In financial couples therapy, we work to help couples identify the values that underlie their views on how money ought to work in a relationship. Who is responsible for paying off student loans from before the relationship? How much risk are you willing to take on with an investment? How much should you save? What sort of spending is too much or too little? How do you share income or navigate different levels of financial skills? Who supports the family or children from a previous relationship? What do you do if one partner hides spending or debt from the other? Money can create competition when one partner earns more, which can sneak into disagreements about who saves more and who gets to spend more.
Other issues can sometimes masquerade as money problems. We work to make sure that money problems are about money in financial couples therapy, as well as give the hidden conflicts the attention they need. We find that money is often symbolic of so many things: class, sex, power, competition, etc. and is frequently used as a proxy for fighting. By exposing the root of a couple’s money conflicts, we can better place these issues in their proper context so they can be worked on.
While it’s popular to say that money doesn’t matter, money brings security and opportunity, as well as their counterparts–insecurity and financial bondage. It’s important to note that while difficulties with money often create very real, material problems, money is deeply emotional in a subjective sense. And both plenty and not-enough raise emotional challenges.
Individuals show up to a partnership with a historical relationship with money, both material and emotional. They may bring debt, a history of poor choices including overspending and not saving, a childhood experience of poverty, or having a drop in social status and financial security within their family. All of us learned (or didn’t) various practices and values related to money, both explicitly and by observing our parents’ relationships with money. Both the material reality of money and these subjective conditions need attention.
Money and blame (unfortunate partners)
Blame and fault, like so many challenges couples face, are often the most prevalent form of dialogue. While accountability from each partner is key, many problems couples face with money are co-created in ways that may not seem obvious, usually in the form of plans not discussed, values not delineated, checks and balances not established. In the process of identifying unspoken or unacknowledged rules and assumptions in financial couples therapy, we work to transform how blame is given.
While it can be incredibly difficult to recognize while in it, we fight to help couples recognize that they have choices about how they relate to a given moment. Unexpected financial losses or new sudden costs can be terrifying, but it’s critical to get out of crisis mode, articulate a strong partnership and move forward with a thoughtfulness that can’t come with panic. In the context of relationships, we often see couples feeding into each other’s panic.
Most immediately, in order to move on from a crisis in financial couples therapy, we offer help to couples by giving perspective, accepting what’s happened (and grieving what’s lost), making a solid plan that focuses on what immediate actions need to be taken first, and helping to offer some hope that things will be okay, even while difficult and disappointing.
Shaping values: An ever-changing process
Most momentous experiences in life come with a financial element. While some values are established prior to the start of a relationship (whether articulated or not), others are hard to foresee: caring for aging parents, bailing siblings out of financial difficulty, budgeting for a child’s special education support, accidents, health challenges, or a job loss. It is imperative that we see these conflicts against the backdrop of culture and tradition. We help couples examine how they relate to these traditions and look at the consequences they fear in perhaps not meeting expectations–monetary or otherwise.
A partner for your partnership
Our expertise isn’t in interest rates or college-savings strategies. In financial couples therapy, we’re experts in decision-making, consensus-forming, and crisis-stabilizing. We help couples see through the fog, get out of blame and learn who they are in their relationships with money, both separately and together, ultimately articulating a new set of values that work for them.