This week’s guest post is by Cynthia Benge, MSW – LMHC, an Emotion-Focused Therapist and Couples Expert.
Money and Relationships
One of the most common issues that couples bring into my therapy practice is their conflict over how they handle money. And it’s no surprise- after all when we talk about money- we are really talking about our overall sense of security, our resources, and our most important values, beliefs and dreams for the future. And yet most couples don’t talk about those big themes, they get bogged down in the trivia of the day to day and quibble over the food bill instead of sitting down and talking about what money means to them, what their biggest fears and insecurities are around money, and what their greatest hopes and dreams are.
Our values, beliefs and behaviors related to how we earn, spend and save our money is deeply rooted in our families of origin. And those histories and experiences are different for each person. Yet, for many- those beliefs and values are seen as right and wrong- good and bad. And that’s dangerous for negotiating differing wants and needs.
The biggest part of the problem is not that partners disagree, but how they disagree. In other words- how they communicate about these potentially volatile matters. Because that’s just it- money matters- It matters a great deal to us.
Three Distinct Patterns of Conflict
Couples tend to fall into 3 distinct patterns of conflict.
- Attack-defend – where one partner criticizes and the other works to defend themselves.
- Attack-attack – where both partners throw jabs and then lash back at each other and the heat just gets turned up higher and higher. Or the opposite end of the spectrum…
- Withdraw-withdraw – where no one wants to engage or negotiate- so nothing gets planned.
Allen* and Sonja* both grew up in similar homes where money was always tight, so they both carried a lot of pain around “not having enough”. Initially that made them feel close, but as Allen began to earn a good income, he felt he deserved to spend it on the recreational toys and things he had to go without as a kid. Sonja on the other hand wanted to save for a bigger house and a “college” fund so her children would have some of the opportunities she never had growing up.
Instead of talking about those goals and dreams and needs, however they criticized each other and “fought” about who was selfish and who was a “joy-killer”. Once they began to communicate their deeper needs and wants to each other and the underlying feelings for those needs- they came up with a budget that allowed for Allen to have some “splurges” but still let Sonja feel they were moving along toward their goals.
It’s one of the most important conversations you can have and yet so many couples find it so hard to do.
Money Talk Guidelines
Here are some guidelines and “rules of engagement” so to speak to facilitate a meaningful and rich experience.
SETTING THE STAGE– It’s important to set aside a time and place to have these discussion when both of you are not tired, stressed or hungry. That means not late at night, when you’re trying to get ready to get off to work, or before breakfast.
Set up a mutually agreed upon time where you will not be interrupted- (hint- that means putting your cell phones away).
THE CONTENT– It’s a good idea not to try to solve all your money issues at one sitting. Pick a topic and stick to it until you’ve made some progress before moving on to the next one.
Topics can include:
- EARNING- Decide who is going to be responsible to work and for what time frame. What are your resources? If you plan to have children, who will be responsible to care for them, and how will you accomplish that
- SPENDING- The monthly budget. Take the time to write down all your expenses for a month and then see where the money goes. Make decisions that include both of you in the allotment for each category.
- RECORD KEEPING- Decide who is going to be responsible to pay the bills and make the investments. Regardless of who actually does those tasks, it’s essential that both people are apprised of the accounts and where the money goes. This way there are no surprises and each person feels responsible and accountable for the monetary resources.
- SAVING- Spend some time talking about your long term goals- what are your hopes and dreams. As you’re brainstorming, remember not to censor one another- let your creativity flow and think big- It’s amazing how once you speak a dream you can work to make it happen. Decide how much to put aside for big goals like retirement and housing or college.
THE PROCESS: Here’s where most couples get stuck- they want to have this conversation, but once they begin they get triggered emotionally and the blaming and shaming ensues.
Tips for positive communication:
- Speak from the “I” – stating your feelings, your thoughts (beliefs, values) as well as your wants for self and others. Remember this is not THE truth- it is YOUR truth.
- Listen with the Intent to Understand– Set aside your viewpoint for a moment and really work to understand what your partner is trying to tell you.
- Speak Back what you hear your partner saying. It is more powerful than you know to hear your partner speak words of understanding- it literally calms our nervous system. More often than not- we don’t need to “have our way”, but rather “have our needs understood”.
Once you have both communicated your needs and wants to each other in this manner- and both feel completely heard and understood- then you can begin the negotiation process.
Do a bit of brainstorming first– explore possibilities based on what you both need and want- remember this is a co-created plan for your future. If one person loses, the relationship loses and then you both lose.
Keep working at it until you find some solutions that work for both of you- that is the key to a healthy financial plan. A plan that you are both committed to is one that will provide the resources you need for a happy future AND a healthy relationship!
Cynthia Benge MSW-LMHC is a seasoned communicator with over 20 years of experience helping people find a voice for their hopes, dreams and inner truths. In the therapy office, a workshop setting or professional training, Ms Benge brings her signature warmth, humor as well her ability to make authentic connections to each encounter. Her ability to focus in on the pertinent issues and underlying content in each message allows her to help her clients find the clarity, direction, and emotional resilience to build the relationships, businesses and the lives of their dreams.
You can find her at https://www.cynthiabenge.com
*The names and details in this story have been changed to protect the privacy of these clients.
P.S. Do you want to bring more love to your money and COMMIT to a loving relationshi[p with it? Check out my free guide here.