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Financial Therapy For Couples

Financial Therapy For Couples

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

How to Stop Fighting About Money

For many couples entering couples therapy or marriage counseling, differences around money are a significant source of conflict in their relationship. And of course, money fights are common, because money is one of those things that means different things to different people.

For some, money a stand-in for love and connection, and for others money means security. Some people view spending money on things they enjoy as what gives life meaning, and others view accumulating money to pass on to the next generation as the purpose of life itself

Other people view money as freedom, and still others see it as a tool. People can also have negative associations around money, including guilt or fear. Other people can even tie their sense of self-worth to the money they have in the bank, or to outward displays of wealth.

Money is, in short, a loaded topic.

So it’s only natural that all couples usually have at least some differences around money, because they’re different people. Even if a couple is in basic agreement about their values around money, there will still be differences. In general, financial values exist on a spectrum between “spending” and “saving.”

Why Couples Fight About Money: Savers vs Spenders

In every relationship, there is a person who has a “saver” orientation and a person who has a “spender” orientation. This is even true between two people who are freer with their money than other couples, or within a couple who generally saves more than other couples. They, as a unit, may appear aligned around what they’re doing with money, and yet still find things to squabble about between themselves.

Saver fights: “I thought we agreed to put $1500 into the retirement account and bump the mortgage payment by $500 from now on. We can totally live on a $300 a month grocery budget — you eat too much anyway. Don’t you want to have the house paid off in three years???”

Spender fights: “No, I’m excited about Rekyvic and Dublin and Amsterdam, but I really had my heart set on Prague too. I mean, if we’re going anyway shouldn’t we embrace it? We’ll pay it off! We can use the line of credit from the condo in Vail, it’s appreciating like crazy. Why are you such a kill-joy?”

Of course, in couples who are even further apart on the spender / saver continuum than these examples, you can only imagine how intense fights about money in a marriage can get. This is never more true than around the holiday season, when budgets get blown faster than you can say “Fa-la-la.”

As we speed toward the holidays, life can become a twinkly blur of get-togethers and activities. The internal, sometimes even sub-conscious drive to have a “nice holiday” can drive us to spend way more money than we intended. In some couples, holiday spending can even be hidden between partners, creating a rupture of trust when it’s disclosed in the sober grey light of January.

Yes, “financial infidelity” is a real thing, and it causes real trauma to relationships. When couples are frequently fighting about money to the point where it feels like it’s impossible to communicate about finances, people will begin to hide spending, hide debt, or get overly controlling or even aggressive about money. This can lead to splitting up finances, which is often a symptom of avoidance in a relationship.

When it feels impossible to come to agreements about money, when communication about money always turns into a fight, where there is a lack of financial trust, or vastly different values around money, couples move towards separate bank accounts… and sometimes, sadly, eventually separate lives.

Financial Therapy For Couple

By the time couples arrive in marriage counseling to discuss the ongoing conflict about money, it has often evolved into a bigger deal than can be solved by simply making a budget together, or getting scolded by a financial planner. Feelings have been hurt. Trust may have been broken. Even worse, couples can start to fear that they are too far apart in their basic values around life and money to even be compatible.

This can be a scary time for couples. I remember how it was in my own marriage when money was the number one thing my husband and I were fighting about.

I felt like we barely had enough money to get by, and was frantic in my efforts to conserve our resources — even if it meant wearing second-hand clothes from thrift stores and packing PB&J for lunch every day.

My husband, on the other hand, felt stifled, unhappy, and constrained when I attempted to squash the flow of money through our life. He felt that without having anything to enjoy or look forward to, life felt empty and burdensome.

At the time, of course, neither of us realized that we were both right, and so we fought endlessly over who’s perspective was more true and noble. I’d give him hell for spending $4 on a latte at a bookstore (or god-forbid, buying one of his fancy art-magazines), and he’d make crappy comments about how gross it was to buy used shoes.

We finally got into marriage counseling, and only then, learned how to listen and understand. We no longer have conflict around money. We have conversations about money. It’s good. You can do this too.

Marriage Counseling Around Finances

It can be hard for a couple, particularly a couple in distress, to see through their own anger, fear, and moral judgment to see the other person’s perspective about money for what it usually is: A deeply held personal value, often related to core emotional and psychological needs.

However, without a high level of understanding and empathy, it’s very hard for couples to get on the same page about money. That’s where great marriage counseling, financial therapy, and relationship coaching come in: They can all help you stay calm enough to talk through your thoughts and feelings in a way that fosters understanding and empathy about money, and what it means to each of you.

