Is money causing tension in your relationship? What experts say you can do


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Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, but recent data shows that for many Canadian couples, the rising cost of living is leading to conflict instead of romance.

A report from BMO’s Real Financial Progress Index released Thursday found that about one-third of Canadian couples (32 per cent) say money is often a source of tension in their relationship.

Thirty-five per cent of partnered respondents said they believe their significant other spends too much money.

“Many couples continue to underestimate the emotional implications involved with money (which) can lead to miscommunication, disappointment and conflict,” said Gayle Ramsay, head of everyday banking at BMO, in a press release.

Ramsay says it’s important for couples to communicate their financial expectations early and frequently, but what happens when conflict damages the very foundation of a relationship?

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Though Feb. 14 is typically hallmarked by pink flowers and chocolate, experts say the trendy concept of “love languages” is not the answer to bringing partners closer together.

“It’s bogus because it’s on a very superficial level,” relationship psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson told Global News.

Syncing love languages won’t solve relationship conflict, experts say

Gary Chapman’s 30-year-old book, The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, was recently put under the spotlight by researchers at the University of Toronto.

The book’s theory is that everyone expresses and receives love in one of five different ways: quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts and physical touch. When couples “speak” the same love language, they’re more likely to have a better quality relationship.

Click to play video: 'Are you and your partner financially compatible?'

Are you and your partner financially compatible?

The UofT findings published last month, which analyzed data from 10 studies, found that Chapman’s assumptions aren’t actually supported by scientific evidence.

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Instead, the researchers suggest that love can be more appropriately understood as a “balanced diet” that requires a “full range of essential nutrients to cultivate lasting love.”

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Chapman’s accessible love language quiz is part of what led to the theory’s pop culture pervasiveness, but the study says having to choose between holding hands and receiving gifts is not a trade-off that needs to be made in real life.

“While people might be able to successfully maintain their relationships even if they are missing a particular ingredient (e.g., lack of physical touch in long-distance relationships), the best relationships will be ones in which partners spend time together, express appreciation, show affection, help and support each other and make each other feel special,” the study says.

How money disagreements can lead to emotional disconnection

Johnson, who authored the emotion-focused therapy book titled Hold Me Tight, says that despite common belief, “love is not a mystery.”

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“There aren’t five love languages. There’s only one, and it’s in thousands of studies. It’s called A.R.E.: Are you there for me?” she said.

Money related problems are no different than any other conflict in a relationship, she says. All tension can be boiled down to one thing: the biological fear of emotional isolation.

“When you watch a distressed couple, what you think you’re seeing is conflict. What you’re mostly seeing is emotional disconnection and isolation,” she said.

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While there isn’t one magic, fast-acting solution to rebuilding a healthy bond, Johnson says a key part of the work she does in therapy is helping couples feel emotionally safe with each other again.

Because money is essential to living a certain quality of life, disagreements on the topic tend to stir feelings of fear, Johnson says, making it a source of conflict and disconnection for many couples.

“Nothing works if you don’t feel safe and connected,” she said. “You’re going to have problems deciding who takes out the garbage, let alone who pays the mortgage or how much you should pay.”

Thirty-six per cent of respondents in BMO’s study also admitted they are not always truthful with their partners about their spending and finances.

Johnson says lying about things we’re ashamed of is a natural phenomenon that even children do with their parents, but it’s important to have a conversation about the feelings behind it.

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“Say to your partner, ‘I hide because I don’t want you to be critical of me. I’m worried that you’ll disapprove.’ That way, I’m connecting with you. I’m being present with you emotionally. I’m putting myself in your hands,” she said.

“That’s what we call a reach. Most of the time, even distressed partners who are angry will respond and say, ‘oh, I don’t want you to feel that way.’”

Johnson emphasizes that couples shouldn’t let their shame about certain emotions stop them from having open, vulnerable conversations.

“Attachment and our need for a connection with others goes from the cradle to the grave. We don’t outgrow it.”

&copy 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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