Vulnerability is difficult to sustain in an intimate relationship, even without bringing money issues for couples into the fray. You can’t have increased intimacy without regular communication where you allow yourself to NOT be the best you can be, and trust that your loved one accepts and loves you anyway.
Money Challenges and Intimacy
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.
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.
What Not To Do
As a “recovering” emotionally unavailable person, I know all of the tricks to discourage vulnerability in an intimate relationship. If you DON’T do the following, you will be well on your way to having a stronger relationship with your partner about money:
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.
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.
Try To Fix Them. I have witnessed a long-term relationship where the two people are always complaining about the exact same fault of 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.
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.
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.”
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.
Vulnerability and money is hugely intimidating for me in my endeavor to try and become more emotionally available. I wonder if my willingness to be vulnerable with my money will be my greatest obstacle to a successful relationship, or if I am willing, my greatest opportunity.
For others, 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.
Actions This Week
- Review your money and relationship. Where do you fear your partner is going to screw things up if you don’t manage them? This may be your opportunity to become closer to your partner.
- Review your money roles. Do you and your partner divide financial tasks because you don’t trust him or her to do something, or because it plays to your strengths? It might be time to make some changes and build more communication into your management.
- Keep up Collaboration. When you work on money issues with your partner, is it a collaboration, open to all possibilities, or is it about judgment and negativity? Resolve to eliminate judgment and keep the spirit of collaborative problem solving.
P.S. You might like my workbook that helps couples align their values and priorities with their money. It’s free – you can download that here.