Money has replaced sex, some experts say, as the No. 1 cause of family arguments. But when a couple fights about money, says marriage and family therapist Ruth Cohen, "The real issue could be something else entirely -- like sex, power, guilt or love."
Cohen, who is president of the Mid-Atlantic Division of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, cites these seven common causes of a couple's money fights:
1.Poor communication . "Often partners don't share their real feelings about their needs, wants and desires -- thinking the other person wouldn't understand why they want to buy something. If they don't buy it, they wind up feeling ripped off. If they do buy it -- and don't explain the real reason why -- the other partner gets upset."
2.Mistaking money for love . "When a couple fights over a purchase, they may really be playing out the game 'Do you love me?' Each partner thinks 'If my spouse loved me enough, he or she would buy me what I want.'"
3. Using money as power . "Money -- who makes it, who spends it -- can become symbolic of who has control over the relationship."
4. Lack of financial autonomy . "If a person can't spend a dime without consulting their spouse, they may begin to feel swallowed up by the marriage."
5. Different attitudes about money . "Part of the baggage people bring into a marriage is what they learned in childhood about money. One partner may have come from a rich family, and the other a poor one. One may be a risk-taker and the other may be frightened of anything that may harm their financial security."
6. Using money as a screen for sexual problems. "One of the classic problems is when one partner feels sexually frustrated with the other, and spends money -- on clothes or a car -- to enhance feelings of self-worth."
7. Assuaging guilt . "Divorced parents -- usually those without custody -- often seem to feel the need to shower their children with money."
To avoid money fights, Cohen suggests:
Making sure both partners are informed about family finances, what things cost and where the money is going.
Avoiding financial secrets. "They always come out, and then they're devastating."
Making major spending decisions jointly.
Earmarking a certain amount of money for each person to spend as he or she wishes. "I personally have discomfort with the concept of 'your money' and 'my money' in a marriage. But each person does need a little mad money to retain a sense of freedom."