Jill Goldson 's Opinion

A relationship expert with over 25 years experience counselling couples, individuals and families.

Jill Goldson: Don't let money destroy your relationship

My partner wants more than we can afford and its causing massive problems. She seems to feel that only the best will do, we max out on credit cards and I get really stressed. Inevitably we end up arguing. Our plan is to buy a house next year and I am getting resentful that this might not be possible. I don't feel certain that our relationship can make the distance.
How many pennies we put in the piggy bank can cause a rift in relationships.
Photo / Thinkstock
How many pennies we put in the piggy bank can cause a rift in relationships. Photo / Thinkstock

Who was it that said that money is the root of all evil?

Turns out that this goes right back to the New Testament - but knowing money management problems have been around for quite a while doesn't mean they are easy to solve.

Got a broken heart, relationship niggle, infuriating family member, or anything in between? Email your questions here and check back next Friday to hear Jill's wisdom.

Our disagreements about money invariably are linked with perceptions of control, security, self-esteem and love. It is so very important to get some fundamental understanding about how you, yourself, understand money.

We tend to carry our relationship with money directly from our family of origin experiences. And for many of us, those experiences were difficult. Not many families will sit and have long conversations with one another about what money is and is not.

Mostly those perspectives get acted out rather than spoken about. For instance, "my dad worried about money and yelled at my mum for spending too much". Instead of this behaviour being discussed or understood within the family, the child who grew up with this experience may become a hoarder and a worrier - or may take the opposite position in reaction and become and avoider and over spender. Often these attitudes to money can be quite unconscious.

It is no surprise that research shows that the issue of money is one of the principal polarising issues in relationships. The cycle tends to be something like this: the more she spends, the more you worry and hold on spending - which makes her avoid the issue and spend more in reaction - which makes you hold on and worry more. The dialogue that then results - and is seen as the problem - goes along the lines of: "she is so self indulgent and reckless" versus "he is so controlling and tight". Sound familiar?

In the earlier part of our blossoming relationship we typically don't spend a lot of energy thinking about our partner's attitude to money - and we frequently have our own independence financially. It is only when the big issues - like buying a house, or living off one income, arise that our different attitudes are triggered and can be very problematic - just as your letter describes.

The only positive solution to this problem is to be able to have a calm conversation with your partner about your shared goals and your thoughts about how to achieve them. And when the topic has become inflammatory it is, of course, quite challenging to achieve this calm in discussion. Choose a time in advance where you both agree you will discuss the problem. Commit to taking it in turns to talk - and prepare in advance with an agreement to look at your goals. Listen carefully to each other and also find out, with compassion, about your partner's early life experience with money.

All the research shows that once you become a committed couple it is important to work together to come up with general spending rules or limits - for example, some couples agree on a threshold of $100 or $200 which they can spend without needing to consult with each other - but beyond that agree to consult. Everyone will be different, but there are tried and tested rules of thumb. With no rules or agreements the risk of chaos and disharmony is enormous.

House prices spiral and the cost of living plays havoc with our take home pay. Subtle but powerful messages from advertising target our need to feel successful and the contradictory pressures can be very stressful and can make us feel vulnerable and impulsive and anxious.

Trouble is, if we "win" our argument about money with our partner, we are left with a hollow victory if we then lose a relationship which mattered. Or if we stay together but the quality of our life together is coloured by resentment, then it is also a no win situation/

Be kind to yourselves - remember that the value of humour and understanding far outweighs the victory of the Egyptian cotton sheet purchase or the savings made by denying yourselves takeaways on one of those cold wet nights when you are both too tired to cook.

The only real answer is to find the place of agreement in the middle - and to be attentive to keeping these discussions regular and calm.

In the end, the bigger picture is the immense value that you will share in figuring all of this out, and the satisfaction and joy you will feel in not giving way to the power of money to defeat your best intentions.

Not for one moment do I under estimate the struggle of feeling on a different page from ones partner about finances, but nor for one moment can we underestimate the loss incurred if we don't make an effort to understand our different views on this very significant issue.

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Jill Goldson

A relationship expert with over 25 years experience counselling couples, individuals and families.

Jill's fascination for what makes us tick stems from sheer bloody-minded curiosity and a genuine desire to see people live healthy, happy lives. Born in Manchester, the award-winning family and relationship counsellor moved to Auckland when she was nine. Being the middle child of an immigrant family she was neither the oldest nor youngest child, neither a Pom nor a Kiwi. This kicked off a lifelong fascination with how people can make sense of transitions and how uncertainty can be turned into a greater understanding of ourselves and of those who push our buttons. Her career has spanned more than 25 years, and seen her working for the Family Court; in hospitals; universities; aboriginal training programmes, inner London social work practices, and now–her own private practice in Auckland. Whether she's counselling everyday Kiwis, highly paid power couples or the children of Bengali immigrant families, Jill has an inherent ability to tease out what's really going on in people's lives, and strategise to improve the situation, whatever that may be.

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