Money. It’s a subject that people tend to avoid. It’s considered a faux pas to talk about how much you make, how much you owe, how you spend it, how often you think about it and how it does – or does not – drive you. But the reality is money affects everything – especially marriage.

In their book First Comes Love, Then Comes Money, financial advisers Bethany and Scott Palmer write that "money touches every single part of life – where we live, what we do, what we wear, where we eat, what we eat, what we drive, who our friends are, and on and on."

While it’s tempting to think financial arguments are limited to big ticket items like the mortgage, life insurance and vacations, the reality, the Palmers argue in The Five Money Personalities, is that "money is part of every piece of our lives. That’s why couples who disagree about money will disagree about everything."

While there are financial hurdles in every marriage, those hurdles needn’t turn into lifelong conflicts. According to the Palmers, just like everyone has their own unique personality, everyone has their own unique money personality that is neither right nor wrong – it’s just different.

"Once people find their money personalities," the Palmers explain2, "all of their spending habits (or lack-of-spending habits), their fears about money, and their fights about money start to make sense. And . . . they recognize that their partner has a different money personality, one that is just as valid as their own."

Money hurdles

You may not think money has such a prevalent role in your marriage. You may think this discussion doesn’t apply to you and your spouse. But even if you think everything is going well – and even if it is – it never hurts to recognize the obvious and not-so-obvious ways money can become a problem.

  1. Underestimating the power of money
    Christ knows the allure of money, He knows how it can seep into every part of our lives and take control of the decisions we make and the secrets we hide. In Luke 16:13, He says, "You cannot serve both God and money," which, Stanley explains, means God knows that "the number one competition for your heart that our Saviour faces is our stuff.""The reason Jesus has said so much to us through the Gospels about money," Stanley says, "is not so He can get our money, it’s to keep our money from getting us."

  2. Putting unrealistic expectations on your spouse
    During a finance course they took with their pastor, Melissa* and Jack* were pleased to learn something new after 12 years together. The way they were raised and the way their parents handled – or mishandled – their finances affected the financial expectations they brought into their marriage. Both Melissa and Jack were raised to recognize the value in saving money rather than spending it. Other couples, though, may see a clash of expectations. Consider Tianna* and Jamal*. When they were married over three years ago, they had no idea money would be a constant source of contention. Tianna expected her husband to spend on the house and save on vacations like she did, but the reality they face in their marriage is far different. Jamal would rather save money around the house and spend money on bigger vacations. It’s in a situation like this that understanding the Palmers’ money personalities can build a bridge of understanding between two very distinct expectations.

  3. Misunderstanding the actual problem
    With almost 40 years of financial experience between the two of them, the Palmers have helped many couples come up with budgets and plans to get out of debt and to save. But they kept seeing that, even with the right budget, these same couples would still fight over money constantly. "What we see over and over again," they explain1, "is couples who are caught up in a cycle of assumptions, misunderstanding, and blame. It doesn’t matter if they have a healthy bank account or are deep in debt. Because money isn’t the problem. Their Money Relationship is the problem." Since each couple has their own unique money personality, each marriage has its own unique money relationship. "Just like your physical relationship is about much more than sex, and your emotional relationship is about far more than your feelings, your Money Relationship involves a whole lot more than your money," the Palmers write1. "It’s about how and why you connect – or don’t – when you make decisions where money is involved. It’s the deeper set of assumptions and beliefs you bring to your money decisions."

The role of your money relationship

Before you can understand the dynamic of your money relationship, you first have to find your own money personality. In their work with couples over the years, the Palmers have come to learn there are five different money personalities.

As mentioned, there’s no right or wrong personality. They each come with their own set of pros and cons. "So the goal in discovering your Money Personality," the Palmers write1, "isn’t to point out your flaws. It’s to help you understand yourself and the way you think about and deal with money."

"Because the more you know about yourself and your perspective on money," they continue1, "the better equipped you are to work with your spouse to build a strong Money Relationship."

Though there are five distinct money personalities, the Palmers have, over time, realized that everyone is actually made up of two of the five – what they call your primary and secondary personalities. Both work together – and sometimes conflict – within each person to give each spouse their own unique perspective.

These are the five money personalities:

  1. Saver: A saver finds spending money difficult and loves to save. It’s not that they never spend money, because getting a deal on something is really exciting, but they generally avoid both credit card debt and impulse shopping.

  2. Spender: A spender, on the other hand, loves to spend money. Whether it’s a small purchase, a big purchase or buying things for friends, a spender uses money to create memories and live in the present.

  3. Risk taker: A risk taker is quick to make financial decisions, follow their own intuition and aren’t afraid to head into a new adventure. They tend not to look at the details of a financial endeavour, but rather focus on the big picture.

  4. Security seeker: A security seeker, on the other hand, is slow to make financial decisions as they make sure they do all the research they need to beforehand. While they’re prepared for almost anything, they keep the future in their minds at all time, even if that means sacrificing the present.

  5. Flyer: A flyer, unlike the other four personalities, does not think about money at all. They’re generally happy in life, unbothered by financial decisions and content letting someone else take the reins.

Chances are you already know which two make up your money personality. And even if you can recognize which two make up your spouse’s, the Palmers warn against telling your spouse which they are. Before you can begin to think about your money relationship, you both need to be aware of who you are as individuals.

If you’re struggling through financial issues and miscommunications, the Palmers explain that understanding your spouse’s personality is the key to finding harmony when it comes to money-based conflicts.

"You have to break out of the cycle of blame and start seeing the situation from your spouse’s point of view." They go on to add1, "When you do, you can start to see why your spouse makes the decisions he makes . . . You can appreciate the time and effort and thought that goes into your spouse’s money decisions. And you can start to extend grace to your spouse."

While it may seem as though this process is difficult and mundane, it doesn’t have to be. The Palmers suggest looking at it as an opportunity to go back in time, to feel like you did when you first started dating.

"Once people get married," they write1, "we tend to stop discovering each other. We get to that place of familiarity and forget that our spouses are deep wells of quirks and dreams and ideas that are still worth discovering."

When you find out who your spouse is and how they see money, you are better able to build a successful money relationship.

The Palmers note1, "When couples dream together, they move forward together. And when they stop dreaming, they stop growing as a couple."

What to remember going forward

First, it is crucial that you and your spouse are equal partners in your newly enlightened money relationship. "Partnerships," the Palmers write2, "depend on connection, openness and respect." And since each person’s money personality is so innately part of who they are, arguments about money can be that much more painful – because "when someone criticizes that view, it feels deeply personal."1 This is why taking the time to get to know your spouse’s money personality can take great strides in healing your money relationship.

Second, it’s important to remember that this is not a simple fix. The tools of learning your money personality, understanding your money relationship and taking steps to communicate openly and respectfully with one another are, the Palmers note2, "part of a process."

"Building better financial communication doesn’t mean you’re never going to have financial problems," they explain2. "What it does mean, however, is that when you have financial problems you will know how to talk about them and deal with them together."

To find out more about money personalities and how to heal your money relationship, check out The Five Money Personalities: Speaking the Same Love and Money Language by Bethany and Scott Palmer.

*Names changed to protect privacy

Reference to the individuals and organizations quoted does not constitute a blanket endorsement of either the individuals’ external work or their respective organizations.

Amy Van Veen is editorial manager at Focus on the Family Canada.

© 2015 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.  

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