Expert Blog Compelling advice, stories, and thought-provoking perspectives straight from YourTango's lineup of Experts to you

The Money Magic Mirror


Money and your financial health reflect what is really going on between you and your partner.

Money means different things to different people. For some, it means freedom and time. For others, it means security and survival. It means living your dreams.

When two people with different attitudes and beliefs about money join together into a relationship, money takes on new meaning.

Money acts like a huge mirror, reflecting back to you the quality of your relationship. Your bank account doesn't lie. It shows the blatant truth of how you feel about yourself and each other. When there is conflict and stress over money, it's hard to feel good about your partner. And when you are unhappy with your relationship or your partner, it will show up in your bank account and spending habits.

As a licensed tax preparer, I have seen first hand how different couples deal with money. It either brings them closer and unites them with common goals or creates arguments and emotional distance.

It seems that couples fall into several general categories when it comes to the role of money management in their relationship.

Some couples happily let one partner manage their financial well-being. If this partner has some money sense, they do well and the relationship is peaceful. If not..... well, you can imagine the stress that builds.

Other couples work together with open and honest communication and share the responsibility of planning and managing their finances. They both understand their goals, where their money is stored, what to do in an emergency.

Some couples don't have a clue about money. They didn't learn about it from their parents or school system. Of this group, the ones that are honest with themselves about their money talents get a good job, contribute to their pension plan and have automatic bill pay so that what they see in their bank account is all they have to spend. Others get themselves hopelessly in debt.

Another group of couples don't see eye to eye about money practices and end up fighting over everything, harboring resentments, notions of revenge and unconsciously playing out their fears.

Ideally, the best situation is when both partners understand their family finances, know where all the important documents are, keep track of income and expenses together and make joint decisions about their financial future.

What happens more often is that one person gets the job of bill paying, savings and investment management and financial planning. If this person has a natural talent for numbers and understands how money works- and their partner respects and appreciates this- then this can be a great working situation.

Often what happens is that it is all too easy for the non-money handling partner to blame their partner for their financial difficulties or spend money they don't have or that is earmarked for another expense.  When the partner taking care of the money brings this to his or her attention, arguments ensue and hard feelings develop.

Money can become a tool, a form of leverage or power to control and manipulate a partner, as in this case.

Fred is the primary income earner. Mary has some investment income. Fred manages all the money, including Mary's investments. This is Fred's second marriage and he is afraid that Mary will leave him and take his money. So he controls the finances to the point where she is afraid to ask him for a little money to do something she enjoys. She is afraid to speak up for herself for fear that he will cut her off completely, keep the money she came to the marriage with and that she will become destitute. What is unspoken between them is palpable and they don't trust each other. 

The opposite can happen- the freely spending partner can take control of the relationship by aggravating the "sensible" partner who is trying to keep his or her partner in check.

Here's an example.

Jan is the primary income earner in this relationship. Mark does handiman work but brings in a fraction of the income of his wife. She makes the house payment and they split living expenses. She figures that she has the right to spend all of her paycheck as she sees fit. She doesn't believe in saving money for her retirement or unforeseen events. Mark, on the other hand, does have a savings account. Jan squanders her money at the casino, maxes out her credit cards, then expects Mark to pay them off, so she can max them out again. She doesn't understand why he won't spend his savings account on her. They argue about spending and saving habits. They have split up a couple of times, then reunited. Mark has a stomach ulcer.

Another role money plays is as a way to get even with their partner.

Sally is angry at her husband, John, for not bringing home the big income he did prior to the housing crash. She still spends like they have a good income stream, but now they are going into debt. She refuses to listen to reason or to cut back. She refinances their home to pay for her daughter's car and other personal things. Then she takes out a personal student loan to send their daughter to a prestigious college. She did these things without letting her husband know or getting his signature on the documents.  Now they are hopelessly underwater with their home and over their head in loans. Needless to say, home is not a very peaceful and harmonious place! 

Spending can also take on the role of comforting or nurturing a disgruntled or unhappy partner, just like eating chocolate or pizza does. 

In any of the examples above, money is playing a role of magnifying the disharmony in the relationship. It is either attitudes, beliefs and emotions coming to the surface with one or both of the partners, or the resulting friction that results when unconscious beliefs are expressed. 

However, money within a relationship can be harmonious, as in this example.

Jill and Sam each bring in income from their respective jobs. They share the household chores and even though Jill pays the bills, each of them know what their living expenses are and how well they are doing at achieving their goals. They avoid unnecessary debt, just have a mortgage and car payment. No credit card debt. They are on the same page when it comes to managing their money. Sam is very happy to have Jill take care of their household finances, even though at his job, he takes care of the money for the business he works for. They discuss planned expenses, vacations or household improvements. They have a relaxed and peaceful attitude about their finances. There is love in this household.

Another couple, Sara and Jack, own a business together. Each of them takes responsibility for the different tasks necessary to run a business. They share the chores, the decisions and the responsibility. They are a team, working towards common business and financial goals. They feel a connection to each other and money flows into their lives.  They are happy and their relationship thrives.

The bottom line is that money is just a tool, a measure of what each partner is really feeling. When there is discord, there are often money problems. It doesn't matter what area of the relationship has the friction. It will play out in all areas. But the easiest place to see it is with money and the financial health of the partnership.

On the other hand,when a couple are working together, it is much more likely that they will create abundance together. There is less stress, more harmony and peace between them. They are healthier, happier and more loving towards each other.

What is your Money Magic Mirror showing you?

Find out in the next article what causes friction over money and spending habits.


Explore YourTango