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Financial Counseling For Couples

Financial Counseling For Couples

Financial Counseling For Couples

How to Build Trust Around Finances In Your Relationship

Here at Growing Self we often do financial counseling for couples with people seeking to get on the same page around money. Let’s face it: money is a loaded topic. From our younger years, we are taught that finances are not a polite dinner-time conversation. It’s poor etiquette to bring up your salary, your expenses, your debt, and your money goals even among your closest relations. Why is this?

Our personal finances often influence how we feel about ourselves. They can have a huge impact on how much freedom, power, security, and comfort we experience in our day-to-day lives. 

Finances impact our significant life and relationship milestones, like getting married, having a baby, or buying a house, and can also figure heavily into big decisions like pursuing education, addressing medical needs, and planning for retirement.  

Money, more than almost any other topic about which couples fight, directly bears on survival (some researchers have even noted that fights about money are more likely to end a relationship than fights around other topics).

In my experience as a couples therapist and relationship coach, there are several reasons why couples struggle to address their money woes both individually and as a team. Today I want to provide you with easy to incorporate tips on how to talk about the taboo topic of money with your partner.

Why Is Money Such An Uncomfortable Topic For Couples?

Most of us were taught early on that sharing financial specifics is rude, and clients have sometimes told me that talking about money makes them feel embarrassed or “exposed.” If you feel this way too, you’re not alone.

For those who are in a budding new relationship, talking about money may not be necessary. Then, when you get to the point in your relationship that it feels like the right time to start addressing this topic, it can feel so foreign and surreal that you just keep pushing it off.

Because expectations around sharing and transparency are unclear, couples are left asking lots of questions without any clear blueprint for the “right” way to proceed.  

Do we combine our finances, or keep separate accounts? 

And if we are going to combine them, when do we do that? When we move in? 

When we get engaged? When we get married? 

How much influence should we have over each other’s spending?

Do I have a right to know where my partner’s money is going?

The discomfort goes both ways. For those who have been successful with their finances, they may feel rude bringing it up (almost as if boasting their money success), even though they have worked hard to get to where they are, practiced self-control, and self-discipline with their money habits.

For those who feel less than successful with their finances, they may feel shame or regret around their finances and they don’t want to bring that into their relationship with their partner. Talking about finances is emotional. Telling your partner about a large accumulation of debt may feel shameful.

You may be fearful of how your partner may view your spending or saving habits, or worry that entering a discussion about finances will end in a fight. The way you manage your money reflects your values, and when partners criticize these choices in one another, it can feel uniquely threatening.

When To Discuss Finances As A Couple

Many of the  couples who come to me to find clarity around discussing their finances are at a loss for how to move forward. They have already exhausted the topic, fought over whose approach is better for the relationship, and have often felt unheard by their partner (or have experienced broken trust surrounding finances within the relationship).

You don’t have to wait until you get to that point. In fact, the earlier you start talking about finances, the easier it will be to create a plan together moving forward.

How Do I Bring The “Money Talk” Up In My Relationship?

Start by checking in with yourself. Getting an accurate and up-to-date sense of where your money is going on a regular basis will allow for you to approach the topic with confidence. 

Take stock of bills and scheduled payments, debt (including any student loans, a mortgage, and credit card debt), regular monthly expenses (like gas, groceries, etc.), and any miscellaneous spending (think: eating out, travel costs, buying Christmas presents, and so on). 

If you’re a little on the budget-avoidant side of the spectrum, it can be helpful to take your own financial pulse before raising the issue with your partner. That way you may be better prepared to answer their questions, and you’ll be more aware of whether or not you’re satisfied with your current spending habits. (If you’re already operating from shared accounts, you may be able to skip this step!)

Because finances can be an uncomfortable conversation (at first–it gets easier!) I recommend that you schedule a time to meet with your partner in a neutral zone – whether that’s at home, at a coffee shop, or maybe even out on a walk. Don’t spring the conversation on your partner in the middle of a romantic dinner, around friends, during work, or at your family reunion (although I’m sure I don’t need to tell you this!).

Financial Conversations Every Couple Should Have

You already know where you stand financially (hooray for finishing step one!), and maybe you now have a better sense of where you want to be. So, begin the conversation by sharing these details with your partner: be honest and transparent about where you are, and describe where you ultimately want to be financially as a couple.

Once you’ve shared, allow your partner to weigh in. If this conversation comes as a surprise to them, don’t expect them to have all their answers or point-of-view laid out clearly right away. They may need some time to think about what you’ve shared and to take stock of their own financial situation.

While you have this ongoing conversation with your partner, share your goals and listen respectfully to theirs (no matter how different they are from yours). Maintaining an open, nonjudgmental stance is the best way to keep the conversation from shutting down or spiraling into conflict.

Expectations From Financial Conversations As A Couple

Beginning this conversation will allow the two of you to set expectations around your money. The whole point of this conversation is to build trust, awareness, and success in your relationship and in your finances.

