Couples talk about all sorts of topics openly. Even discussions about sex seem to be much easier for most couples than this dreaded topic. I have borne witness to hundreds of couples talking about their private fantasies, their enraging children, and even their embarrassment about deeply troubling friendship and work-related issues. When it comes to this topic, however, couples clam up. In fact, they become deeply uneasy and almost consistently prefer to discuss any other topic including sexual and emotional affairs outside of the relationship.
So, what is this topic and what makes it so dreaded and cloaked in such deep secrecy? It is money and it includes the lack of it or an abundance of it. There are so many reasons why this topic leads to avoidance, secrecy, and lies and then, unfortunately to relationship issues. Let me get us started here and then you can figure out why you hesitate to discuss money issues with your partner.
1. People often avoid discussing that which they are embarrassed about or ashamed of. I think about the 39 year old man who did not tell his wife about the large amount of student loans that he carried. She, in turn, was in significant credit card debt. Over time, they each learned of the debt that the other was saddled with. Unfortunately, their marriage did not survive. They were angry at each other for what they saw as secrecy. This style had poisoned the deep well of their marriage.
2. Fear often prevents couples from being transparent about money issues. They may be afraid that their partner will think less of them if they learn how much money they earn. Hence, they keep salaries to themselves and their partners at bay. This fear often leads to misunderstandings and faulty assumptions. Consider the woman who thought that her husband was being stingy with his low priced gifts to her. The fact was that he was not stingy. He was actually an emotionally generous man who was trying to stay within his budget and also save money. In therapy, the woman complained that her husband didn’t value her. In therapy, she learned that he did indeed value her and that he was trying very hard to save money for their future. It took lots of therapy and encouragement for this man to open up. He was afraid that his partner would be disappointed in him if she learned about his actual salary. Instead, she was appreciative that he came clean and she understood him better. This couple was lucky. They discussed financial issues early enough so that the marriage was able to be repaired.
3. Who really wants to discuss issues that trigger uncomfortable childhood issues? Most people run from this. Money may have come to symbolize many things during childhood. Perhaps, there was never enough and this was a great source of stress for your parents or your single mother. Maybe, your father had a hard time saying I love you and instead used money as a form of emotional currency. Financial issues may have caused considerable stress during your childhood so who can really blame you for avoiding this hot button topic.
4. How about the couple where the husband earns more money than his partner and loved to exert control? He decided unilaterally where the family went on vacation and whether or not there was enough money available for a new car, home repairs etc. He loved this power and never let his partner know how much money was available. The relationship experienced major shifts when the wife inherited a significant sum of money. The couple started fighting about control and power issues. Their marriage is a work in progress.
5. Even couples who agree on many issues may disagree wildly about how to spend money. A husband who frequently spend thousands of dollars on cars may become furious when his wife spends money on costly electronic items for their kids. Consider the couple where the wife made the children hide their new electronics from their father. She also encouraged the kids to sometimes lie and say that their grandparents gave them these items as gifts. Clearly, this couple has a number of issues but I am happy to report that they are unpacking them and are getting to know each other better. I have tremendous hope for them and their children.
Money is a hot button issue for many couples and may, if not discussed, lead to the end of the relationship. This is ironic because partners often avoid financial discussions because they fear that these discussions will affect the relationship adversely. The takeaway here is that transparency serves you better in most relationships. Take the risk if you want your relationship to survive over time. Good luck.