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Question: My boyfriend and I are both thirty four and have been dating for six years. We are very similar in most ways and get along well but we are really different in how we think about money. We earn about the same amount but I am a saver and he is a spender. We have had numerous conversations about this and all of them end in accusations and anger. Even though he is pushing for it, I am worried about making a commitment to him. Can you help?

Answer: In general, conflicts in relationships arise around the differences between partners. Differences about   money and the friction that results is a common issue that couples bring into counselling. Obviously, the more extreme the difference, the more difficult it will be to find common ground. Your first move should be to decrease the anger and accusation. When emotion runs high, discussion does not go smoothly.

Since you say that you and your boyfriend get along well in most ways, I presume that you have similar goals and values. This may be a good place to begin. How do the two of you think about your future together? What standard of living do you expect to share? Do you want to own a home, have children, travel etc.? These things may not be priorities but I am sure that there are some priorities and it is a good idea to get these out on the table and get some agreement on them. Though money may not make you happy, having no money can make you miserable. Start with the necessities of food and shelter and go from there.

There are always some emotional underpinnings that drive our relationship with money. The reason why you save and your boyfriend spends is probably more complex than you’ve imagined. How our parents managed or mismanaged their money is probably seminal to these underpinnings. It may help if you and your boyfriend explore what money meant in each of your families: what value it held, how it was earned, how it was spent and what tensions, if any, existed around it.

A few years ago, I had a client named Joe who grew up in a family that was always on welfare. When he started to work (at the age of twelve!) he was determined that he would never be poor again. He found that he could get by on very little and set about saving everything he could. His frugal lifestyle worked well for him until he met his future wife. She too had grown up impoverished but her reaction to the experience was quite different than Joe’s. She had been very affected by the discrepancies between her and her friends as a child, and once she started to earn her own money she was determined to have the things she had felt deprived of. She worked hard and spent everything she made and as with Joe, it worked just fine until they met and fell in love.

Though there were significant differences between their orientations around money, they cared enough about each other to stick it out over many difficult conversations until they hammered out something that they could both agree upon. Each had to be flexible and willing to see both the strengths and weaknesses of the other’s positions. Part of their strategy was to work at finding consensus on their goals, what those goals would cost and the time span that they could agree on to attain them. All of this said, the central stabilizing piece was their ability to step back from anger and accusation. By widening the lens on their understanding of each other’s position they were able to reach a compromise that they could live with. Good luck with your dilemma with your boyfriend. I hope that some of the above is useful.

Margaret Anne Speak, M.A., C.C.C., works with couples, individuals and families from a Bowen Family Systems perspective at Family Services of the North Shore. Questions? Write This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call 604-988-5281.