A Deeper Look at Money Issues in Relationships…

Nick and Ashley weren’t talking to each other when I came into the room. That’s never a good sign. But, I was hopeful that they’d be talking by the time we were finished.

Money was our topic (the content) but what we spent most of our time on was how Nick and Ashley behave and talk with each other (their process) about any topic. The reason? Respect, trust and good communication (process) were the core issues here, even though the subject we were talking about was money (content).

In the ten years Ashley, 38, and Nick, 40, have been married, they’ve struggled with money, not only with the “mechanics” of it, like how to do a weekly or monthly budget, but also with each of their different fundamental ideas about money. Even after all the arguing, accusations and frustrations, they still don’t agree on how to proceed. They’re at a crisis point in their marriage.


Ashley is a saver and when she spends, it’s conservatively. She can wait for what she wants, whether it’s something small or large. Ashley has the strong belief that: “I must be responsible about handling my money; it’s limited.” She sees “planning ahead” as a critical part of that task.

Nick doesn’t have any beliefs that are even close to Ashley’s about handling money. He actually has no belief at all about saving or planning ahead for next month or next year (wow, his belief system has a hole in it). So, he doesn’t delay buying, whatever he wants even though he doesn’t necessarily need it.

You can see that Ashley and Nick are at extreme opposites in their views. But, it makes sense when you look at their backgrounds. Ashley’s parents both held the same idea that each should be responsible with money, so Ashley got a “double dose” of their value. Also, her parents actually made their financial choices in front of their four children. So, Ashley’s beliefs are grounded in the reality of daily living. All of Ashley’s siblings are good with money.

Nick’s parents, on the other hand, were over-generous and when Nick ran out of his own money, his parents “bailed him out.” Nick never experienced what it felt like to be broke. He never experienced penalties from overdrawn bank accounts. He didn’t have to deal with angry phone calls from credit card companies. He was shielded from those adult realities until he married at age 30. But, the worst of it was that Nick wasn’t shown how to handle money, plan ahead for purchases, and so on. When he married Ashley, he really didn’t have any money-handling skills.

Current Situation

The latest “money” glitch happened when Nick bought a hot tub for the family. He paid cash, so they wouldn’t have any debt from the purchase. (Buying this is okay, he reasoned: Ashley has wanted one for several years, and I have the cash now, so I won’t have to put anything on the credit card. Ashley will be pleased.)

But, Nick, who owns his own business, couldn’t pay his next month’s payroll. He hadn’t planned ahead because he simply doesn’t think like that. He assumed the money he needed would come in. (Remember that hole in his belief system?) Ashley, who has been through this up-and-down process for their entire twelve-year marriage was shocked. She thought Nick had corrected his thinking after their last argument.

Now, she’s so beyond discouraged that she’s suffering physical symptoms: alternating panic attacks and depression. This couple has four children under ten years old, so Ashley’s a busy mom, and already stressed with their needs. She doesn’t have the energy to deal with a very old problem she thought was solved. She’s so discouraged with Nick; she’s actually wondered aloud whether or not she married the wrong man.

Nick literally doesn’t “get” why she’s so stressed. He believes he’ll handle it. He reassures himself and Ashley that, “When we need more money, it’ll be there; I can make more by working hard.” As he describes it, “My belief is that I’m like ‘Superman;’ I’ll always come through with a solution.” Of course, from her view, he’s not handling it at all.

Of course, his reassurances don’t reassure Ashley because they’re based on nothing but “thin air” promises. Maybe Nick will make enough money to cover their bills, but maybe he won’t. She knows that none of us can predict the future; there are too many uncontrollable variables out there. So, for her, Nick’s thinking is like a house of cards always ready to tumble. Nerve-racking.

What’s Wrong With This Situation?

