Elaine Taylor from Relate Cambridge takes a look at how finances can affect family relationships – and how to make sure money doesn’t become a divisive issue

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There is so much more behind the meaning of money than simply, pounds, shillings and pence. It represents a feeling of being valued in relationship terms. It is one of the areas where couples and families can have the most arguments - it becomes a flashpoint because it is a symbol. Money is rarely discussed in some relationships and so develops into a source of tension. If one party is in debt and the other is unaware of this, it can become like a third person in that relationship, and a lot of time and energy is then spent keeping the debt a secret.

In a lot of cases, issues over finances can become battles for power. When relationships break down this can be very apparent. You may want to cause hurt and pain by demanding money from your ex to make them experience the hurt and pain you have felt at losing them.

Our value system and how money matters should be handled is influenced by our childhood and family. Money can be used by members of the wider family network to underline their feelings of who does and does not belong inside the family. Giving money can be symbolic – there is always the fear that someone else is loved or more important than you. Gifts may be unequal or withheld, almost as a way of saying that a particular child – for example – does not exist. People then behave unfairly because they themselves have been subjected to unfair treatment.

Generosity as a weapon

Generosity can be just as much a weapon as meanness. Giving lavishly can mean overcompensating for guilt. Money is no substitute for care and attention, so throwing money at a situation to pay off obligations and clear a conscience means everyone tends to go on feeling loss and to go on making demands.

On the other hand, when overwhelmed with anger about another’s stinginess or if you feel you are not being given enough cash, what you could actually be saying is you have lost something that you value – love and affection. That is what you really want back and you could be trying to fill an emotional hole by asking for money.

Then there is the issue of becoming parents, which is an expensive business. Not only with the loss of one salary, but even without childcare, the costs could be as much as £20,000 per child. Just as adults use money, so do children. It can be a focus for children who need to find a place to make their anxiety and anger heard. Children may play their parents off against each other when all a child really wants, again, is proof of attention and love.

A survey conducted by Relate showed that most arguments about money come down to spending priorities. Differences will appear in a relationship but issues can be worked through. However, most people with a joint strategy and experienced help can work through their financial difficulties. If you suspect that money is an issue in your relationship, don’t bury your head in the sand, it is far better to confront this sooner rather than later.

Elaine Taylor is a trained relationship counsellor with Relate Cambridge. She has 16 years experience of dealing with relationship problems. Relate Cambridge offers confidential counselling for individuals, couples and families who are experiencing relationship problems.Visit site relatecambridge.org.uk or call 01223 357424.

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