Don't pressure the relationship into a marriage of pain and turmoil. Over time, you should be able to separate any ghosts from the past and clarify what kind of financial goals you would like to achieve together.

After exploring the past, come up with a plan, a possible budget and short and long-term goals for saving and spending. This could begin the process of building the trust necessary to proceed down the marital path.

If using these suggestions brings up heated arguments that do not resolve, consult a counselor for couples' work focused on resolving your differences. Also consider the benefit that consultation with a financial planner might provide. Take it slowly and pay serious attention to developing trust along the lines of agreed on goals you can achieve together. Power struggles over money are about power and control. Intimacy is based on working out solutions through relating, not controlling your partner.

Solving problems through relating is based on trust and love. Seeking control as an answer to problems is rooted in fear and intimidation. Tell your partner that in healthy relationships, spouses solve problems through relating, not controlling!

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