For example, when I put down my shining sword of virtue and justice long enough to hear what my husband was actually trying to communicate, I learned that his less-privileged background led him to view money as something to be pounced upon and enjoyed while it was there (before it evaporated again), as opposed to accumulating it and cultivating it. I understood him more deeply, and had empathy for what money represented to him: Pleasure and meaning in the moment, and not anything that could be counted upon.

Over time, I also came to understand that being open to his perspective was good for me, too: Because of him, I’ve had more fun, more  interesting adventures, and, frankly, better furniture and clothing than I ever would when left to my own devices.

And as the conflict between us diffused into curiosity and openness, he learned that I inherited a deep anxiety around money from my immigrant family, who fled Europe after the second world war when Stalin appeared to be the next maniac drumming on the horizon. As a first-generation-American who grew up watching her Belgian father save scraps of wire, unbend pulled nails for a second use (stored in glass baby jars he’d saved from my earliest months), and literally cut off the moldy parts of the cheese before proclaiming it perfectly fine, I had a deeply ingrained survival instinct to conserve money.

I’m pleased to report that my perspective influenced my husband too. He now tolerates my budgets and squirreling, and seems to like the fact that we have a financial buffer between us and disaster, as well as a plan for the future.

We no longer fight about money. However — and this is the important part — our alignment about finances is NOT because either of us have changed who we are. He is not exactly like me, and he never will be. He still thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to spend $900 on a BMX bike, and on the rare occasions I shop for clothes, it’s usually at consignment stores.

But he understands me, and accepts that saving money and avoiding debt as much as possible is a wise way to live. And I understand him, and have accepted the fact that it’s important to be generous, and that nice things and meaningful life experiences are worth paying for.

That level of acceptance and understanding is always my hope for the couples who come to us for help in getting on the same page around money. If fighting about money feels like it’s destroying your relationship, please know that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Particularly during this time of year — the holidays, and their aftermath — you have lots of opportunities to talk about finances. This year, I hope you consider giving each other the gift of listening with the intention to understand. Ask your partner what money means to them, and try to get on their side of the table. Don’t have a conflict. Have a conversation.

If you want to solve your financial disagreements for once and for all, the answer is not controlling or changing each other. It lies in developing empathy, understanding, and a sense of common purpose that unites you as a couple and as a family. Hard to do, but so, so worth it.

With love and respect to you both,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

How to Become Empowered

How to Become Empowered

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Living Like You Are Important, Too.

In our hectic, demanding lives, it’s easy to lose sight of ourselves: Who we are, how we feel and what we need. Even more challenging can be figuring out how to assert all-of-the-above in our relationships with others. This is particularly true if you’ve been existing in a toxic relationship or codependent relationship, or navigating the aftermath of a bad breakup. In the midst of stressful circumstances, attaining empowerment can seem out of reach — especially when you’ve been focused outwards rather than within.

What is Empowerment?

Empowerment can be thought of as one of the goals of self-actualization and personal growth. To be “empowered” is to feel confident, to trust yourself, to believe that your feelings are important, to consider yourself worthy of love and respect, and able to assert yourself appropriately in relationships. However it’s difficult to be truly empowered when you are out of touch with yourself, and feel disconnected from the type of life and relationships that feel energizing and nourishing to you.

Finding Balance Between Me and You

Self empowerment can feel challenging for people who care about other’s feelings, and who prioritize their connections with others. Why? Because for sensitive, caring people it can be easy to disown yourself and your feelings — making the way others feel, and what they need more of a priority than your own needs and feelings. Many people, especially women, can feel guilty when they ask for what they want. Furthermore, if you are in a relationship that does not support your empowerment, you may also feel like you’re risking having other people judge you or be angry with you if you start asking for what you need for a change. [Read: How to Stand Up For Yourself and Still Have Friends.]

However, at the same time, being dependent on other people to meet your needs or for the way you feel about yourself is inherently disempowering. If you wait for other people to take care of you instead of caring for yourself, you risk becoming resentful. And when you allow they way other people feel about you to define the way you feel about yourself, you become disconnected from yourself; transformed into a people pleaser, chasing the dragon of approval. [Listen: Stop Comparing Yourself To Others]

The last thing you want is to feel hollow, helpless, or increasingly bitter. While attaining empowerment can feel bold, or even scary, it’s really the only choice for a happy, healthy life and relationships. Believing that you are worthy of love and respect — and then behaving accordingly — helps you take care of yourself and teaches others how to treat you.

