When Your Money Fights Aren’t About Money

What if we told you that when you and your spouse fight about money, you’re not actually fighting about money? What??? You might think we’ve completely lost our marbles, right? We promise that we’re still completely (mostly?) sane, and if you stick with us, this will all make sense. But first, we want to tell you a story.

This story comes from the Gottman Institute and Dr. John Gottman. Dr. Gottman is a clinical psychologist and researcher who has devoted over 40 years to studying marital stability and divorce prediction. He’s done some amazing research about couples and money, and if you have time to read the whole thing, we highly recommend it. Today, we want to share a story about an experiment where Dr. Gottman asked a group of 8-year-olds to give advice to a couple that was fighting about money.

Dr. Gottman explained that the husband didn’t want to save money. He wanted to spend it, and enjoy it, and live for today. He’d had a wealthy uncle that never wanted to spend a dime, and spent his whole life holed up in his one-room condo, never enjoying the money he’d worked so hard for. The husband was determined to enjoy his life and not end up like Uncle Jack.

The wife, on the other hand, had a very different take. She had grown up very poor with parents who were never able to save money for emergencies or put anything away for the future. As her parents got older, they didn’t have the resources they needed to care for themselves. The wife was determined not to meet the same fate, so she wanted to save every penny and never wanted to spend money unnecessarily.

Dr. Gottman asked the children what advice they had for this couple. One child immediately suggested that they should save some money and enjoy the rest. Compromise – what great advice! This led Dr. Gottman to draw two conclusions. First, it’s crazy for couples to struggle so much with disagreements about money when the answer – compromise – is so easy that an 8-year-old gets it! We totally agree with this, but we think Dr. Gottman missed the mark on his second conclusion. He said that out of all the forces that determine our relationship with money, the most influential is our personal history. The melting pot of our childhood, teenage, and adult experiences sculpt our thoughts about money.

Wrong!! Sorry, Dr. Gottman, but we have to disagree with you there.

Sure, it can seem like your relationship with money comes from your past experiences. You might have spending habits that are just like your parents’, but we don’t think that you are just repeating what you learned as a child. We believe that your Money Personality is in your DNA. You are born with your Primary and Secondary Money Personalities already in place. So, if your spending patterns are just like your dad’s, the two of you probably have similar Money Personalities. Conversely, if your spending habits are the complete opposite of your parents’, it’s not because you’re trying to be rebellious. You’re simply being true to the Money Personality you were born with!

That’s why we say that your fights with your spouse about money aren’t really about money.

They’re about something so much deeper – Money Personalities that don’t agree with each other. Maybe your Saver/Security Seeker Money Personality tells you that your Spender/Risk Taker spouse is completely wrong about money. That’s definitely going to lead to some big, blow-out fights! But if you can understand your spouse’s Money Personality, you’ll begin to see that their ideas about money aren’t wrong, just different. That’s the first step toward the respect, understanding, and compromise that strengthens your marriage.

The next step is to learn to speak each other’s language. This isn’t just for couples – this works for the whole family. Our younger son’s Secondary Money Personality is Security Seeker. That means that he always needs a plan for everything, so we’re constantly asking him, “Okay, what’s the plan?” When we do that, we’re speaking his language and acknowledging and respecting his need to know what’s coming next. When everyone feels that their needs are being recognized and listened to, it’s so much easier to create that compromise.

That’s why it’s so important to know your kids’ Money Personalities as well as yours and your spouse’s. We have Money Personality Assessments that you can do with your kids, and we promise you will be amazed at how different they are! Our boys proved how different their Money Personalities are every Halloween. When you’re a kid, candy is currency. Cade our younger son, who’s a Spender/Security Seeker would eat his candy very quickly. He also had a plan for the exact order in which he was going to consume it! Cole our older son, a Spender/Risk Taker, would immediately start brokering trades for the candy he liked best. Our nephew, who is a Primary Saver, is still holding on to candy from two years ago! It’s in their DNA.

Whether it’s candy when you’re little or money when you’re grown, you have to live with the Money Personality you’re born with. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t understand and respect different Money Personalities. Take it from a wise 8-year-old, the key is compromise!

One more exciting thing before we go. We have an awesome new product for you! It’s called Mastering Money Talk In Your Marriage. It’s a module-based learning program that teaches you how to talk to your spouse about money. We’re showing you how to speak their language, giving you Power Words, and helping you communicate with your spouse, so you can share your love, strengthen your marriage, and make it divorce-proof! Check it out today!

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