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Arguments about money aren’t about money – it goes much deeper than that

Chances are that if you ask people to name the main causes of conflict in their relationship then money will often figure. Whether it’s triggered by the cold realisation of how far the bank balance is in the red, or seeing red at the revelation of a recent purchase by your partner…. the reality is that such conflict is rarely simply about money per se, but rather is the symptom of a much more deeply rooted conflict around meanings, personality or values.

The essence of money

“What words do you associate with money?” Now there is an interesting question to ask your partner. Security…choice…power… responsibility…freedom,..independence…happiness,..burden? How you answer this question is likely to have been shaped by how you have been socialised by family, education, religion, media, peer group. It will also be influenced by your own personal history with money – perhaps affected by previous relationships, employment or debt. It is worth exploring where and how your views towards money have been formed and if you want to challenge any of the meanings that you attach to it.

Spenders vs. savers

The tug of war between the spenders and the savers is a common battle in relationships. Often this is the symptom of a wider difference in personality types within the relationship. One might be a risk taker while the other more cautious; one spontaneous while the other more of a planner; one lives in the moment whilst the other has more of an eye on the future. On our One:Retreat days we spend a good deal of time helping couples to understand the similarities and differences in their personality types. An important reason for this is that our natural tendencies, rooted in our different personality types, are unlikely to change. So the only way forward is to develop a greater understanding of how we can respect, value and best accommodate our differences.


What do you want to buy that for?

 One of the most common conflicts is around different perspectives and priorities on what money should be spent on. Again what lies behind this conflict isn’t money itself, but rather our different values – what we believe to be important and worth investing in. If you value health and fitness then you might want to prioritise spending on sport activities or healthy food. If you value friendship and hospitality then you might want to prioritise spending on hosting people. If you value adventure and leisure then you may want to spend on travel. If you value generosity then you may want to prioritise giving money away.

Couples are likely to have values that they hold in common (where there is likely to be more agreement over spending) but also to have their own distinct values that are important to one partner but not the other. Here is where it is more likely that conflict arises. The challenge for any couple is to be able to identify each other’s distinct values and to give each other the space, time and resources for these values to be expressed. In a world of finite resources this is going to mean compromise in order to accommodate each other and ensure that both partners feel a sense of equity.

So, the next time you lock horns with your partner over money maybe try to delve and see if there is anything deeper going on. You may just be able to unlock a little more understanding of one another.

Richard Elliott

Husband, father, teacher, coach & philanthropist. Richard is a director of Pickwell Manor Ltd and a founder of the Pickwell Foundation – a grant making charitable trust focusing on displaced people and climate change. He has a Diploma in Business, Executive & Life Coaching and a background in Post 16 Education in which he taught and managed Social Science subjects. He has a particular interest in how values shape individuals, relationships, families and organisations. 

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