By Whitley Louvier, LMFT
“Ugh, not again!” Anthony rolled his eyes as he saw the text alert from the budget app he shared with his husband letting him know that Matthew had just made a purchase at his favorite store. Money was a frequent source of conflict between the two of them, with Matthew admittedly being the “spender” and Anthony “the saver”. They had recently had a discussion about the need to save for the future, and Anthony found himself getting more and more angry the more he thought about Matthew’s apparent disregard for that joint decision.
That evening at home after work, Anthony exploded as soon as he saw Matthew.
“How could you do this after the conversation we had just the other
day? You just don’t care about the future! We’ve had so many of these
conversations before that too, I’m so tired of having the same argument over
and over!” Matthew responded back with anger, “What’s the big deal, it
wasn’t even that much money! I work too, I deserve to buy certain things if
I can afford them! You need to loosen up and stop attacking me!”
According to Dr. John Gottman, a psychologist and relationship researcher, 69% of conflicts between a couple are perpetual problems, meaning they are due to differences in perspective and personality and cannot be solved. Perpetual problems are also sure to resurface between a couple again and again, which understandably can be frustrating and discouraging.
It’s easy to see how these differences can lead to recurring arguments! So, what can we do about these perpetual problems if not try to solve them? According to Dr. Gottman, agreeing to let go of the goal of resolving these issues is the first step. That will likely not happen, no matter how hard we try.
Neither one of these perspectives is inherently wrong and tapping into the deeper emotions around finances and what they represent to each person can help couples understand that a difference does not automatically mean a conflict. Learning why this difference of perspective exists, all the factors that influence that, and that each perspective is valid (even if we don’t agree!) is vital to move forward to the more practical discussion of agreeing on a budget.
A visualization technique I use with couples in sessions when discussing perpetual problems is to imagine that they are a team standing together facing the problem. Your partner is not the problem, the problem is the problem. Understanding that ultimately, you and your partner are on the same side (neither of you want to continue having arguments about finances and feeling unheard and unappreciated by the other) can go a long way toward opening up space to have a more neutral discussion about the topic of coming to a shared goal, like when to spend and when to save.
Repeated conflicts don’t have to derail your relationship. As frustrating as it can be when a perpetual problem arises, seeing yet another argument as also an opportunity to learn more about your partner is an important shift in thinking that can get you closer to the shared compromise you’re hoping for. Exploring and sharing the deeper emotions related to perpetual problems can help couples create understanding, respect and acceptance of each other and their inherent differences.