This conversation should lead you toward shared goals, an idea of what your future looks like, what you can each expect out of your current employment status, what changes you need to implement, and how you can achieve your financial and lifestyle goals over the next one, five, ten, or even fifty years.

Three Tips To Successful Communication Around Finances

Respecting your partner will be what gets you through any difficult conversation, especially when the conversation has to do with something as life-altering as money.

If there are large disagreements, try talking about the meaning behind your position and asking about what your partner’s position means to them. Example: having a higher eating-out and entertainment budget might be your way of prioritizing community and friendships, while saving that money might be your partner’s way of feeling secure in the face of potential future emergencies.

Here are three tips for successful money talks.

Be Patient

As discussed earlier, this is not a one-time-over-morning-coffee discussion. It’s an ongoing conversation that you may need to have weekly, or at the very least once a month. The more time and effort you put into discussing and implementing change in your finances as a team, the more successful you will be. It takes time, and that’s okay.

Be Realistic

Change is not going to happen overnight, and you’re not always going to see eye-to-eye but if you’re realistic with yourself, your partner, and with your bank balance, your relationship will have a better chance of moving forward at a manageable pace towards your goals.

Be Compassionate

Above all, be compassionate. People mess up. Have grace both for yourself and for your partner. Recognize that new habits take time to build, and that you probably won’t have everything figured out in your first month (or year) budgeting together. And guess what? That’s okay too.

Final Thoughts…

Do What’s Right For YOUR Relationship

There’s more than one way of handling your finances. If you are having trouble finding the right method for your relationship, maybe speaking with an expert to gain insight into what might work best is the right move for you and your partner. 

Don’t Be Afraid To Try Different Approaches

There is no one right way to talk about money or handle your finances. You don’t have to be a money expert to start making good money moves. Working together as a team is going to be the MOST important step to achieving your financial goals, and to maintaining trust in the relationship.

Avoid Financial Infidelity At All Costs

A good rule of thumb in relationships: the moment you feel an impulse to conceal something, that’s your cue to share it with your partner. Admitting that you made a poor decision is less harmful in the long run than getting caught hiding it.

Here’s to your financial success together!
Amanda Schaeffer, M.S., MFTC

P.S. Do you have any conversational tips to share about building trust around finances in your relationship? Share with us in the comments section below!

Amanda Schaeffer, M.S., MFTC is a marriage counselor, family therapist, life coach and individual therapist who creates a warm, safe environment, bringing out the best in you and your relationships. She empowers couples and individuals to heal and grow using evidence-based approaches that create real results and lasting change.

Let’s  Talk

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Financial Therapy For Couples

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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

 

Let’s Talk About Money, Honey: Financial Counseling for Couples.

Let’s Talk About Money, Honey: Financial Counseling for Couples.

Are “money issues” a problem in your relationship?

If so, you’re not alone. Fights about money — how to spend it, how to save it, and how to make it — are common battlegrounds in a marriage. Why so much drama? Money is emotionally laden for most people. Money is ultimately a symbol that can mean security, freedom, pleasure, power, love, and more. When it means different things to two people in a relationship — look out. The sparks fly when couples have different values around money.

“He’s a cheapskate.” (Translation: I don’t feel loved.)
“She spends every dime.” (Translation: Doesn’t she care about our security? Or how hard I work?)
“All he/she does is work.” (Translation: I don’t feel important.)
“I can’t believe you spent so much on _____.” (Translation: I don’t understand you.)
“Where did it all go??” (Translation: This is scary. I feel alone in this.)

When left unchecked, “money issues” can bloom into very ugly emotional dynamics: Power struggles. Hiding spending, or debt. Negative beliefs about each other’s character. Increasing hostility and emotional distance. Money problems must be resolved.

Get on The Same Page About Finances

The good news is that creating agreement and teamwork around finances is a solvable problem. All couples have to work through differences around money as part of growing together. This doesn’t have to be stressful or conflictual. It’s just a matter of learning new skills — together.

In fact, the most successful couples have developed a set of skills about how to manage money together. (Just like they have learned about other critical relationship skills). Learning how to talk about money, make a plan for money, and support each other’s financial hopes and dreams is one of the cornerstones of a happy healthy marriage.

Financial Counseling For Couples

On today’s episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast I’m so pleased to be speaking with expert couples financial counselor Jeff Motske on this subject. Jeff is the author of Couples Guide to Financial Compatibility, and the host of the “The Jeff Motske Show” radio show. Listen to our interview to learn how to:

  • How to use Jeff’s free online quiz: Financial Compatibility Quiz to learn more about each other’s “money personality”
  • Have productive conversations about money
  • How to create a workable budget
  • How to develop a “solid financial house” together
  • And how to set yourself financially free, as a couple.

Financial Counseling For Couples: Listen Now

 

Let's Talk About Money, Honey: Financial Counseling For Couples

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

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