Money and stress

iStock 000006011319Large(copy)(copy)The typical story goes... you meet the love of your life, you get married, and you have kids.  You work hard, and raise your children to be strong healthy upstanding citizens and everyone lives happily ever after right?  Well, maybe that happens in fairy tale land but let's be real, being married and raising a family is not always plain sailing! 

Let’s backtrack just a bit.  Marriage and raising kids is hard work and it's inevitable that couples fight.  Arguments can be about a number of things, such as children, chores, work or friends.  But, a survey[1] conducted in America found that the most common reason couples argue is because of money.   Behaviours that trigger conflicts between couples may include, receiving an unexpected expense, refusing to save/having insufficient savings, deceitful financial behaviour when one partner may have hidden purchases or made a major purchase without telling their partner, to name just a few.

The question then must be asked, why do we argue about money so often?  Literature tells us that our approach to money is typically how we approach all areas of our life.  For example, are you?
  1. Conservative and conscious?
  2. Frugal and insecure?
  3. Free spirited and spontaneous?
  4. Driven and goal oriented?
  5. Extravagant and reckless?

When we argue, often the argument is about two very different belief systems that come from our own families and past experiences.

It's ok if your and your partner's beliefs are different.  What is important though is to try to understand your differences and find common ground that you can both work with.  Otherwise, if you're not in sync with each other this can lead to constant conflict and stress.  And, let's face it, that's not a healthy situation for your family to be in.

It's important to note here that although not all stress is bad and has its place to help us meet other daily challenges, beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to our health, our mood, our productivity, our relationships and our quality of life.  This can be brought on by constant conflict about money. 

Psychologist Connie Lillas uses a driving analogy to describe the three most common ways people respond when they’re overwhelmed by stress2:
  • Foot on the gas – An angry, agitated, or “fight” stress response. You’re heated, keyed up, overly emotional, and unable to sit still.
  • Foot on the brake – A withdrawn, depressed, or “flight” stress response. You shut down, pull away, space out, and show very little energy or emotion.
  • Foot on both – A tense or “freeze” stress response. You become frozen under pressure and can’t do anything. You look paralysed, but under the surface you’re extremely agitated.

So, how do you and your partner go about managing your money stand-offs?  Communicate with each other to discover and understand each other's money assumptions.  What drives your partner's choices, attitudes and perceptions? This will form the basis with which you can try and resolve financial confrontations.  Here are some suggestions:
  1. Try not to judge your partner – remember, based on their own family and their past experiences their money beliefs have taken years to take hold and you cannot undo it in one sitting.
  2. Identify the unhealthy or irrational habits – remind your partner gently that you respect what worked for them as a single but it may not be appropriate to serve the goals of your partnership.
  3. Identify the fiscal strengths that each partner brings into the relationship – covering off the budget, the savings, the earnings, the goals, the investments – build on those and create a plan together.
  4. Define your financial goals – what are your priorities as a couple?  Do you want to pay down debt? To cut back on spending and save?  Having a financial plan provides a road map that you can both work towards together.
  5. Align your new co-created priorities – suspend blame or judgment and move outside your comfort zone as you decide together what are necessities and what are niceties.  Agree that all financial decisions going forward will be aligned with your new goals and vision for your future together.
  6. Have regular money discussions – meet say, monthly to assess your progress.And if you haven't yet exchanged your "I Dos", I suggest it might be a good idea to have that financial conversation before you do.