Recently, my husband went abroad to Europe on a business trip. The flight is pretty short (we live in Israel), but just in case kosher food would not be readily available I packed him a wholesome lunch. And I told him not to buy me a present.
Reflecting on my parting words, I felt a twinge of regret. And here’s why:
Money tension has been an ongoing theme in our marriage of 25 years: I work hard to reduce our expenses, stretch our resources and save and invest for our future. My husband, on the other hand, is more the spender. He enjoys buying treats for the kids, time-saving conveniences for the home, outings with the family, and tokens of appreciation for his lovely wife. He parts with money much more freely than I do.
And that’s not easy for me to handle.
Now, I don’t want you to get me wrong and assume my husband is a spendthrift. He’s not. In fact, he recently replaced many lightbulbs in our house with LEDs to save money and be “greener” going forward. And he will wear his clothes out, out, out before replacing them. It’s just that when we have to make decisions about what to spend money on, how much to spend and when to spend it, our choices and our value systems around finances are different – and that can cause stress in a relationship.
And we are so not alone.
According to many studies, including this one, finances are the leading cause of stress in a relationship. And conflict around money is reportedly the number one reason couples divorce.
That being the case, if we want to protect and strengthen our marriages, deepen the connection with our spouses and improve our relationship with money, we need to be proactive. Here are six steps you can take to develop a more mature relationship with your money and your honey:
1. Recognize that most couples will polarize to a greater or lesser degree around money. Money Coach and Psychotherapist Olivia Mellan, calls it Mellan’s Law: “If opposites don’t attract right off the bat, then they will create each other eventually.” I definitely experience this in my marriage and I see it as a way of maintaining balance in a healthy relationship. But balance doesn’t have to come at the expense of each partner pushing the other to the extreme. Picture a seesaw. The seesaw will be balanced when each partner sits on the far, opposite ends. Alternatively, it can also be in balance as each side moves closer to the middle, together. For some help moving toward each other, let’s look at step two:
2. Role play. Take your partner’s point of view. We have a tendency to become myopic, seeing only see our own side of the story. When we slow down and see things from the other side we gain appreciation, insight and awareness of what our partner sees and feels. In my case, I actually wrote out what I thought my husband would think and this is what I discovered:
My husband loves me and cares about me. He knows that when he goes away on business an extra burden falls on my shoulders. This is his way of expressing his love and appreciation.
Now, I know that my story is a small-money example and frequently the stakes are higher and the cash flow is limited. For example, one partner wants to give the kids music lessons and the other wants to save for retirement; one side wants to go away on a summer holiday and the other side wants to remodel the kitchen; one spouse wants beautiful fresh flowers for the child’s upcoming wedding while the other prefers to buy a new couch or paint the house. These are big issues with the potential to cause great, money-induced explosions. Taking the time to engage in some honest, heartfelt understanding of where your spouse is holding will very likely uncover creative, original solutions and compromises to the conflicts.
3. Explore your money story. Much of our relationship to money stems from the money habits and behaviors we witnessed growing up and the money messages we internalized from our parents. We either repeat what we learned or we react to it, running ten miles in the other direction. Take turns sharing your childhood messages about money. How did your mother and your father save and spend money? Was money talked about calmly, or was there only tension and fighting? Did you work as a young adult? Were you allowed to keep the money you earned or did you hand it over to your parents? How were you taught to save, budget and donate? How might the money messages you inherited be affecting you today?
4. Share with your partner your concerns and fears about his money choices. Money is a core survival issue. We need it to buy shelter, food, water, and medical care. In addition, the choices we make with our money reflect our values, feelings of self-worth and perception of power. Make a money date with your spouse and share your fears and anxieties. Express how his money decisions affect you. And let him do the same.
I recommend setting a kitchen timer for ten minutes. Each partner shares his/her feelings and emotions uninterrupted and without judgment. When we invite our spouse in to our inner, tender space we deepen and strengthen our relationship.
5. Get cozy with your numbers. So often, stress and tension around money results from not really knowing what’s really going on – how much is coming in, how much is going out and how much money we have. As a financial planner and money coach I frequently meet with people who bring me unopened statements from their banks, investment accounts and pension plans. Lack of clarity breeds money anxiety and prevents you from making progress with your money in an organized, focused way. Isn’t it time to pull back the covers and get intimate with your money?
6. Get some help. It’s very unusual for two people who come together in a relationship to earn, spend, save and invest money in the same way. If your money is causing your relationship undue stress or if your financial situation is deteriorating reach out and talk to a financial counselor. The counselor should be a neutral third party whom you can trust to guide and support you with an educated perspective and fresh ideas.
Are you and your honey living with money stress and anxiety? Aren’t you so ready for a more loving relationship with each other?
Adopting these practical steps and giving your money relationship what it needs to mature and thrive is a truly loving gesture.
If you could use some hand holding, validation and support, reach out. I would be happy to help.
P.S. My husband brought home French camembert and blue cheese for the family.