Studies show that money issues are the highest cause of marital conflict and cause for divorce. Conflicts over money and money management outweigh conflicts over sex (including affairs) and differences over raising children as the greatest trouble area in a marriage. Money management stirs up deep seated fears and anxieties about being nurtured and loved. This is because partners enter a marriage with an intensely personal history of how their families have handled money and the solutions they used to deal with this anxiety. Without getting to the crux of these issues, it is impossible to deal with the monetary anxiety at a superficial level. Following is a marital counseling case to illustrate the issue.
Ramesh & Jagruti (names changed) were attracted to each other by the very differences that they now found impossible to live with. Ramesh appeared casual and confident about his earning skills which greatly relieved Jagruti who always worried about spending money. Jagruti’s tight hand on monetary issues on the other hand brought immense relief and stability to Ramesh who was aware that his casual attitude towards spending money actually created constant anxiety in him. They therefore seemed to perfectly compliment each other; but one is incomplete without the other. They were like opposite pairs of bookends; both had deep anxieties about money but their reactions were different. But both their solutions to handle monetary anxiety by themselves were inappropriate.
Ramesh would rather take bold money risks to get quick money and not consciously deal with his anxiety over money and thereby constantly stay in an unstable financial circumstance. Jagruti on the other hand approached her monetary anxiety with a lot of caution and control; in effect loosing on many opportunities and feeling constantly deprived. Soon after marriage their illusion of safe monetary environment was broken and they realized the flaw in each others money handling solution. Along with this, it stirred up past experiences of being neglected or hurt due to financial reasons by their family. Both were loosing money but were quick to point the others fault. Ramesh opined Jagruti was miser and therefore she would never make huge success, whereas Jagruti believed that Ramesh was careless and took unnecessary risks which ultimately lead to loses and greater monetary anxiety. Any discussion about monetary dealings or resolving this issue would end up in a fight as they were both blind to the consequence of their behaviours while busy blaming the other for their issues.
As the sessions progressed we looked at their past family patterns in dealing with monetary issues which might be affecting their current behaviour. Ramesh’s father was a person who lived lavishly with little financial security; whereas his mother constantly worried about diminishing bank balance. Ramesh got all the luxuries but also was passed on the anxiety about the future finances. He learnt to deal with this anxiety by taking bold and risky decisions in business, which initially gave him quick money and paid off well but when he faced a major loss he unable to get around it. His lifestyle remained extravagant; he would not compromise and in his constant search for quick money got into deeper financial losses. His was an escapist / avoidance attitude in dealing with financial anxiety and wanted quick relief from it by making big money even if it required greater risks. Therefore when he met Jagruti he unconsciously realized that she would bring in stability and heal the hurt caused by his father, but did not realize that he was infact reliving his parents marriage, putting Jagruti through these anxieties.
Jagruti on the other hand hailed from a middle class family who lived under constant financial pressures. She at a very young age started earning to supplement her pocket money. Her parents encouraged her decision and soon she learned that money was earned through hard work and consistency. She also learned to compromise on her needs and save for the future. So she lived in a constant state of deprivation and wished all her financial worries be taken away. When she was dating Ramesh, his casual attitude towards money and him indulging her in her personal needs seemed to answer her prayers. It brought about a great relief on the financial front and she felt she could now rest her worries about finances. But soon after marriage when Ramesh faced loss, her illusion was broken and it stirred up feelings of being uncared for and neglected from her past hurts of her parents financial struggle. Without realizing she had in fact recreated her child hood experiences of her financial situation and made Ramesh responsible for neglecting her needs, not being good enough and taking care of her.
Therapy helped them to understand their different histories and expectations and over time, each one slowly moved slightly towards the center. Their disastrous fights lessened and they could begin to remember why they fell in love in the first place. It took courage for each of them to learn how to listen to the other and to give up pieces of their own dearly cherished beliefs. By the time they left therapy, money was rarely an issue between them.
Money is both a metaphor and a reality. Talking openly and communicating about money becomes another way for you and your spouse to get to know each other. Attitudes towards money range from the penurial to the extravagant. There is no reason to run to the divorce court just because you and your spouse have different ways of managing your finances.
Attitudes and relationships towards finances are unique to you and reveal a good deal about who you are and how you operate. Rupees and paise are the interface or unit of exchange between you and society and learning where you stand along the continuum, from prudent to expansive, can help you learn more about how you negotiate through life. The more you understand about yourself and your spouse when money matters, the better chance you have of working out a successful marriage.