Vulnerability is difficult to sustain in an intimate relationship, even without bringing in money issues. No one WANTS to be vulnerable. It becomes a lot easier when you know your friend or loved one accepts you unconditionally. Which is fine when you’re admitting to a less-than-ideal habit . . . but I have seen that when it comes to money, sometimes unconditional love can become conditional. And judgmental. Which begins the slow death of the intimate relationship.
Don’t get me wrong – I believe that each person in the relationship needs to pull their weight and destructive behaviors should be addressed immediately. But there is a difference between a self destructive person and a person who is going through a bad time or made a mistake.
Perhaps your spouse has been laid off. This sets off your own fears about money and having enough. So you proceed to try and micromanage every aspect of your spouse’s search for future work—mistakenly thinking that the key to your security is your partner’s employment. Not only is your spouse trying to figure things out, s/he has the added pressure of feeling like s/he is disappointing you by getting laid off. Or because s/he senses your judgment, starts to feel like they are getting a handout from you–that they don’t deserve to have you provide for the family during their unemployment. Shame ensues. Intimacy dies.
Or maybe you have separate bank accounts. There is a lot to be said in favor of having separate bank accounts, but I am not sure that those things have anything to do with a stronger, more intimate marriage. When it comes to money, the most vulnerable position is to merge completely—if you’re in it forever, it doesn’t make sense to keep most things separate. If two companies merge, they “phase in” merging all of the different aspects of their different entities—but neither would be allowed to say, “I am going to merge our physical assets, but I am going to keep this cash account separate over here for my own use.” So even without the issue of intimacy, holding back is counter-intuitive to a business merger. In both cases, you either trust the other, or you don’t. And if you don’t trust, then should you really be in an intimate relationship?
The idea of giving up control in an intimate relationship never starts with money alone, but it often becomes the primary battlefield, simply because it is the most tangible issue, with real-world repercussions. If you fear vulnerability with money in your relationship, chances are you need to examine your comfort level in other areas of your relationship as well. It’s never JUST about the money.
Here are the 6 ways I see people screwing up their love relationship when it comes to money:
#1 Don’t Listen. I was so convinced that my way was the only way to do things, I would tune out the other person—essentially waiting for them to be done flapping their lips so I could Jedi-mind trick them into doing it my way. Now I know that the only way to have an intimate relationship is to listen and try to empathize with everything, regardless of how I perceive it in the context of solving a problem. And, HELLO, I am not always right, nor do I always know the best way of doing things, imagine that!
#2 Insist on Everything Your Way. I come from a long line of people who think they are the only ones who know how to do things. Yikes, talk about ego issues! What I discovered during my masters program is that everyone in a team has a role, and that collaboration and handpicking solutions from a number of different concepts always works better than my original, solitary solution. This is how to approach anything you want to stand the test of time.
#3 Try To Fix Them. I have witnessed a long-term relationship where the two people are always complaining about the other person, all of the time. It breaks my heart to see what they have missed out by not simply accepting the other person and working within each other’s perceived character flaws.
#4 Try To Be Right All Of The Time. The Tribe of Right All Of The Time insists on bringing up old arguments whenever they find a new piece of information supporting their previously not-as-supported stance on a topic. So the argument never dies. It never morphs into collaboration, because being right all of the time is the death of a stronger relationship. Do you want to be right, or happy (and stronger as a couple)? It’s another way that lack of forgiveness blocks you not only from your best relationship, but also the best version of yourself.
#5 Remember When They Were Wrong. When you’re in a relationship with someone who is Right All Of The Time, that means that you are Wrong All Of The Time and get blamed for it. Or, if you’re right about something, they don’t talk to you for three days until they forget that you were right. But there is a list—maybe just mental—of all of the times you were wrong, in case they need evidence to manipulate you into doing things their way: “See? You were wrong about X, why don’t we just do this my way for now.”
#6 Emotionally Detach When Things Don’t Go Your Way. When you absolutely can’t force someone to take your viewpoint or follow your lead, shut down completely. Say, “It doesn’t matter what I say because you’re just going to do what you want anyway.” And then wait for things to Go Wrong so you can add it to your list for the future.
Most people don’t do ALL of these – but even one or two would be exhausting to tolerate.
I believe that your openness to vulnerability can happen in stages—it doesn’t have to be all at once. As long as you pay consistent attention to your finances in partnership with your spouse or significant other, you can’t get too off track. Or if you do get off track or temporarily abandon your good intentions, you can support each other instead of blame each other. But the key—as with many relationship issues–is to listen and communicate regularly. And to decide together what is right long term for your own intimate relationship.
P.S. Per usual, I have tons of free resources that can help you get organized around next steps here – conversations, goal setting, whatever. You can get those here.