What’s Up With Guys and the Money Thing?
From a woman’s perspective, it’s not that difficult (is anything with men that difficult, really?): men are born to be providers. Whether they embrace that role or not, our society thrusts it upon them from a very young age. Even if they eschew materials things, it’s still a point of pride to be able to provide them.
So, what happens when they can’t?
The question posed to Delfin and I is this:
Why do couples fight about money?
A few reasons, from my own experience and observations. (And guess what? Not at all couples fight about it.)
1. Childhood: Even though we become a unit when we dedicate our lives to each other, we all still come with baggage, whether we want to admit it or not. I was not raised with a lot of money and started working at age sixteen. Paid for college. Didn’t work only when pregnant (and on modified bed rest both times), and believe me, that was a lot of fucking work.
My guy is a pathologist’s son. He wasn’t rich, but they lived a comfortable life. nterestingly though, his father was a product of The Depression, growing up on a farm in South Dakota, often without meals during this time of strife. His father hoarded money – they rarely took vacations or spent money on anything but the necessities.
How does that affect us now? While my husband is one of the most generous men I know, giving groceries to friends in our time now of economic strife, he struggles daily with making enough to provide for us. I see in his efforts to not be like his father, he’s in essence become similar regarding the importance of money. When we do have that rare little extra to spend, he
fights constantly with his need to ‘collect’ – Christmas decorations are his Achilles Heel (whereas the only thing I collect are followers on social media. Okay, and maybe black shoes.)
Coming together doesn’t mean we can fight these subconsciously ingrained attitudes toward money and how it should be spent. Talking through how he must have another damn Santa versus saving the money to put toward a vacation is something we work on constantly. (For the record, it’s June and he still has a Christmas corner. Hey, it makes him happy. Shrug.)
2. Desires: My guy can no more understand my need for another pair of black shoes or more music on iTunes, than I can fathom why he needs some new computer thingy. In difficult times, however, we are a unit: basics only.
There’s no room to fight over first-world problems when we’re worrying about making rent, ya know?
Knowing what is most important to each other is how you decide what’s worth arguing over (if at all), and when it’s time to band together and punt.
3. Control: This, more than anything, is what I view as the number one reason couples fight over money. If you go joint, how does it work? Must you ask for permission to spend? If you stay separate, are you truly joined as a couple against the big, bad, expensive world?
Take or leave my advice, but while we immediately created a joint account for our paychecks, we both have separate businesses and the two don’t mix. I have my money, he has his. Regardless of how it shows up around tax time, I like knowing my book and business money are kept separately. We both contribute to ‘the kitty’ as we call it, as needed.
It’s also important when it comes to buying things for each other. How much fun is receiving a rare gift, knowing you paid for it? Call me romantic, but I like not knowing (even if I suggested it and know full well how much it cost). Conversely, if I want to buy something for myself, who wants to ask permission? He’s my husband, not my dad.
(This would be Chickspeak for those in the back. I know. It makes sense to chicks, though.)
And, as any divorce attorney will tell you – always have separate accounts. Even in CA (which is a community property state with a fifty percent divorce rate), it’s important to establish your own credit.
4. Different species: Yes, we may both be human, but we clearly know Men are from Seinfeld and Women are from Friends. What we view as worth spending money on (past the basics) sometimes coalesces; oftentimes, not so much.
Knowing that we look at the world through testosterone or estrogen filled eyes helps me understand why my guy is down for missing out on a contract (he can’t provide), and helps him get why I’d rather save for a rainy day anyway.
The bottom line is this: money is a basic function of our lives. Have the discussions before you marry or enter into a serious relationship/living situation so what binds you doesn’t end up coming between you.
Behind Money Are Feelings
Couples fight about money because one person saves more and one person spends more.
My ex-wife was a saver, and I was a spender. I made a little more than she did, but she did a better job of keeping it.
She was constantly upset with me for not being responsible with money. I have never been in debt or owed even a cent on my credit card. But I didn’t keep a budget nor track of the things I bought. I could not save for shit.
So what was the problem? Goals and boundaries.
We never had real conversations around saving goals or expenditures. And when you have two people with different backgrounds these discussions are critical. I would bet that most couples don’t have them.
Let’s back up to my ex-wife. She would get angry at my inability to save. Is that appropriate?
It is, and here’s why. The feeling of anger is a response to a boundary violation. And it is an entirely appropriate response. Anger is used to defend boundaries, and there are many times where you’ll need to access it to protect yourself and others.
I never understood why my wife was such a ball-buster about this. Why? Because it didn’t violate myboundaries. I was more concerned about my ability to earn rather than save.
Let’s recap. She’s a saver. I spend and this violates her boundary. She gets mad. I feel shamed for not being a “good” husband. I get resentful become even less willing to save. She becomes angrier and the cycle continues.
Now, had we a serious conversation about our feelings and beliefs about money, this probably would have saved us a lot of stress. I would have held her responsible for saving and budgeting expenses. She would have held me responsible for earning and finding ways to create more income.
I have a friend whose husband makes a lot of money. His wife, one of my favorite people on the planet, is a massage therapist. She’s taught certification courses, studied with top experts, and runs her own private practice. Plus, she raises their daughter.
Her husband has chastised her for not making “enough” money. In other words, she is not contributing to whatever amount he believes is appropriate. She feels bad that he earns a large salary and she makes a more modest sum.
Somewhere there is a disconnect here. He doesn’t value her contribution because the amount is too small. My guess is that he most likely resents her spending as he probably feels she is spending his money.
When one person feels that the other is spending their money there is going to be major conflict.
This is a hard question but you need to do it, like tonight, with your partner.
“Darryl (your husband’s name is probably Darryl), what is your honest feeling about how much I spend? What do you think about my saving habits? What about what I earn?”
Now, you need to not shame him for his answer. Even if he references your shoe closet. Notice what feelings come up for him. Then reverse the situation and you can tell him that when he goes around turning off lights and lowering the thermostat it reminds you of your father, and that you wish to kick him square in the taint.
What we’re talking about, as Rachel mentioned, is communication. And if your partner won’t communicate their honest feelings about your behavior, they’re probably not a great partner.
In the end the only thing that matters is the truth. You need to find out your wife/husband’s views on money. Then come to a compromise where you both win and lose a little. He’s not allowed to use the strip club ATM (seven dollar service charge? C’mon!) and you can’t apply for a house account at Jimmy Choo.
You need to recognize each other’s current position and celebrate your contributions. The mom that stays home with the baby just saved her family 10k over a year. The father who works the extra Saturday once a month makes it possible for that family vacation to Panama City Beach where nobody had a good time.
In short, turn off Law and Order SVU and have the conversation about “money feelings.” You’ll get your Ice-T fix later catching up on Ice Loves Coco. Don’t feel bad. He goes to work and gets to eyeball the hot secretary who he pretends is into him. She’s not.
Money = feelings. Find out what the feelings are, and honor those in each other. Then, go make love or something. Talking about money is boring.
Ooh, just thought of something! Film the lovemaking and put it online and charge a few bucks! The internet allows this sort of thing, you know.
Rachel Thompson is a best-selling author, mother of two, and devoted wife for over 20 years. Delfin Paris has written no books, three magazine articles, and is divorced. Both are funny as hell.