Couples are often counseled to discuss their finances in order to ensure a happy relationship. Certainly, money issues can be a significant source of stress in any relationship between spouses, parents and their children or even business partners. It doesn’t have to be this way! Finances can be a tool for strengthening a relationship if approached with that spirit.
I am no psychologist but it seems to me that people tend to have intimacy issues over areas of their lives that objectively mean one (usually simple) thing while at the same time being shaded with many layers of symbolism, emotion, or psychological baggage. Areas of our lives which seem to be objectively simple—parenting decisions, who drives the car, the use of alcohol, hugs and kisses, sex, and money—are often fraught with all manner of subjective meaning. As a result, the decisions we make about these things are flawed or misconstrued.
Money and sex have a lot in common when it comes to the issue of intimacy. They both occupy huge space in our individual and collective psyche. They both easily become false gods. They are each often cited as prime areas of conflict in relationships. Objectively, sex could be seen as having only one purpose which is procreation. Yet we know that sex has many, many psychological and emotional aspects which go far beyond the simple, objective role of continuing the species. In much the same way, money might objectively be just a chit we use to exchange goods and services. In reality, however, money is so much more.
So what does money mean to you? Is it about freedom, control, security, power? How does the way you were raised affect the way you feel about debt, spending and saving? Are there life events in your past that color and inform your feelings about risk taking and insurance? How do your life experiences and your emotional and psychological makeup affect your financial goal-setting, decision-making, and implementation? It is amazing how little most people have thought about these ideas with regard to themselves much less with regard to their spouse or partner.
A successful and happy family, business, or other relationship that involves money absolutely depends on having a thoughtful, thorough and ongoing discussion about what is truly important to each person in the relationship. Fiancées and spouses should share this with each other. Parents should share this with their children. Business partners and leaders of non-profit organizations should share. This conversation will not only inform you of your partner’s intimate thoughts and feelings about the meaning of money but it will most likely help realize some things about yourself. It will keep money in an appropriate position of importance in your life.
I think there are many ways that this conversation can occur. Whatever the approach, however, the discussion should:
- Get to the underlying symbolism or meaning of how each partner feels about money.
- Create an understanding of how this affects financial decision-making and goal-setting.
- Continue throughout the relationship because experiences change and old conversations fade.
This conversation will be much easier for some people than for others. Some couples might be able to moderate this conversation without the help of a third party. Many will be well-served by engaging a third party such as a trusted and trained financial planner or life coach. You or your partner may be fearful about entering into such an intimate conversation. Recognize the fear, engage it, and have the conversation. Your finances can become a tool to a healthier, more satisfying relationship rather just another of life’s hazards to be avoided.