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Don’t Let Money Cause Conflict In Your Family

Northwestern MutualVoice Contributor •  June 24, 2015 | Home and Family

By Sonya Stinson

From a couple’s blow-up over an unexpected credit card bill to adult siblings feuding over an inheritance, the choices people make about money can often cause a falling out between family members.

Numerous research studies have shown financial disagreements to be one of the leading causes of divorce. In a 2014 survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), nearly a third of adults with partners said money was a major source of conflict in their relationship. The APA also pointed to other research indicating that attitudes about money are inherited from parents and other family members—and often people aren’t even fully aware of those feelings.

A Roadmap for Financial Peace

It’s important to recognize the roots of your own financial attitudes so you can work on developing better relationships with family members around money issues. Here are three tips:

1. Edit your internal script. If you grew up in a family in which you constantly heard phrases like “filthy rich” or “We’ll never get ahead no matter how hard we work,” those scripts may be affecting your current attitudes about money, said Susan Bross, who is an accredited financial counselor and member of the Financial Therapy Association. If you were taught to view wealth in a negative light, you might be subconsciously sabotaging your earning potential, for example. Or if you grew up in a family that never seemed to make ends meet, you might not see the point of working harder in order to save more.

Mitch Korolewicz, a financial therapist who runs an Oklahoma City-based counseling business called the OK Money Coach, also recommends paying attention to the learned dialogue that influences financial attitudes.

“If you have a money script playing in the back of your mind that money corrupts people, or that you can have either love or money but not both,” he said, “that’s going to psychologically determine how you handle your money and what decisions you make.”

2. Make time to talk about money. While you may not see anything romantic about discussing finances, Korolewicz suggests that couples set aside time at least once a month for “money dates” to talk about the topic.

Scheduling these conversations is a much better approach than using what Korolewicz refers to as “drive-by” comments about money, such as when one spouse is doing the dishes and the other walks in and casually mentions a big bill coming due. Better to discuss financial concerns when you’re both relaxed and focused.

Using the same idea, siblings can iron out how to share the costs of helping an aging parent, and parents can give their offspring a heads-up about their estate plans.

Kathleen Gurney, PhD, author of Your Money Personality: What It Is and How You Can Profit from It, coaches families to create a joint money mission statement, which can include things like savings goals, charitable giving and vacation choices. Children as young as eight can participate in these sessions, sometimes using pictures to communicate their ideas about how the family should use its money.

“The family’s shared values and common mission prevent arguments and finger-pointing over what’s right or wrong,” Gurney said. “The discussions instead center on bringing all members back to the common good of the family’s mission.”

3. Keep an attitude of empathy and goodwill. Discussions about money can remain amicable if each participant tries to understand the other’s point of view and believe each has the other’s best interests at heart, Gurney said. The key is to identify the real emotions beneath the money squabbles.

“Sometimes it’s stuff we’re carrying forward, maybe from a previous relationship,” Gurney said. “It may be from what we saw our parents do.”

Active listening, which includes observing body language and repeating key points back to the speaker to show that you understand, is essential for a peaceful money talk, according to Korolewicz. The determination not to react in a judgmental or accusatory way is also key.

“Reflect back what your partner has told you, and try to come together in a meeting of the minds,” Korolewicz said.

Follow these guidelines, and you can find ways to talk about money that bring your family closer together.

Originally published on Northwestern MutualVoice on

Sonya Stinson is a writer for print and web publications, businesses and nonprofit organizations. She writes about higher education, careers, small business, retirement and personal finance.

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