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A Clinical Psychologist's View on Couples, Cash and Avoiding Conflict

Editorial Budgeting, General 03 Aug 2018

By Gemma Cribb

It is well known that most couple’s fights will revolve around one of five things: time, sex, mess, kids and MONEY!  Due to different upbringings and life experiences, having different financial attitudes to your partner is more common than not.  So how do you manage your shared money in a harmonious way? Here are my top tips for couples to stay in the black when it comes to their emotional bank account.

  1. Clarify your goals.

I like to ask each partner of a couple to separately write out their ‘ideal life story’ – how things would go if they went exactly according to plan.  Then I’ll get the couple to share it with each other and look at the relative importance of different achievements for each of them.  For example, travel might be very important to one partner while buying a house or being a stay-at-home parent might be more important to another.  It is essential to understand what each partner values before creating a plan that includes the key elements of both of your dreams.

  1. Do a budget including “play money”.

How much do you both spend each week and what do you spend it on?  Look at your current spending and then create a budget based on this. Make sure you are allocating funds to day-to-day living costs, any outstanding debts and also be sure to include “play money.”  Each of you need a weekly or monthly amount of play money to use on frivolous happy-making things so you don’t feel deprived.  Even just $20 each a week can make a big difference!  And remember- this is YOUR play money – your partner has no say over what you choose to do with it.

  1. Do a reality check.

Is there any money left over after you do your budget? If there is - great! Discuss how and where to save or invest it to work towards your shared plan.  If there is no money left over or the money that is left over will never allow you to live your shared dream you need a reality check.  It might be disappointing, but is far, far better facing the facts than deluding yourself and coming to resent your life and your partner in the process.  If it becomes obvious that your current income and spending will not allow you to achieve your dreams then do some shared problem solving: Is it time to consider moving? Getting a new job? Think about what things you are willing to change now in order to achieve what you want later (P.S. You CAN NOT sacrifice your play money – this is an essential part of feeling satisfied in your life so that you both have the stamina to continue to work hard towards your goals).

  1. Meet regularly to review.

Once you have agreed on a budget and goals then you need to meet regularly to go over your accounts, make sure your plan is still realistic and ensure you are both sticking to the plan!  This is a way of creating transparency, building trust with your partner, and problem solving any new expenses or changed priorities that arise proactively. I generally recommend that meeting once a month is a good starting point. However, if you and your partner have been in deep conflict about money for a long time then try once a week at first.

  1. Let love and respect win to the end.

Occasionally I see a couple, who for one reason or another, got together without discussing their life dreams and goals.  Only once the marriage certificate had been signed did they realise that they both wanted VERY different things for the future.  As hard as it is, in this case it is much more loving and respectful to release your partner from the relationship than to try and convince them to change their minds.  Your partner’s dreams are what makes your partner who he or she is and part of any healthy relationship is helping your partner realise his or her dreams. However, if there is no way you can do this without losing your own dreams in the process then you are better off separating.

Gemma Cribb is a Clinical Psychologist who works in Sydney’s CBD at Equilibrium Psychology. If you would like help managing money conflict in your relationship, give her and her colleagues a call on (02) 92626156 or email:

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Adviser Ratings & A Clinical Psychologist's View on Couples, Cash and Avoiding Conflict, Comments Section:


"Great article! I think my partner and I need the play money AND the reality check!"

Rob 17:07 on 03 Aug 18

"It's basic communication. Do these people not actually talk to each other?"

Amos Parker 15:13 on 03 Aug 18

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