Money can be a loaded topic, especially during the holidays or when business, family, and finances mix. It’s one of the biggest sources of relationship problems—and it can be the toughest to resolve.
Throughout the course of any partnership, butting heads over spending and saving habits is to be expected. Couples can face financial rough patches that are more emotionally complex than deciding whether to splurge on take-out this week. When this happens, it can feel overwhelming and affect your ability to focus at work and home.
That’s because money fights are rarely about dollars and cents. They’re usually a conflict of values, morals and family traditions or a battle over independence, control or security.
Here are some tips for navigating tricky situations where family and finances mix.
Scenario: A family member hasn’t paid back a loan, and your partner is furious.
Disagreements over how much to support a relative can rupture trust between partners and create a loyalty struggle. One person may see helping a relative as a duty, while the other sees it as inappropriately bailing them out.
This can create triangulation—a toxic relationship pattern that pits you against your partner. To cope, you may avoid having conversations about money with your spouse or starting lying about additional funds you lend your family member, which only makes the situation worse.
How to Deal
Speak to the family member in question directly, as a team. If the money lent is jointly shared with your partner, give them the seat at the table they deserve. This limits further triangulation and helps clear up any miscommunication about repayment that may have gone unsaid up to this point.
By tackling the problem together, couples can learn how to communicate better and define a clear set of expectations before you decide to lend money to family or friends in the future.
Scenario: There’s money troubles in the family business.
While conflict actually occurs less frequently in family businesses than non-family businesses, it’s more intense when it does erupt.
This may stem from goal incompatibility. Business is about turning a profit, whereas typical family goals involve things money can’t buy: love, support and respect. Conflict can arise when the lines between work and personal life blur.
The result? Family feuds over money can go on for decades and cause a rift that carries through generations. If money issues go unresolved, conflicts simply get recreated again and again. Siblings go without speaking for years. Cousins grow up estranged.
How to Deal
Fights over finances in family business will be emotional–and everyone involved may react differently. You may turn your disappointment inward and feel like a failure. Another family member may react with anger and rage.
It can help to realize that everyone is embarking on their own process. Prepare yourself for a range of responses, including those that seem irrational to you.
Because the dynamics of family and money can get complicated, spend time separating relationship matters from financial realities.
First get to the core of any resentments or fears the fight may be masking. Are you holding on a belief you must be loyal to the family business when in reality it’s limited your earning potential, for example? Or maybe you’re sore that your pride has been hurt, which can be solved by having a vulnerable conversation.
After you’ve sorted your feelings out, you’ll be in a better frame of mind to think tactically about financial next steps for yourself. At that point you may consider bringing in a mediator to address the conflict, work with financial planner or make a decision to leave the company and pursue a new career direction.