What's behind money squabbles?

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By Tom Hartmann

Good news: most money fights aren't really about money. They're typically about something else. The trick is to figure out what.

Couples' money spats can seem at first to be a greedy tug of war over there not being enough to go around, but if you look closely, that's not it.

When money's been almost impossibly tight because we had fallen on hard times after a redundancy, my partner and I tended to band together even more to sort it all out. People do that. Perhaps you've experienced this too - less money, less money fights.

Yet the more money there is, the more it can come between us.

Why is that?

Part of the reason is that money can symbolise so much, and it's easy to measure. If I buy gifts for two people, for instance, the amount I spent on each immediately "says" whom I care about more. (Or so we might think.)

And - for better and for worse - society has moved away from the traditional roles at home of one breadwinner and one budgeter. That's not a bad thing, but it does mean that these days we need to figure out how we're going to share money handling chores.

That means we need to negotiate far more. We need to talk!

Squabbles happen

"It is the way that money is handled that causes conflict," writes psychologist Rhonda Pritchard.

Fights can also be about if we've felt wronged in the past, but often they are simply because we're different. That's bound to happen when we come from diverse backgrounds.

Do you recognise any of the following differences at home?

• We feel differently about things, like using debt.

• We have different habits, like spending with a debit card or a credit card.

• We value things differently, like splurging on travel vs on sports.

• We have different principles, such as whether everything we have is shared or separate.

• We expect different things, such as whether parents should bail us out or not.

• We think different things are right and wrong, like whether interest should be charged to family members for loans.

• We have different capabilities with money.

Whew. That's a lot of differences! Recognising them is a first step to resolving them.

Sorted's money personality quiz can shed some further light on our various money styles too. Cuddle up on the couch together with a tablet and have a look. The results can lead to more discussion and openness about our unique approaches to life.

Here's what helps

Differences enrich. They can enhance our relationships. To ease tension, one thing that helps is to call them out in a neutral way. We might say to each other, as Pritchard suggests:

"You'd sooner enjoy today and I feel protective about our future."

"The detail matters to me and you are happy to know the broad picture."

(Notice that each side is on equal footing here.)

We can also explore and understand where these differences come from. This helps us work things out and play to each other's strengths.

And this can surely lead to more wealth at home, especially in our relationships.

So again, the good news: most money fights are not about money. The challenging news: we still need to do our damnedest to make sure it doesn't come between us!

Get Sorted is written by Sorted's resident blogger, Tom Hartmann. Check out the guides and tools from Sorted – brought to you by the Commission for Financial Capabilityat sorted.org.nz.

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