Empowerment Always Evolving

Empowerment is not something that you achieve and then have forever. For most people, living in a position of empowerment requires balance and constant realignment. To stay empowered means staying connected to your feelings, and the evolving landscape of your life. In this way, we can say that authentic, healthy “empowerment” is more of a life-skill than a destination.

Because developing empowerment is such a complex, yet vitally important part of the growth process for many people, I’m devoting an entire episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast to the topic. I’m also enlisting the support of a real-life “Empowerment Expert” to share her wisdom with you: my colleague Teena Evert, a fellow therapist and life coach on the Growing Self team. Teena specializes in helping people create empowered lives and authentic relationships, starting by focusing on how to build a strong foundation within themselves.

Attaining Empowerment

Teena and I are talking about many of the “pieces” involved with cultivating personal empowerment, including:

  • Mindful self-awareness
  • Building self-love and self-compassion
  • Why building a sustainable self-care routine is key to maintaining your solid foundation
  • How stress can impact your empowerment
  • The need to create balance by staying aware of your feelings
  • How to be assertive and set boundaries in relationships… while also being flexible
  • Trusting yourself
  • How to ask for what you need… while also having compassion and empathy for people you love
  • Developing a sense of self worth that is independent of external validation
  • How to not give your power away, blame others, or lose yourself in relationships
  • How to not fear your own power

 

How to Cultivate Empowerment in Your Life

Becoming a fully empowered person is a process, not an event. For most people, achieving this type of confidence and growth is acquired over months, even years of dedicated personal growth work. However, Teena shares many different strategies you can start using right now, to build your self awareness mindfully, treat yourself with compassion and respect, trust yourself, and start strengthening your feelings of empowerment. I hope her wisdom gives you insight into how to begin cultivating empowerment in your life.

Additionally, we discussed a number of resources on today’s show. Here are links to learn more:

Enneagrams – The self awareness / personality quiz we often use with our individual and couples here at Growing Self.

Cultivating Mindfulness Skills – Check out the “Happy Mind” unit of The Happiness Class.

With love and respect,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

Attaining Empowerment

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

Music Credits: Sinead OÇonnor, “Just Like You Said It Would Be”

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How to Stand Up for Yourself and Still Have Friends

How to Stand Up for Yourself and Still Have Friends

Can you have healthy boundaries, and still be “nice?”

Have you ever felt taken advantage of, not heard, or just unappreciated? So many of us know what it’s like to be ignored in meetings, to be interrupted when we’re talking, or to feel invisible at a party. It’s no fun to be walked all over. Yet this is a very common experience. As a life coach and therapist, I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve worked with that have experienced just that and don’t know what to do about it.

There are several misconceptions and fears around speaking up for oneself that block us from being assertive. And, let’s face it, most of us haven’t had anyone sit down and teach us the tools and skills involved in setting boundaries.  But boundaries are, in fact, some of the basic building blocks of assertiveness, confidence, and even self-worth. They are the invisible bubbles we create to help us be safe, happy and respected.

If you are like most clients I’ve worked with and, really, most people, you might think being assertive and setting boundaries is selfish, will make you look like a braggadocios bully, or even leave you without any friends (or all of the above, am I right?). So let’s correct some of these fallacies about boundaries once and for all and clear a path to assertive living!

Misconceptions, Fears and Realities About Healthy Boundaries

Misconception #1: Boundaries are Selfish

The classic example of setting a boundary is saying “No,” whether that looks like letting a colleague know their behavior isn’t okay with you, not giving a friend what they want, or letting a family member experience the consequences of their own behavior. You might be thinking, “But if you are a good friend you don’t say no,” or “Isn’t it selfish of me to ‘abandon’ someone I care about?”

Here’s the good news:

The Reality: Good, generous, kind people set boundaries. By protecting us from being spread too thin or just put in uncomfortable situations, saying no and setting boundaries allows us to give more of what we can. Boundaries free up our resources to help those we care about more effectively. In fact, setting boundaries with our loved ones gives them the opportunity to become more self-aware and grow. In short, boundaries help us and others be our best selves.

Misconception #2: Boundaries are Aggressive

We’ve all had the pleasure of knowing a social bully. He’s the loud office mate who overpowers everyone else in meetings or the girlfriend around whom you always find yourself feeling small and meek, intimidated. Often, being assertive gets confused with being aggressive. But wait…

The Reality: Calm, Humble People Set Boundaries

Aggressiveness involves infringing on the boundaries and rights of others and usually steps on other people’s feelings.  It is a highly emotional, intense state of being associated with the fight in our flight or fight response. Setting boundaries assertively, on the other hand, requires we be calm and unemotional in order to communicate clearly and detach from the outcome (something we’ll talk more about a little later).

