Income and Incompatibility
By Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., MFT
As therapists, we know that one subject that many couples find harder to talk about than sex is money.
In many relationships, money incompatibility can be reduced to its first two syllables income. When, for whatever
reasons, there's less money coming in than there used to be, it may create problems. Couples tend to handle this
situation either by clamming up or by arguing. However, neither of these so-called coping styles is very helpful.
Sometimes loss of income happens for reasons beyond a couple's control, such as a sudden business reversal, or
because one of the partners gets fired, laid off or has his/her hours severely cut. This situation can have a
tremendous impact on a relationship. For some men, it gives rise to stereotyped fears about not being able to
provide for oneself and one's family. Self-doubt sets in and insecurity abounds.
When financial insecurity looms over a family, couples tend to argue are not just about money, but about things
that have nothing to do with the actual problem. They are uptight and flash fantasies about starving and becoming
a "street" person. During these bouts of insecurity, buttons are easily pushed. People over-react.
The role of the therapist when working with financially stressed couples is to help them learn to act rather than
react to help them communicate with each other about their fears and catastrophic fantasies, and to help guide
them to the place where they can take construction action.
Here's a good example of what happens when income impacts compatibility. When Ethel and Fred met, they were
both working. Each found the "successes" of the other very attractive. When they married and had a child, Ethel
decided to stop working to be a stay-at-home mom. They both agreed that this was best for the child. After all,
Fred was doing well in his new career and felt confident that he could take care of his family in the style to which
they'd become accustomed. They purchased a home and