At a Glance

Wade supports clients through all sorts of issues related to love and money, so we asked her to provide a glimpse into the advice that she gives them. Because it’s better to be aware of relationship pitfalls that involve your finances and avoid them than wait until conflict arises.

What do you think are the most common reasons couples fight about money? Dr. Brenda Wade, relationship expert, advisor for Online For Love and practicing psychologist, says couples often turn to her when one partner accuses the other of being an overspender, being careless with money or not adhering to the couple’s set budget.

But there is another fascinating facet to this common money argument.“The flip side is, the person complaining is usually the controller and they are trying to control, manipulate or dominate the other person with money. Over-controlling money forces a person into accepting deprivation or detonates any plan they have in place because it chokes the life and energy out of the relationship,” says Wade.

Common love and money problems

Sometimes money is not the problem but communication is. If you tend to struggle with communication in general, you’ll end up having more fights about money too, says Wade.

That being said, most people have money anxiety, and partners often come into a relationship with different money habits. “Some people have strong ideas regarding financial security, while other people want to save money to have fun. When two people do not have good communication and an understanding of what they both want, it becomes ripe for conflict,” says Wade.

“People have a tendency to do what they see their parents do or they flip 180 degrees and do the opposite of what their parents did – the opposite of dysfunction is still dysfunction.”

According to her, you can’t get the result you are looking for through extremes, it has to be about finding some sort of balance. Her advice? Define what money means to each partner. Then, discuss how to meet both partners’ needs.

“If it means fun for one and security for the other, then we need to ‘money plan’ for fun and plan for security so that both people’s needs are being met. If it’s about control, nobody wants to be controlled so shift to security instead of control so that both people can be heard, respected and loved.”

Financial change can also be a big issue. Let’s say one partner is used to earning a big paycheck, flying all over the world for work and never having to worry about bills. All of a sudden, they get laid off. This can bring up complicated emotions.

“He feels ashamed that he isn’t bringing in any money and he has a difficult time seeing his wife earn money instead. It just shattered his sense of self and it got projected onto his wife,” shares Wade, referring to a husband and wife example. “Changes in money status can bring on extreme anxiety, depression and anger. We are seeing this right now because Covid has created an enormous amount of change and a lot of people have experienced change in finances as a result.”

How to address any money issue in a relationship

The most important thing to do to address a new financial challenge like the one above, or one that has already been brewing under the surface, is to step back and analyze the problem.

“The most important thing is to pull back and determine the real reason there is an issue. It isn’t about money; it is about safety, status, control, etc. Once you get that solved, it is very easy to get a money plan established,” says Wade.

Here is her checklist for developing more awareness about money issues and having a constructive conversation with your partner. Grab a pen and paper and reflect:

  • What are the money patterns you and your partner bring to the table?
  • What were your parents’ money patterns and how have they affected you?
  • Have you gone through changes in needs, status and income?
  • How are you going to manage those changes as a team?

After you’ve written down your answers and analyzed them, get tactical and devise a money plan for your relationship. Break down how much you need for expenses, how much income you are each bringing in, what part goes into saving, paying student loans, etc. and who is going to be in charge of each expense.

“I can’t stress enough that the plan must be written out where they can see it. There are some excellent computer programs that automate everything, including how much you need to make to meet your plan, how much to save, where to invest it and how much you are going to accrue,” says Wade.

Guiding principles for success with love and money

Finally, tactics are great but you should also keep in mind a few guiding principles for success with love and money, which can serve as your compass when the going gets tough.

First, have a growth mindset about your finances and relationship. “Do the same thing with love that you need to do with money. Learn better… love better. Learn better… prosper better,” adds Wade. “No one is born knowing how to love in an adult relationship. Love it, grow it, nurture it, protect it. It’s the same with money, these are learned skills.”

Also, remember to separate your love and care for your partner from your bank accounts.

“Money and love are very different emotions and processes and both have to be handled with care and respect. Love is flowing, growing, and connecting. Money is about creating a container and organizing the containers so both people feel supported and heard.”