Great Relationships: Checkbook Battles and How to Solve Them

"You can't hold on to a dime. Do you own the mall yet?!"

"It takes a crowbar to open your wallet. You can't take it with you, you know!!"

If these words or ones like them sound all too familiar, you might be experiencing "checkbook battles" in your relationship.

Checkbook battles are simply fights about money. In marriage, the Big Six areas of potential conflict are communication, sex, children, in-laws, religion and, you guessed it, money. For many couples, money can become a vicious battleground.

In my work helping couples deal with this issue, I've found that people are often uncomfortable talking about money. Almost any other issue, including sex, seems to be discussed more easily. Many couples have never discussed it all, except to argue about it. It's not surprising that research shows many divorces can be traced back to conflicts over money.

So why all the conflict over money? Maybe it's because people tend to regard money in very different ways.

A useful definition of money is simply that it is "green energy." The way that we handle this green energy is our "money style." Our money style is determined by at least two factors: the emotional meaning that we give to money and the way money was handled in the family in which we grew up.

Consider what the emotional meaning of money is for you. Does it represent security, power, pleasure, control, independence? Or perhaps something else? How is your perspective akin to and different from your partner's?

Secondly, how was money handled in your family when you were a child? Were your parents savers or big spenders? If your partner's background is significantly different from yours, there is the potential for checkbook battles.

Consider, for example, one couple that came in for counseling. See if you can pick up the differences in Bob and Mary's money styles.

When Bob was growing up, money was simply a means to an end, and the end was fun and pleasure. If you wanted something, you bought it. The phrase "can't afford it" had little or no meaning.

Mary grew up quite differently. In her family, money was related to security and self-esteem. Every potential purchase had to be thoroughly researched. Resources, including Consumer Reports, had to be consulted.

After much deliberation, a decision was made, and if the money was spent, the purchaser then felt guilty about it.

Can you pick out the different emotional meanings of money for these two people? Do you think there might be some potential for conflict?

If you and your partner have different money styles, don't be alarmed. Most folks do.

There are many things that can be done to help blend the differing styles.

Here is a list of do's and don'ts that not only helped Bob and Mary avoid checkbook battles, it strengthened their relationship as well.

- Don't assume that your way is the only right way.

- Don't accuse your partner of being wrong or sinful.

- Don't try to force your partner to see the issue your way.

- Don't handle the issue in secret, behind your partner's back.

- Do identify your own money style.

- Do identify your partner's money style.

- Do learn some flexibility.

- Do explore your goals for life together. Remember you're partners, not competitors.

- Do try switching roles. Let the bill-payer do the shopping and the shopper do the bill paying.

- Do discover what you might need to learn from your partner's style.

One way to combine the two styles is to create a reasonable working budget.

There are two keys to making a budget work: You must have an agreed-upon amount of money that cannot be spent unless it is first discussed; Each person gets a small amount of money that can be used however he or she wishes, no questions asked.

If you continue to remain stuck on this issue, it might be useful to consult a financial planner, a marriage counselor, or both.

Remember that the goal is to blend your styles so this green energy called money works for you and draws you closer together.

Come to think of it, blending styles and growing closer seem like good goals no matter what the issue.

For more tips and tools on resolving conflicts and creating a great relationship, visit relationship coach Jeff Herring's website SecretsofGreatRelationships.com

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