I have a friend who constantly argues about money with his wife. He thinks the conflict is about how his wife spends too much money while he tries to save by bringing his own lunch to work, making his own coffee in the morning, choosing the least expensive item on the menu when they go out to eat, etc. He saves, saves, saves because he believes he will never have enough money to retire.
Meanwhile, he thinks his wife spends far too much money—she buys items without being aware of their cost, she goes out with friends frequently, she shops at the most expensive grocery store in town, she’s always buying “unnecessary” things for the kids, and she’s always arranging expensive vacations.
“And she doesn’t even care, because if she did, she’d stop being so reckless,” he tells me.
I shake my head.
“What?” he asks. “You know my wife. Don’t you think I’m right?”
“You really want to know?” I ask.
“Yes, I really want to know.”
“Just tell me already!”
“Okay, here it comes.”
I tell him there’s a few things that could possibly be going on. First, he has always had this fear of not having enough. He’s always complaining about the cost of everything and can hardly enjoy himself when going out. He’s completely consumed with not spending too much to the point where the most important thing to him seems to be money.
In terms of him thinking his wife doesn’t listen to him, I tell him: Maybe it’s not that she’s not listening, maybe she just disagrees. Maybe, just maybe, I say, his wife believes that the family is fine financially and that she’s not spending money wildly and that he is the one who is making a big deal out of nothing. He is the one who’s turning money into a larger relationship issue in saying she “doesn’t listen to him” when she may be listening perfectly fine, but just disagreeing. He may be the one not listening!
My friend goes: “I’m sorry I asked.”
“That’s what they all say,” I say as I smile.
Because conflict in relationships can be a tremendous mirror into seeing the psychological map of who we are. If we’re willing to see it.