Therapy in Philadelphia / Couples & Money (for people with shared bank accounts) Now that you are married or in a long-term relationship, your significant other’s style of spending can effect your bottom line.

In the dating stages, a person who lavishes you with expensive dinners and gifts is an asset, however, in a marriage, this might be a negative. Their money is now your money, and as a result the more that is spent on “frivolous” gifts / activities, the less money there will be to pay the bills or put into savings.

Conversely, someone who saves money might be appealing in the dating stages because you know that no matter what they will be able to live within their budget and provide for their family. However, in a marriage, this very same quality might lead to arguments about your wanting to spend money. You may not value savings as much as your partner.

Talking directly and honestly about money is taboo. Could you imagine on a first date asking your partner how much money they earned? If they were a trust fund baby? If they have school debt? Credit card debt? Or if they plan to be financially responsible for their parents in their old age? Social custom dictates that this information should be gathered in bits and pieces as relevant to a particular conversation, and never explicitly discussed unless the relationship is ‘serious.’ Thus, many relationships are “serious” before couples are even aware to the degree that they have different financial backgrounds, savings, incomes, earning potentials, financial goals, and spending habit expectations.

In this culture, money symbolizes what most people crave, independence, power, authority, respect, competence, safety and being nurtured. The combination of people having been raised with different financial values, spending habits, expectations and incomes and poor language skills about how to talk about money often leads to fights. These fights tend to be emotional because money symbolizes peoples emotional well-beings.

While it is too late to choose someone who earns more money, has more money in savings, is more financially generous, et cetera, it is not too late to improve communication skills about money and to develop a plan of action. Specifically, the goal for each person is to understand how the other person views money, and identify how that is the same and different from their own.

To understand each person’s perspective better, try the following Couples and Money Exercises created by the Center for Growth / Therapy in Philadelphia:

Each partner should answer the following questions re: couples and money:

* What are your financial goals? What were they like as a single person, as a married person, as a parent? How have your financial goals evolved?
* How do the two of you handle money now? Do you each have your own separate checking accounts, and pay a percentage of your income to common bills? Do the two of you pool your money together? What are the strengths of your current financial set-up? What are the weaknesses of your current financial set up?
* What does money represent? How was money handled in the family that you grew up with? How was money talked about / spent in your family of origin?
* In what ways do you trust your partner with money? In what ways do you not trust him/her with money?
* If you were to become bedridden and unable to manage your finances, who would you want to handle your money? And why?
* How do your answers to these questions change if you were three hundred thousand dollars in debt? Or had ten million dollars in the bank?

When discussing money, or any difficult topic, the way you argue can actually be more important than the "outcome" of any discusion around money and couples.  The goal is to create a safe enough environment for both of you to do the necessary work.  

* to help you understand what the "reasonable black box" answer should / could look like you may want to talk to friends, consult with a financial planner, a lawyer, and/or a therapist. Sometimes what your partner is asking for is simply unreasonable and for safety reasons you need to simply say no and set limits.