Handling marriage and money issues

It's All About Freedom

by Lora Vatalaro

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I've often heard, "I feel like I can't breathe. All she cares about is how much money I spend."

Or, someone will say, "What's wrong with sticking to a budget? Why can't she ever do it? It's driving me crazy."

Twenty years as a psychologist has convinced me that conflicts over money hurt relationships more than they need to.

In the flush of new love, dating couples look at everything with exaggerated optimism. If they notice that their spending habits are incompatible, they just assume it will somehow work out. But, it doesn't. Instead, the spouse who spends less comes to resent the spouse who spends more. And the spouse who spends more eventually feels shamed and judged by the spouse who spends less.

They lose sight of the fact that they are on the same team, striving to create a workable, satisfying life together. They each lose sight of the fact that they aren't "right," and their spouse is "wrong." What can they do instead?

Once in a while, there is serious enough dysfunction or deep-seated psychological wounds that need professional attention. But, 95% of the time, couples can put their heads and hearts together and make things better all on their own.

Try this:

  1. Acknowledge that there is a problem that needs to be dealt with and can be dealt with.

  2. Remember that you're allies, not enemies. It's so easy to lose sight of this.

  3. Make a pact to honor your differences. Quit assuming that the way you see things is the only way to see things.

  4. Decide together on an object or a symbol that represents freedom. This will be a tool you'll use as you go through the rest of the process.

  5. Each of you should think of a good first step to take toward solving your money issues.

  6. Compare the ideas you've come up with and make a joint decision on the exact first step you'll be taking together.

  7. With the symbol of "freedom" on the table, do the first step and see how it goes.

  8. If it goes well, think about what step two will be. If it doesn't go well, talk about what you can try next and when you'll try it. Be sure to pin it down.

When couples decide to work on their marriage and money conflicts, each couple starts at a different place and proceeds at a different pace. So, it doesn't matter how many first steps fail before you find something that works. It doesn't matter how small or large your steps turn out to be. It doesn't matter what has worked for someone else, but isn't working for you. What matters is committing to teamwork as partners.

Why do couples need a symbol of "freedom" in order to work on money issues? Because when money issues are worked through, the sense of lightness, rightness, spaciousness and lack of friction that's felt can only be described as "freedom."

I know it's often hard for couples to overcome their biases and resistance and anger and lack of discipline to get the financial part of their relationships on track. But, imagine these rewards:

  • What if money made you think about what you can have instead of what you can't have?

  • What if money didn't make you mad at your spouse?

  • What if you and your spouse work together until money is just an uneventful flow of support in your lives because spending is always in line with income?

  • What if you and your spouse never have any emotional or financial holes to dig yourselves out of?

Now, that's freedom.

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