I'm an earner, you're a spender

What kind of couple are you? Andrew G Marshall identifies five cases at odds with each other

Arguments about money are never just about money, and understanding how you argue about them can be more revealing than six months on a therapist's couch. These arguments are intertwined with self-esteem, power, security, freedom and dependency - all the big emotions. Our financial "personality" depends on how we were brought up and attitudes to money in our families. It is such a deeply unconscious topic that even sex seems easier to discuss.

After falling in love, we often discover that our partner handles money very differently to the way we do so ourselves. If finances are tight, we may polarise until it is like being on a see-saw. The more you push down in your direction the further they fly up in theirs. However, by understanding our partner's opposing view and finding the middle ground, we can confront and overcome our fears.

The most common money see-saws may seem similar, but the couples may express their anger in very different ways and their behaviour may be fuelled by different past experiences.

Saver and spender

One partner says that they must buy new curtains for the lounge: the brown velvet has to go. The other one points out that they cannot afford it. Spenders are constantly buying gifts for themselves and others, and hate balancing their cheque books. The saver is proud that he or she owes nobody anything, understands just how much credit costs and has a card only for emergencies.

This is the most common combination of two people with contrasting attitudes to money.

Responsible adult and irresponsible child

The responsible adult works and works: buying a house, long-term security and pensions are all important, they feel, and the last thing money is for is having fun. The irresponsible "child" must have the original Fifties jukebox, and they must have it now. They know how to enjoy money, but in saner moments they see that they have no savings to see them through hard times, and have spent their way into debt. This is a more extreme version of "the saver and the spender".

Wise and innocent

The innocent are almost afraid that money will corrupt them, and may even fear becoming too attached to it, or addicted. They shy away from money or are ashamed of their possessions, which seem to tie them down and commit them. In contrast, the wise are always looking for new ways to make money - these were the people who spoilt dinner parties in the late Eighties by boasting about how much their homes were worth. They know everything about unit trusts and nothing about people. While the innocent are afraid of being corrupted by money, the wise see the markets as their saviour and other people as their downfall. If these partners polarise their views, the relationship is bound to be stormy.

Hoarder and gambler

Hoarders surround themselves with money - they almost try to insulate themselves against the world with their financial success. A hoarder does not need money just to feel secure, but to feel good about, and value, himself. The hoarder takes no risks with money or with his life.

His opposite, the gambler, is addicted to adrenalin. When the hot investment tip comes up or the roulette wheel is spun, this is the person who is in there.

The gambler never thinks about what will happen if he loses, and may become depressed and feel worthless when a venture fails.

Worrier and unconcerned

The worrier is always fretting that there will not be enough money to meet the bills, despite the reality that if he budgeted it through he might have a pleasant surprise: the house is not going to be repossessed tomorrow. Every decision is revisited a thousand times.

Meanwhile, the unconcerned closes his eyes to the problems. This couple can drive each up other up the walln

The author is a relationship counsellor.

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