A few examples of how money and relationships can be complicated….

  • Two working spouses deciding who will take the primary care role for children, or steps away from work, while the other leans more heavily into career
  • Parents answering children’s request for additional allowance money
  • Adult children talking with aging parents around their increased healthcare and daily living needs as they get older
  • A sibling who constantly needs to borrow money

These situations can cause a lot of chronic stress and significantly erode our quality of life.  When you are faced with situations like that, consider these four steps:

Get Clear: What parts of this are about money, and what parts are about something else?

Money is often used (and abused) as a proxy for other needs or behaviors. 

In the scenario where a couple is deciding which partner will take primary care duty and which will prioritize career can be straightforward financially.  The typical default is whoever earns less becomes the default caregiver.

This solution, while seemingly simple, may not be completely adequate.  Couples may find that they still argue over this divide in responsibilities for reasons beyond financial stress.

  • Are both partners’ needs for fulfillment, leisure, rest, challenge, or – anything else – being met?
  • Is the division of household labor (a 24/7 “job” with no sick or vacation days) being divided equitably, or neglected?
  • Is this creating a power or abuse pattern that isn’t healthy? (for example, does the unpaid partner have to “ask permission” to spend money?)

When you find yourself in a situation where money seems to be the culprit, consider taking a step back and asking – what else is this about?

Identify and maintain boundaries

Seven out of 10 of us who make it past age 65 will need long term chronic care as we age.  Family often fills in for unpaid caregiving or coordination of care. 

When these situations arise, it’s important to decide what you will participate in, and to what degree, as well as what you will not.

For example, “I am happy to swing by and help around the house 1 day a week.  I will help you find a service for the other 2 days/week.”

Caregiving situations are often more complex, it’s easy to lose sight of also caring for yourself so don’t forget that you need rest, recovery, and leisure too. 

Communicate clearly and specifically

I’m a huge fan of giving children an allowance and feel VERY strongly that it should not be tied to any behavior outside of practicing the use of money (as opposed to reward or punishment for anything non-financially related). 

A common request, can I have an additional $x this week for my allowance?

A clear response could be, “No.  Your allowance is a set amount so you can practice using money wisely.  If you want more, we can talk about additional (routine household chores should not be tied to allowance, they are tied to a shared living space) household chores you can do for that additional amount.” 

Of course, not everything needs to be “earned”, if it is being used for something you support and agree with you can just say, “Sure, I’d be happy to contribute that amount for that activity but it’s not part of your allowance.  Your allowance is your weekly opportunity to practice using money.”

Avoid things like “I would have been happy to but you’ve been giving me a lot of sass recently so, no.”  This type of response, although human, re-enforces the confusion between issues being financial or about something else.

Seek assistance/support/perspective

We are highly complex life forms, so naturally, the relationships among us can also be complex.  Our relationship with money can be complex too so adding the two together has the potential for disastrous results.  Lean on the experience of trusted advisors and experts when you find yourself in situations that are difficult to navigate:  a good friend, a trusted financial advisor, a therapist, a peer support group. 

One hundred percent of us will experience some scars in this experience called life, no need to navigate the pain and healing alone.

So, if you have “that” relationship right now, take some time to jot down…..

  1. What else is it about?
  2. What are you willing to do, what are you not willing to do?
  3. What can you communicate clearly?
  4. What assistance do you need?

As always, be kind to yourself and others.