There is a spectrum of assertiveness. On the one extreme, there is aggressive behavior. On the other is passive behavior. The “sweet spot” of healthy boundaries happens somewhere in between the two. Here’s a handy diagram to help clear things up:

Aggressive ———————Assertive———————Passive/Aggressive—Passive

Misconception #3: If I Set Boundaries, People Won’t Like Me

Yes, I know, you’ve probably experienced setting a boundary and losing someone. The pain of that lost relationship lingers with you and seemingly forever solidifies the mantra “I’m never putting my foot down again! Look what it cost me.” The truth is that sometimes being assertive or setting a boundary does filter out unhelpful relationships from our lives. And, regardless of the healthiness of the relationship, it hurts.

The Reality: Likable People Set Boundaries

It’s also true that people like to know where they stand and what to expect. Setting boundaries requires us to be consistently authentic. This predictability makes people feel safe and naturally drawn to you. Respecting your own boundaries also builds the respect others have for you. After all, healthy people are drawn to healthy people.  If you desire more healthy, fulfilling relationships in your life, a good place to start is by focusing on your own, healthy boundaries.

Want to Have Healthier Boundaries? Where to Go From Here…

Remember those mysterious tools and skills I mentioned earlier? Now that we’ve begun to clear some of the obstacles in your path to assertive living, let’s give you a toolbox to take on your journey.

Tips for Setting Boundaries

  1. Be Specific and Clear: An effective, helpful boundary ensures you and the receiver are on the same page and creates a built-in safety net for any inevitable, pesky push-back. A good rule of thumb is to use an if/then I statement that includes a consequence. For example, “If you don’t stop talking to me in an angry tone, I will leave the room.” It’s always a good idea to set a consequence that affects the receiver more than yourself if possible and — I can’t stress this enough! — one you can stick to!
  1. Make Boundaries Realistic: Don’t set yourself up for frustration by setting a boundary no normal human being could satisfy with consequences only a heartless robot could enforce. For example, rather than stating “If you ever cancel plans with me again, I won’t speak to you for the rest of my life!,” try “If you stand me up again I will be very upset and tell you how I feel.” Don’t bluff; give yourself permission to be where you are and set a boundary you can own.
  1. Let go of the Outcome: Finally, know that setting boundaries is not an effective way to manipulate or control. Those are actually great examples of poor relationship boundaries! When you set a boundary and know how you will respond if it isn’t respected, you are taking care of yourself.  For example, if you tell your partner “If you don’t pay bills on time for the next month, I will take over our financial responsibilities,” be ready to accept it if your partner gets you stuck with another late fee. Letting go of the outcome doesn’t mean not feeling emotions such as disappointment or sadness. Rather, it means knowing you are prepared to manage these emotions and respond in an effective, helpful way that honors your boundaries.

So, go ahead, try out something small. Your path is clearing up nicely. We’ve pulled up the weeds and you have a good starter-kit in your toolbox. You’re on your way to assertive living! You know how to find me if you’d like a companion as you go through your journey.

Kathleen Stutts, M.Ed., LPCC

How to Recover From a Horrible Fight.

How to Recover From a Horrible Fight.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Is your head spinning after a terrible fight? Here’s how to get your relationship back on track…

We’ve all been there. The sanest, most intelligent, reasonable, successful people — brilliant CEOs, steady-handed surgeons, unflappable news anchors and uber-rational captains of industry can all become unhinged in the heat of the moment. Before I became a marriage counselor, the adventure husband and I spent a good deal of the 90’s trying to knock the corners off each other too. So I understand what this feels like.

I also know (now) that intense fights are not necessary. Fighting is not a productive or effective way to solve the issues in your relationship. However, what is much more important than whether or not fights happen is how they end. When you can come back together afterwards to solve problems together, your relationship is strengthened as a result. Here’s how to reconnect…

The Anatomy of a Fight

To mend a fight, you first need to understand what made it so awful in the first place. It doesn’t even matter what started it — the reasons can range from someone taking a sharp tone with the kids, to coming home with the wrong brand of salsa, to staying out all night. But it always starts with someone feeling anger, hurt or fear, and then attempting to communicate about it. And it goes badly.

