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by Joe Bavonese, PhD

One of the topics that frequently comes up in couples' therapy is conflicts concerning money.

This is usually even more of an issue right before the holidays, when couples may be deciding whether to create large credit card balances from holiday shopping sprees.

Early in a relationship, couples will often unconsciously choose roles to play around money: one person is the spontaneous child & the other is a critical parent.

In this situation, there is typically no firm budget set, and the "child" part of the couple either spends much more than the "parent" wants, or the "child" part whines & begs constantly that they need more money to buy something.

The "parent" part of the couple wants to please his or her partner, and reluctantly gives permission for the purchase, even though they may resent it.

This pattern is dangerous to the long-term health of the relationship because it is a guaranteed set-up for more anger, resentment, and distance in the future.

Both people quickly tire of their roles.

The "child" person hates to have to ask, and the "parent" person hates to say no.

Often each is unconsciously acting out emotional issues from their families of origins & re-creating a dysfunction outcome in the relationship.

If you notice that you & your partner are displaying this pattern in dealing with money, try the following suggestions which have been shown to be very helpful for couples:

Make a budget together, including allowances for gifts, going out & other fun activities. You may need to track all expenses for a month or two to do this accurately;

Create a system whereby it is the budget which gives 'permission' for purchases, automatically & mechanically, without impulsivity or emotion playing a role;

Review the budget monthly to see how it is working for both of you. 

By consciously choosing to deal with money in an adult, rational manner, you both avoid the parent/child roles.

This also frees up space emotionally to look at why you unconsciously adopted those roles early in your relationship, and what gratification or payoff those roles were giving you.

People often think of financial planning, but as a couple you are also wise to think of emotional planning as well.

Anything which consistently generates resentment, anger, and/or distance in your relationship will inevitably lead to major problems in the future.

If you have emotional issues to resolve, learn how to do it directly instead of playing them out through money.

About the Author:
 Joe Bavonese, PhD, Relationship Institute,  (248) 546-0407