Why cou­ples clash over cash

The Washington Post Sunday - - BUSINESS - Michelle Sin­gle­tary ir­rec­on­cil­able dif­fer­ences.

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

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.”

I’ll be host­ing a live on­line dis­cus­sion about “The Heart of Money” at noon East­ern on Feb. 28 at wash­ing­ton­post.com/ dis­cus­sions. Price will join me to an­swer your ques­tions. Ev­ery month, I ran­domly se­lect read­ers to re­ceive a copy of the fea­tured book, which is do­nated by the pub­lisher. For a chance to win a copy of this month’s book club se­lec­tion, send an e-mail to col­o­rof­money@wash­post.com with your name and ad­dress.

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