You try to say how you feel — reasonably, and with good intentions — but somehow it quickly disintegrates. You get triggered. They get triggered. And suddenly awful things start happening. You may find yourself defensively attempting to protect yourself from the insults and accusations hurling through the air. You may find yourself screeching like a crazy person at your partner’s wooden face. [Read: How to Communicate With a Withdrawn Partner]. You may find yourself doing or saying things that you would never do, otherwise. It is shocking what can happen during a bad argument.

There is a “point of no return” for everyone. We can keep our cool and behave rationally even when we are upset, until our rage-o-meter gets up to about a five or six on a ten scale. But once we push the needle past a 7 or so, we enter the “red zone” of anger.

We actually know, from research, that when people got into this elevated fight-or-flight state they literally cease to think coherently, and the part of their brain that encodes ideas into language stops functioning well. We enter a primal state where our feelings are expressed through our actions — dishes are thrown, doors are slammed, or we screech off dramatically in cars to convey what our words no longer can. We disintegrate into inarticulate screaming, or lash out with insults intended to wound. [Read: Why Your Partner is Angry]. It can get intense, and scary.

And in the aftermath, you are shaky, your heart feels broken, and your mind is understandably flooded with questions. Namely, “What the hell just happened?”

You replay events to understand where the wheels came off the bus. If you’re like most people, you walk back through the timeline to reassure yourself that your intentions were good and that you did your best. As your rational mind slowly comes back online you might be left feeling shocked and raw by the things you just experienced with your partner. Maybe you are embarrassed and ashamed by the things you said and did in the heat of the moment.

You’re probably also feeling worried about what this means about your relationship, how to come back from this, and most importantly, how to make sure this never happens again.

Four Tips To Get Back on Track After a Terrible Fight

1) Give it some time. Know how grandmothers and pop-psych gurus like to talk about “never going to bed angry?” That is complete and total crap. People vary in the amount of time it takes to calm down after a terrible fight. You might be ready to talk rationally fifteen minutes later. Your partner might need a few days to calm down. Do NOT try to make them talk to you if they aren’t there yet. Leave them alone, and they’ll show back up when they are ready to talk about what happened. Forcing the issue will only need to round two of the horribleness.

2) Never underestimate the power of a good repair attempt. Reach out and apologize. Do the dishes. Make a joke (at your own expense, if you want to live). Come back with a peace offering, or at least a wry smile and a hug. Show your partner that you are sorry about what happened and that you still love them. It may still be too fragile to talk about it, but at least you are showing them that you are available to make it better when they are.

3) Own your stuff. It is very easy to fixate on your partner’s problems, and how they were responsible for the fight. We all think about how, “If they’d only done something differently / been more responsible / followed through / used a different tone none of this would have happened.” I get it, and I agree that your partner probably does have some things to work on. And you and I also know that you are not perfect, and could have done some things differently too. If you want to mend your relationship and have the opportunity to work on things together, it would be much more effective for you to take ownership for your stuff. At the very least, your setting a good example will help your partner take ownership for their parts of the conflict too.

4) Solve the problem. No relationship problems are ever actually solved during a fight. When people are shouting, no one is listening. But after the dust settles and everyone is calm again — that is the time to address the underlying problems that caused the fight in the first place. Remember, it’s never about the salsa. Look deeper, and see if you can identify the bigger issues underneath, like trust, security, love, partnership, values, or connection. When you work on that level, the real issues are addressed and your connection is healed.

And remember, if it keeps exploding in your face (or going nowhere) every time you try to talk about it, that is a good sign that you could benefit from marriage counseling. A great marriage counselor can help you talk about tender things productively, and help you and / or your partner take ownership for (or even see) how they are contributing to the issues. They can teach you both the skills you need to head off yucky arguments and simply solve problems together without all the drama. But most importantly, they can help you strengthen your secure attachment and deepen your connection — which makes hurt, fear and anger much more likely to bubble up in the first place.

We’re always here to talk if you ever need us. Just schedule your free consultation session, in person or online. 

All the best to you both,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Turn Conflict into Connection

Turn Conflict into Connection

You Don’t Have To “Fight” Ever Again….

On this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast I’m teaching you some easy tricks to stop an argument in it’s tracks… and turn it into a “bonding moment” instead.  It sounds too good to be true, but the technique is really very simple. You can take difficult moments and turn them into experiences that deepen the connection between you, and strengthen your marriage.

The first step is learning about the mechanics of an argument. Once you understand why conflict happens in the first place, the path to transforming it into an opportunity for connection will start to seem simple– promise!
 

Listen Now.

Growing Self Counseling & Coaching