  1. Nick’s obvious lack of money-handling skills.
  2. With Nick there’s a lack of relationship skills, as well:
  • Not listening to Ashley; ignoring her.
  • Arguing with Ashley for years, refusing her opinions, telling her that her approach was way too conservative. He just wasn’t going to live life denying himself his “stuff.”
  • Changing the subject when she complained about the financial crises every other month..
  • Reasurring Ashley that next week or month or year would be better; she shouldn’t worry anymore. It didn’t get better because Nick didn’t change his core beliefs. And, he didn’t learn the financial skills he needed.
  1. With Ashley, she let this process go on much longer than she should have.
  • Because she doesn’t like arguing, she’s reluctant to initiate a conversation with Nick (he’s very intense and has strong verbal skills).
    • Talking with Nick about an “issue” is stressful.
    • He discounts her suggestions.
    • When he does listen to her ideas, he criticizes them.
  • She feels disrespected, resentful, distrusting and now, hopeless.

Does she love him? Yes, of course, but what does that matter if her daily life is a chronic struggle?


  1. Nick needs to rethink how he talks to Ashley. If he really values his wife, he’ll not only listen carefully to Ashley’s ideas, he’ll also stop any criticizing and arguing. (Yes, he’ll have to develop more self-discipline.)
  2. It’s usual for two people from very different backgrounds to have different opinions about any given subject. The trick is for each person to:
  • Listen thoughtfully.
  • Ask questions to get further understanding.
  • Discuss the topic respectfully (as though you really do value your partner).
  • Negotiate (again, respectfully), and, if necessary:
  • Compromise (each person gives some and each person gets some).
  • Note: This is a cooperative process, not a competitive one. In Nick’s family, talk was competitive. Each person had the goal of “topping” each other. (They’re all really smart people.) But, respectful partnering, whether in intimate, work, or social relationships doesn’t “do” competition. If you really think about it, the words “respect” and “partner” are the opposite of competition; these processes demand cooperation.
  • Nick needs to learn the practical life skill of money handling. How? Any good book on budgeting and short-term, medium-term and long-term financial planning can be bought or rented at the public library. There are many inexpensive courses at local high schools and /or community colleges.
  • Ashley needs assertive skills. In her original family, when each person spoke, others listened. That’s not the case here with Nick. She’ll need to:
    • Increase her ability to stand the stress of the talk. How? Be rested and prepare. Have the important thoughts clear in her mind. Preparing decreases stress.
    • Set limits. Make it clear to Nick before they talk, that she’ll discuss only one issue at a time. The rest can wait. Then, refuse to budge. This process slows things down, so it lessens anxiety and anger for both people. It insures that each problem gets attention until it’s resolved. So often in heated talk, people get off the topic without really knowing they’re doing it. This process decreases the chance that that will happen.
    • Refuse to argue. If Nick starts to criticize or attack her ideas, she can say calmly that she’ll talk again when he’s willing to discuss, not blame or be sarcastic. Then, no more talking. They can try again later.

    Ashley’s refusal to argue means she can’t become defensive, either. She can’t criticize, attack, blame or use any other tactic that retaliates. A healthy, adult discussion uses clear thinking, sticks to the point, and aims to reach a mutual resolution. That’s what we’re working for here.

    Big Thoughts In This Article.

    1. Expect your partner to have different ideas from yours about how to do daily living and how to do relationships. Since we’re usually drawn to our opposite personality type, this is often true. If you expect differences, you won’t be negatively surprised. You’ll simply assume that you need to know your partner better, then negotiate and compromise. If both of you understand and accept this idea, you should be okay.
    2. Become aware of how Respect acts in everyday living. Among other qualities, respect actually values the other person. Respect listens carefully, wants to be open and join with the other. Takes into account the other’s feelings and, most important of all isn’t defensive.
    3. Sometime, we come to adult living without a skill that we need, whether that’s in the practical living area or the relationship area. No need to be defensive about it. Assure yourself that you can succeed by learning the skills you need. Once you do, it’ll feel wonderful and it will promote your intimate relationship.
    4. Understand that all of the above processes works in social and work relationships, too. Try them.

    Warmest regards until next time,


    Author's Bio: 

    Joan Chamberlain is an author, therapist, and life coach with over 30 years of experience helping adults, couples, and teens. She has a Bachelor's degree in Business and Finance, a Bachelor's in education, and a Masters in individuals, couples, and family counseling. Her book, Smart Relationships, has helped many people achieve the self-awareness needed to see themselves honestly. Its wisdom has helped them work toward improving their relationships with themselves, their friends, and their families.

    To learn more about the ideas and concepts presented in her articles, please peruse her website: