Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Achieving Financial Matrimony

Imagine this: You meet the man of your dreams right after high school, continue dating through college and after graduating decide to move in together. Naturally the next logical step is to get engaged. You purchase a dazzling ring, new furniture for your home and merge your bank accounts. After all you will both be contributing to the wedding fund and it would be easier to do if you only had one account, right? 

Since the average wedding costs $30,000 you expect that both your incomes and savings will go towards that, but only for the next year. After the shower you realize you need more space to put all these great items from Crate and Barrel that you registered for, and that one bedroom apartment is just not cutting it. Plus, the dog really needs a backyard. So you give into the “American dream” and find a three bedroom home for the amount the bank approved you for.

You move into this beautiful slice of the dream and soon after begin to feel the pinch. Because you purchased a foreclosed home to get the most bang for your buck you are now finding that the previous owners weren’t the best contractors. The honey-do list begins to get longer and the tension between you and your partner gets higher. You haven’t been on a vacation since before you got engaged so you are excited to have a rocking bachelorette party in Vegas. Your partner finds out your plans and reminds you that according to the budget that he set up there isn’t room for plane tickets and hotel rooms. He suggests staying in town for a night in your old stomping grounds. You can’t believe this, this is a once in a lifetime experience right?

You storm out of the house as the bickering begins and head to the salon to get your hair and nails done with your maid of honor. You need time to clear your head. When you come back he critiques your decision to spend more money on lavish services you didn’t need. You think, “Oh contraire, my roots were terrible and my nails needed to be done for the engagement shoot”. He is fuming saying that you don’t understand the difference between a need and a want. You scream back that he doesn’t understand what it means to be a woman and that if he is going to keep acting like your dad you don’t want to be around him. He responds, “Then maybe you shouldn’t be acting like a child!” And the silent treatment begins. You both storm off to spend the rest of the evening alone muttering to yourself about how he/she just doesn’t get it. 

Sound familiar?     

How did you get in this situation and what could you have done differently? 

Since finances are the number one reason for marital discord and ultimately divorce, it shocks me how little we talk about it.  I think the reason why we avoid this taboo topic is three fold. First, often times we are partnered with the opposite type of spending style (the spender or the saver). We fear that the other person just won’t understand you because they don’t feel the same way. Second, we fear that we may bring up a topic that creates problems where there weren’t problems before. The challenge with this thought process is that the money monster is always there; he may just be hiding in the basement of your relationship… waiting…Thirdly, one member feels less entitled to financial decisions because that person doesn’t contribute as much money as the other member. This can be extremely challenging with stay at home moms who don’t ever bring home a pay stub but are working 24/7 at home raising a family.

So where do we go from here?

It’s pretty simple, just talk. Yelling, name calling and silent treatments are not allowed. You’re both adults and are capable of having a respectful discussion about something you disagree about. After all, the perfect relationship isn’t one where you never argue; it’s one where you can respectfully disagree and understand where the other person is coming from.    

Let’s try this scenario:

You suggest that after work you both set aside the evening to discuss what has been causing tension in your relationship. No TV, no alcohol, no distractions (ie: cell phones).

1.       You each independently take an opportunity to make a list of the things that have been bothering you.

2.       (This is the most important step!) Establish ground rules. The ones that should be non-negotiable are the ones I mentioned above: No yelling, name calling, silent treatment, alcohol or distractions. These things only serve to create more conflict and don’t put you in a state of mind where you can feel comfortable in a vulnerable situation.

3.       Decide who will start and have that person read their list. Then the other partner reads theirs. No discussion/objections to what was said. Just reading your list as it is written on the page.

4.       Agree to pick one item from each list to discuss this time. If you happen to have a similar item go for that one!

5.       Choose who will discuss first. Then, calmly and respectfully discuss why this one was the most important to you and how it makes you FEEL when this happens. Again, no blaming the other person. Try “I feel frustrated when you say I waste our money” or “I feel restricted when you get upset about my decision to get my hair done”

6.        The other partner (after listening to how his/her partner felt) validates their feelings. “I can see why you would be frustrated by that” or “I understand that you feel frustrated”. The key here is that you don’t have to 100% agree with their feeling but you respect them enough to try and understand their feeling. Also, this shows the other person that you were listening.

7.       Then discuss solutions to the problem.  In the example above the couple could discuss their budget for the bachelorette/bachelor party.

8.       Then switch, and the other partner goes through steps 5-7.

9.       Agree to not start arguments about the other items on the list because you will commit to going through the same process on a specific date in the future.

The previous scenario may not directly apply to you, but these nine steps will be able to fit in most situations and I strongly suggest implementing them in the relationships that matter to you.

Remember: According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary the definition of discussion is "the action or process of talking about something, typically in order to reach a decision or to exchange ideas”. Even if the topic is difficult you’re not being sentenced in front of a judge; you are simply exchanging ideas with the person you love about a way to make your relationship better. And now you can even attack this taboo topic of finances before it ever becomes an argument. I assure you, talking about it preemptively is not going to create problems that never existed before. Every person will have different opinions about how finances should be managed (big and small).  Even a monthly pedicure trip with your girls could create turmoil if not discussed how you will financially handle it together. Now go for it! No luck needed; just mutual respect.

Jessica has spent her career working in the non-profit mental health field. She has graduate degrees in Counseling Psychology/Marriage and Family Therapy Licensure Preparation and Education/Instructional Leadership and a BA in Psychology.  She has worked in a variety of settings including group homes, behavioral health agencies, universities and healthcare clinics. She has experience working as an individual, family, couple and group counselor for both children and adults. Her personal interests within the mental health field include PTSD treatment and the emotional challenges of parenthood. 

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