Washington Post Pick: The Heart of Money

Worried couple reading a letter

Why Couples Clash Over Cash

By Michelle Singletary, Published: February 2, 2013, Washington Post

It’s commonly said that fighting about money is one of the main reasons couples divorce. That’s not exactly accurate.
Couples definitely fight about money — lying about it, the control of it, the lack of it or the mismanagement of it. But just like money isn’t really the root of all evil, it’s not the root cause of many divorces, either.

The fights couples have about money are frequently the manifestation of some other deeply entrenched stuff that comes out when there are financial issues. Let’s say you grew up poor and hated not having what other kids had. You now buy whatever your heart desires because you don’t want to do without again.

You marry a miser who grew up watching his parents spend money unwisely. He hated seeing his parents argue because there was never enough money. You might have even been attracted to his miserly ways because of his ability to manage his money. But such financial differences, which are often ignored or dismissed during a courtship, can cause major problems in a marriage.

You end up fighting because you spend too much and he doesn’t want to spend much at all. You are contemplating a divorce and the reason you give: financial irreconcilable differences.

Is money the root cause? Or are your fights about money the manifestation of issues you haven’t resolved from your childhood traumas?

And it doesn’t help that many couples don’t have good communication skills.

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants asked people to name which personal problem they would feel most comfortable discussing. Only 14 percent of respondents said money.

“The subject of money is still highly taboo and one that people will go to great lengths to avoid,” says Deborah L. Price, a money coach. “Yet couples who are in a committed relationship or married cannot have a healthy, truly intimate relationship unless they are willing to be financially open and fully transparent about their financial wants, needs and expectations.”

In other words, if you want financial intimacy, you’ve got to talk. You’ve got to be willing to be vulnerable, Price says.

But when it comes to identifying and changing money patterns and behaviors that aren’t working, most people need outside help. Price is offering such help in her book “The Heart of Money: A Couple’s Guide to Creating True Financial Intimacy.” It’s my pick for this month’s Color of Money Book Club.

Price is the founder and chief executive of the Money Coaching Institute in Novato, Calif. She was a financial adviser for more than 20 years. She understands the money side of this issue as well as the psychological side.

“Many marriages might possibly be saved if couples were able to resolve their underlying money issues and communicate more calmly and reflectively, rather than reactively,” Price writes.

I’ve directed a financial mentorship program at my church for several years and have had the opportunity to meet with a lot of couples. Often I can’t even begin to show them how to save or budget better until they address what Price calls their money “shadow.”

Referring to the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, Price writes: “In monetary terms, the shadow represents unconscious money patterns or behaviors we may possess that are harmful to ourselves or to others.”

Let’s say a husband has unacknowledged anger toward his wife. Rather than address the source of his anger, he makes bad financial decisions that sabotage their finances and relationship. “Many marriages fail due to the shadow influences in one or both spouses that manifest in negative behaviors, secrecy and betrayal,” Price says.

Throughout the book, Price provides exercises to delve into your psyche. And you have to view it this way. Don’t buy the book and thrust it into your partner’s face demanding he or she read it. That will start another argument. Rather, look at this as a journey you both need to take. Even if you think it is your spouse who has the problem, do the exercises too because, as Price points out, “we all have money patterns and behaviors that create stress, anxiety, and fear, and that are contradictory to creating the personal and financial life we desire.”
Readers can write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or singletarym@nullwashpost.com . Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to postbusiness.com.