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Couples Counseling: Money Talks, Nobody Walks

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Couples Counseling: Money Talks, Nobody Walks

After 19 years of marriage, Caroline finally snapped. The Visa card bill, littered with Donald’s usual extravagances, was maxed out. Again. While she couldn’t control Donald, Lord knows she’d tried; she could exert control over her own financial life. Caroline realized she was done.

Over the years she had tried to accept Donald’s over-the-top purchases of cashmere sweaters, leather jackets and hand-made Italian shoes- and she didn’t begrudge him these things. She was just sick of being in debt. They had filed for personal bankruptcy a few years ago and had vowed together to get on financially firm ground. Caroline now understood that Donald had no control over his compulsive spending, despite his stated good intentions.

Money is a complicated and highly emotional topic.  Each person has his or her own relationship with money. It carries a different charge and meaning for each of us. There are people for whom money-making is a game to get to the top.  For some money means freedom or security while for others it’s all about status and pleasure.

Problems occur in a relationship when the partners have conflicting styles and perspectives about money. Even though money is a leading cause of divorce, couples rarely explore their individual money-selves before tying the knot. Often a money conflict sparks the discussion and sheds light on areas of incompatibility. Handled well (with awareness, understanding, and objectivity) different perspectives are not necessarily unworkable. In fact, many couples create financial plans that account for their individual money needs and wants, and find a complementary balance. The grinch curbs the spendthrift who loosens up the grinch to enjoy a moderate taste of the good life.

One way to relieve money stress involves taking a look at how finances are organized in your relationship and assessing whether the arrangement works or if another option might be better. Here are a few options to explore.

Shared Finances- All funds go into a common pool. There are joint bank accounts and equal access to all assets. This is probably the most common when a family has children or one wage earner.

Independent Finances- Partners keep and manage their own funds independently. The responsibility for payment of shared expenses is resolved through agreement ( I’ll pay the rent, you pay the utilities), based on the proportionality of the partners’ individual incomes or other formula.

Mixed Finances-Each partner manages his/her own finances. A joint account is created to pay bills. Each partner agrees to deposit a fixed amount into the joint account based on the proportionality of the partners’ individual incomes or other formula.

With this in mind, if you’re beset with money woes, start a series of adult discussions about your finances to relieve some tension. These discussions may get uncomfortable at times and become contentious.  Caroline and Donald agreed to separate their financial lives completely so that her earnings did not cover Donald’s spending. She agreed to stay with him on the conditions that he join Debtor’s Anonymous and retain a therapist, and pay his share of household expenses on time every month.

Do you have a money arrangement that works for you?  Our community of couples would love to hear about it. Feel free to comment here.

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