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By Angie Willcocks, Mining Family Matters psychologist

When couples fall in love, they often just assume that their partner shares their views about money. Often this isn’t the case, and as a result money can become a major cause of anger and frustration, no matter how much the couple earns.

One of the first steps in reducing arguments about money is to think about your own beliefs and behaviours. It’s surprisingly simple and yet not many people do this. Think back on your history with money, and perhaps write down your thoughts.

Consider questions like: as a kid did I feel rich or poor? Where did I learn about money? Did I grow up in a house with a lot of money, just enough or no cash? How was money talked about in my home? Was money important to my parents? Next, think about how you approach money as an adult. Do your childhood experiences affect you now?

Ideally, you should ask your partner to do the same exercise, and then you should sit down and talk about it. Try starting the conversation by saying something like: “I’ve been thinking about why we argue over money, and trying to understand my share of what’s going on.” There is often a lot of blaming and criticizing in arguments about money, and this exercise can start to shift that pattern and encourage some understanding and compassion for each other.

Try these ideas too:

  • Set shared financial goals, and make sure they’re SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timed). For example “Let’s save $20,000 towards a home loan by the end of next year” is more SMART than “Let’s save for a house”.
  • If you work away and feel like you don’t know or have any say in where the money goes, take responsibility and get informed. Sometimes, the person who works away can develop an unrealistic view of how much it costs to run a family home, and underestimate basic living costs. If you never do the grocery shopping, next time you’re home go shopping with a list (prepared by the usual household shopper) of all that is needed for the week. This simple exercise can be very powerful for some couples.
  • Often the person at home tries to cover up or avoid discussing how much things cost, for fear of an argument. This does not help in the long term. It’s more effective to be upfront about what is being spent when and where.
  • Go over your bank accounts for the past three to six months and record everything you have spent and what you’ve spent it on (schooling, gifts, power bills, insurance, gas). You can do this individually or together as couple. This exercise is primarily to collect information, but it can also lead to good reductions in spending.
  • Sometimes it works well for couples to have three bank accounts: one joint account to take care of large family expenses such as the mortgage and household bills; and two individual accounts for personal expenses.
  • Be clear about what you see as important in life and be willing to have difficult conversations with your partner. For some people, a really nice car is essential, while their partner cannot see the point. Others are committed to private schools for their children, while their partner believes the public system is just fine.
  • Always remember this basic fact: you must earn more than you spend to get ahead financially. Be brave and go over your family income and expenses and see what the numbers are. If you can’t see a way forward on your own, perhaps ask around for recommendations on a respected financial planner.

Unfortunately, some couples seem unable to stop arguing about money – in fact, they can’t even talk about it. If this is you, it’s worth considering relationship counselling sooner rather than later.

Mining Family Matters aims to break down the barriers of isolation and the stresses of living away from family and friends. Although this website provides general advice from a psychologist, the content should never be regarded as a substitute for professional health services or crisis services. Always speak to your doctor or specialist provider for advice on a specific medical condition. If you are depressed and require urgent assistance, call 9-1-1 or visit the Canadian Mental Health Association website at www.cmha.ca.


Psychologist Angie Willcocks is an expert at helping families deal with the pressures of life in mining, oil and gas. To ask Angie a question, write via our 'contact us' page. It’s free! And to read other Angie articles, please click here.