Opposites attract -- even when it comes to feelings
husband drives you nuts.
He hasn't learned the lessons from his youth
when he drove that cool BMW, lived in an apartment that was the
envy of his friends and had to run to mommy and daddy for help when
the bills came due.
You overspent, too, early in adulthood. But
now you have grown up and you want to cut expenses ruthlessly and
save like mad. So you take a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich to
work. Over a dinner of macaroni and cheese at home, you scowl while
he recounts his $60 lunch at La Brasserie Tres Cher.
No matter who you are, you and your spouse almost
surely have conflicting attitudes about money. Olivia Mellan, a
psychotherapist and author of Money Harmony: Resolving Money Conflicts
in Your Life and Relationships, says it is normal for couples to
assume opposite money roles.
your sweetie probably fit into one of six categories of husband-wife
combinations, Mellan says:
· A hoarder and a spender -- the most
· A worrier and an avoider -- almost
as common a union as the one above;
· A money monk and a money amasser;
· A planner and a dreamer;
· A risk taker and a risk avoider;
· A money merger and a money separatist,
who quarrel about whether to have joint or separate accounts.
"If opposites don't attract right off the
bat, they will assume opposite roles eventually," Mellan says.
"Basically, if two spenders meet and marry, they'll fight each
other for the spending role and the other will assume the hoarder
One will change
This process reflects human nature. When two spenders marry, one
usually freaks out at the bills and turns into a hoarder. A union
of two money avoiders becomes a marriage between an avoider and
a worrier. After all, Mellan says, "Someone will have to start
worrying about it."
Not everyone subscribes to the belief that couples
polarize. "Married couples can be all over the place,"
says Susan Zimmerman, a chartered financial consultant and psychotherapist
in Apple Valley, Minn. "They can be opposites or they can be
more alike -- but they will have one difference, and that is where
the strife comes from."
Dr. Kathleen Gurney, a psychologist and author
of Your Money Personality: What It Is and How You Can Profit From
It, takes a different approach. Through her Financial Psychology
Corp. she offers the Moneymax Personal Profile to help individuals
understand their money management styles. She divides people into
nine money styles: safety players, entrepreneurs, optimists, hunters,
achievers, producers, high rollers and money masters.
Those who noticed that the previous paragraph
listed only eight styles might belong to the ninth: perfectionists.
"It's easier if your styles of handling
money are similar, but here, as with other characteristics, opposites
attract," she Gurney says. "I recommend having a serious
talk about your financial preferences before differences erupt."
Achieving domestic tranquility
When you have an idea of how you and your spouse fit together financially,
how do you achieve domestic tranquility? First, get rid of your
hangups over talking about money.
"Money is a touchy subject for most people,"
says Celia Ray Hayhoe, an assistant professor of family studies
at the University of Kentucky and a certified financial planner.
"It's the last taboo. A lot of people say they discuss money
all the time but what they do is fight over money."
Money is the No. 1 subject of marital quarrels,
and it's one of the main reasons for divorces, Hayhoe says.
Before you have that heart-to-heart discussion
regarding dollar signs, acknowledge your secret envies, Mellan advises.
Appreciate your partner's style. A hoarder usually envies a spender's
freedom and a spender often envies a hoarder's restraint.
To get a really good idea of where your partner
is coming from, step into your partner's shoes -- "to be the
other personality" for a while, Hayhoe says. "Let's say
you're married to a spender and you're adopting that role for a
while," she says. "You don't actually have to spend the
money, but if there's a hoarder and a spender, the hoarder should
take the spender role. It gives you an appreciation of where the
other person is coming from. You can essentially come to a meeting
of the minds. The idea is that you'll be better people in the long
Looking at spending personalities is one way
for couples to approach the subject of spending. "Another way
to handle it is to discuss how their families handled money,"
Hayhoe says. "What you liked about how your parents handled
money and what you didn't like about it -- talk about those things."
If you prefer not to battle to the death over financial matters,
it might help to figure out what kind of spending personalities
you and your spouse have. Just about every expert in the field has
his or her own list of spending personalities; Olivia Mellan defines
them in terms of pairings.
Zimmerman agrees that you and your partner should
discuss how you learned about money in during childhood.
"How were allowances handled? What did
your parents fight about? If they fought a lot about money, you
might have grown up believing that money was a subject to avoid
talking about," she says.
In Zimmerman's self-published book The Money
Rascals: Changing Troublesome Habits From the Inside Out, she says
you should discuss:
· How your family physically handled
money: when cash, checks and credit cards were used
· The emotional component: "The
feelings and sensations that people get based on what's going on
in their financial world. They might be fearful or confident or
feel some other emotion about money."
· Beliefs about money, such as how much
of an income is enough and what makes a person a financial winner
or a financial loser
· How you spend money when people are
around. Do you or your partner try to impress people with your spending?
Does one of you always wait for someone else to pick up the check?
If you take these talks seriously, your spouse's
behavior won't seem so mysterious and irritating. And maybe you'll
know how to complement each other's strengths and weaknesses. Don't
try to force your partner to undergo a personality transplant because
the result will likely be rejection.
"It's very healthy to admit who you are
when it comes to money," Gurney says. "Too often I see
people coming in who try to give up who they are and it backfires.
You need to know what you can't give up, as well as what you wouldn't
mind giving up."
Preventing future money
OK, so you understand each other's financial psychology and you
have put yourself into your spouse's spending shoes. You have achieved
a measure of peace. How do you prevent quarrels over money from
ever happening again?
Try gluing a sheet of rubber onto your back
and lying on the front step. If you are willing to become a doormat
(and a large, squishy one at that), you can banish all money fights
However, if you and your spouse each insist
on standing up for yourselves, the experts give some pointers for
increasing peace, love and understanding -- although you'll still
· When you sit down to discuss financial
matters, set family goals -- and include the children in these discussions.
· Pick a non-stressful time to have these
"structured money talks." So don't call a financial summit
meeting just after balancing the checkbook or while you're deciding
how much house you can afford.
· Before you get married, pay off as
many loans as possible. If you get rid of credit card and car loan
debt before the nuptials, there will be fewer arguments about merging
· On the other hand, newlyweds shouldn't
be too quick to merge their finances, Mellan says: "They are
often tempted to, but there are all sorts of intimacy issues early
in a marriage." Instead, newlyweds might want to have their
own accounts as well as a joint account for common purchases and
contribute to that account according to their proportion of earnings.
"A lot of women want separate money and
I think they should have it," she adds. "They should have
their own retirement fund, too."
· Don't buy something as revenge. It
hurts in the long run.
· Talk about your shared dreams and draw
up a spending plan. Don't call it a budget, Mellan says; that word
intimidates spenders and money avoiders.
· In your regular money chats, put your
impressions on hold. Don't judge.
· "Understand your differences and
plan around them," Gurney says. Take equal responsibility for
managing your money so both of you are informed. For example, if
one person routinely pays the bills, the other should file the paid
invoices (you do keep your paid bills in a file, don't you?).
· Pay attention to patterns. What issues
repeatedly crop up? What attitudes and emotions are creating the
Above all, the experts say that marital bliss
on the financial front has little to do with how much money you
"More money won't solve most arguments,"
Hayhoe says. "Because if you don't change the underlying behavior,
you'll end up with the same problems with more money."