Wright Foundation | March 23, 2016

Why Couples Fight
About Money Problems

What’s one of the most common couples’ arguments? You guessed it: money problems. We call it “dueling over dollars.”


These financial feuds range from, “You’re such a tightwad!” to “What were you thinking? We can’t afford that!” When we mix money and relationships, it can seem hard to get on the same financial page as our partner.

(We discuss this and 14 other common couples’ fights in our book, The Heart of the Fight—available now.)

Why Couples Fight About Money: It Runs Deep

What are the real reasons we fight about money? Some of us have a fear there will never be enough. This scarcity mentality can cause us to be tightfisted with our budget. Perhaps you often witnessed your mother or father struggle to pay the bills, so this concept of ‘never having enough’ was deeply ingrained into you from the time you were a child.

On the other hand, maybe money came easy to you, so you never had to worry about it. Consequently, you still don’t sweat it much (but your partner does, much to your frustration). Or perhaps spending money and shopping is a soft addiction you use to self-soothe and zone out rather than deal with problems. I’ve seen couples where one member is so driven to spend money that he or she attempts to completely hide it from their partner, even going as far as to intercept credit card statements (indicating a larger communication problem).

Whatever your views on money, it goes much deeper than simply enjoying shopping or being fiscally conservative. Our “dueling over dollars” (like many common couples fights) is tied into our yearnings. Perhaps you yearn to be socially affirmed, so you want to “keep up with the Joneses,” or perhaps you’re yearning to be appreciated. Perhaps you yearn for a sense of security and stability.

Our yearnings stem from our early primal instinct to always be sure we have enough and our fear of scarcity. Because money is attached to our very survival and our ability to acquire food, shelter, and even a mate, these primal impulses take over, sending off major alarms in our brain, which can cause some real knock-down-drag-out fights.

Couples Fighting: A Lack of Honesty and Trust = Serious Symptoms

One of the common undercurrents of financial feuds is the sense that one partner isn’t being completely honest with the other. If your spouse withdraws money from your account or hides purchases from you, there’s definitely deception going on. Similarly, if you find out your spouse is complaining about how broke you are, but your bank account is flush, you might feel they’re withholding information or vying for control.

At the true heart of these financial miscommunications is a lack of trust. It has nothing to do with a few dollars spent or unspent, and it can’t be resolved with a half-hearted promise to “do better next time.”

We call these broken promises “deception perception” fights. These can be extremely painful fights, but to really understand the conflict, the couple must drill down to the heart of the matter and realize what they’re really, truly fighting about.

After these areas of insecurity, distrust, and deception are unveiled, it can be very healing for couples to address the core of the problem. While deception and broken promises are painful to discuss and discover, they can open up the pathway to greater understanding and communication in the future.

Understanding & Identifying Our Core Beliefs

Our core beliefs are formed when we’re very young. The majority of our personality is actually formed by age 6 or 7. These early beliefs are often based on our limited perceptions as children. We’re not able to discern that Dad’s anger had to do with a rough day at the office or that Mom’s stress wasn’t directed at us. As children, we’re the center of our own universe. Each experience comes in, gets processed, and forms the basis of our beliefs about ourselves and the world around us.

As we get older, we add in societal beliefs and practices, plus the way we perceive our role within our social circle. Cumulatively, these experiences add up to our core beliefs, which can also be limiting beliefs. For example, when we feel we need to hold ourselves back or suppress our emotions, a limiting core belief might be the root. Fear of taking risks can stem from a belief of inadequacy, or a belief that we’re “not enough” or “too much.”

Similarly, fears about money often stem from a belief that the world is a place of scarcity and there is not enough to go around. If you didn’t have enough food, your needs weren’t met, or you didn’t feel secure in your living arrangements during childhood, you might carry those feelings over to today, even if reality dictates these beliefs aren’t true. With a healthy and full bank account, you may still have a scarcity mentality.

The Real Reason Why Couples Fight About Money Problems

We’re inherently drawn to those who trigger our core beliefs. Relationships are the crucible with which we are formed into a more complete person. During the transformation process, we’re forced to face some of these inner conflicts and beliefs, which manifest themselves in our interactions with our partner.

The great thing about conflict is how it forces us to really examine ourselves. Productive, meaty, hands-on conflict engages us. It forces us to look deep into our own abyss and understand where our beliefs come from and why. Living a full, engaged life means having a partner who brings out these conflicts and is a great sparring partner.

We can bounce our beliefs off our partner and wrestle with them to find our truths. This struggle and constant provocation is actually how we grow and evolve. If our partner doesn’t challenge us, we become stagnant and stop developing. We often choose a partner because they’re able to help us complete our unfinished growth and development, so we can find out who we can truly become.

So the next time you find yourself dueling over dollars (or engaged in any conflict), take a step back to examine your yearnings and core beliefs. It’s never just as simple as wanting a balanced checkbook. The conflict may be born from a desire to be acknowledged or to feel safe and cared for. It might stem from our belief that we don’t have enough or that our needs aren’t being met. Uncovering the deeper core to our conflicts is exciting because it’s the way growth is launched—it opens the path so the real work can begin!

To find out more about strengthening your relationship and unlocking your personal power, please join us for our next More Life Training. Visit www.wrightliving.com to learn more about this opportunity and others. Email us at hello@wrightliving.com if you have a question or if you’d like us to address a specific topic during our Wright Living weekly podcast. Let us know how you’re finding your own happiness!

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Blog post image courtesy: Flickr user 76657755@N04.

Wright Living is a division of the Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential, a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.