Man’s ‘perpetual problem’ with lax girlfriend

He wants to spend the rest of his life with her, but there’s an issue – she doesn’t share his same high standards and it’s proving hard to ignore.

Welcome to Relationship Rehab, news.com.au’s weekly column solving all your romantic problems, no holds barred. This week, our resident sexologist Isiah McKimmie tackles a money-savvy man’s issue with his cash-splashing girlfriend.

Question: I’ve been with my partner for three years. We live together and I’d love to get married and have kids with her someday. The issue is, she can’t seem to stop spending money. There are packages of clothes, shoes and make-up arriving almost every day and when we go out she will order expensive cocktails and shout other people drinks. At the moment it’s her money and she can do what she likes with it – no worries. However, when we talk about buying a place one day or having a kid, she doesn’t seem to conceive that her lifestyle will have to change. Every discussion we have about money turns into a fight. Is our relationship doomed if she’s a spender and I’m a saver?

Answer: Your relationship isn’t doomed because you have different approaches to managing finances, but if your relationship is going to survive long term, you’ll need to work together on this issue.

Money is one of the top issues that couples argue about – it’s a stressful topic in many families. You’re right to be concerned about how this might play out once you move in together and have more responsibilities to account for.

It’s not what you argue about, but how that makes a difference

While money is a stressful and difficult topic, research shows that it’s not what couples argue about, it’s how they discuss their difficult topics that determines whether their relationship is successful.

Regardless of what you’re arguing about, if you can learn to argue well, your relationship has a great chance of surviving. This includes other difficult issues like sex, raising children and household chores.

All relationships have ‘perpetual problems’

It feels important to share with you that Dr John Gottman, a psychologist who has been researching relationships for over 40 years discovered that all relationships have what are known as ‘perpetual problems’, issues that you never fully solve, but learn how to deal with.

Don’t expect to ‘fix’ this issue quickly, it may be something that is an issue for the rest of your relationship. Aim for understanding and compromise instead.

How to discuss difficult topics

Aim for understanding before taking action.

Try to understand each other’s perspective rather than just trying to convince the other person of your perspective. You need to make sure you both feel heard and understood. Even if you don’t agree with each other, try to understand your partner’s perspective.

Talk about your emotions.

Although money can seem ‘logical’, it’s actually a highly emotional topic. Underneath the different perspectives you both have are emotions. Share these with each other.

Stay calm.

Set aside time when you’re both calm and not rushed. Take breaks if the discussion become too heated.

Know that you’ll both have to compromise.

It’s okay for one of you to be more of a spender and the other a saver. If you can compromise, these differences can become a strength in your relationship.

Helpful questions to ask each other about finances

Remember that you’re aiming for understanding of each other before reaching agreement or taking action. The following questions help you reach deeper understanding together.

– What was the financial situation in your house growing up? How do you think this has impacted you?

– What’s really important to you about money?

– Are there any core beliefs, ethics or values you have around money?

– What feelings do you have about this issue?

– How would you like us to deal with money together?

– What are the fears and disaster scenarios you have about money?

– What are your long-term hopes and goals for your finances?

– What are our common goals around this issue?

– How could we reach those goals?

– How might we compromise on this (even if it’s temporary)?

Educate yourselves together

I also highly recommend reading The Barefoot Investor by Aussie Scott Pape, working through the steps and going on ‘Barefoot Date Nights’ together. ‘Barefoot’ sets out simple guidelines for couples to manage their finances together – there’s a ton of great advice in there and by working through the steps together you’ll have a shared understanding of what you’re working towards.

Isiah McKimmie is a couples therapist, sexologist, sex therapist and lecturer. To book a session with her, visit her website or follow her on Instagram for more advice on relationships, sex and intimacy.

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