Couple’s Therapy – Part 1: Having the money chat
by Arnold Machel, CFP®
“An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.”- Proverbs 24:26 (NIV)
Dr. John Gottman (author and/or co-author of 40 books relating to marriage and relationships) states that 69 per cent of marriage conflicts are never resolved. We just have the same basic argument over and over and over again.
One of the difficulties in pushing past this unhappy merry-go-round is that men and women just tend to think differently. I don’t mean simply that we have different ideas, although that’s also sometimes true. Rather, we have different ways of processing information, and approaches that are sometimes radically opposed. When recognized and taken advantage of, this can work in our favour, but more often than not, it leads to misunderstandings and disagreements. Just take a look at this sample diary entry for a husband and wife who have been married for seven years…
Jennifer – June 1, 2016
Tonight I felt that John was acting weird. We had made plans to meet at a nice restaurant for dinner. I was shopping with all my friends all day long and was a bit late. Maybe he was upset by that, but he didn’t say. When we talked it was stilted, so I suggested maybe we should go somewhere else to talk. He agreed, but still didn’t say much. I asked what was wrong. He said “nothing”. I asked if I had done something wrong. He said “no”. I asked if I had done something to upset him. He said he wasn’t upset, it had nothing to do with me, not to worry about it. On the way home, I told him I loved him. He didn’t say “I love you, too”. He just smiled a bit and kept driving. When we got home it was like I wasn’t there. He just sat there watching TV. Anytime I initiated any conversation he seemed distant. Finally, I just went to bed. He came to bed a bit later, didn’t say anything and fell right to sleep. I cried. I don’t know what to do. Is this the beginning of the end of our marriage?
John – June 1, 2016
Motorcycle won’t start – can’t figure out why.
Funny as the above may seem, it highlights the need for couples to communicate better on all issues, but particularly on deep rooted ones such as money. Is it any wonder that one of the Top Five issues that couples argue about is money?
But what do we do when we’ve communicated and still can’t come to agreement? When we’ve had the same argument many times and neither party is able to convince the other? Sure – communication is key, but what about those times, when we’ve communicated well, but still can’t agree? Most of us who’ve been married long enough would agree that there are certain issues that we just can’t seem to resolve.
The first, most important step to take has to happen even before you approach your spouse. It’s critical to approach the subject prayerfully and in the spirit of love and cooperation rather than forcing our ideas down our spouse’s throat. We may be frustrated and feel like they are not taking the issue seriously enough, but we need to start by setting that frustration aside and coming at the issue with the right frame of mind. According to Gottman, successful couples who have been together a long time tend to have mastered the art of gentleness. Gently and lovingly state that you would like to have a chat about finances.
If it’s an issue that you’ve broached before and you fear that it’s likely to lead to an out and out war, then you could try an old trick of requesting that you sit close enough to touch each other while you talk. Holding hands or having a hand on a spouse’s knee can be a surprising diffuser of anger and help prevent us from speaking in unkind ways. Maybe even start off by asking if it’s OK to have a frank discussion about the issue.
Getting to Agreement
Once you have permission to start and have set the appropriate stage, then define the problem (at least as you see it) and in terms that place the problem on your plate, not your spouse’s.
“Honey, can we talk about our spending? I just worry that we’re not saving enough and it scares me that I might have to work until I’m 90. Can we try to figure out some ways to spend less and save more?”
Discover how your spouse sees it. Be open to seeing issues through their eyes and work hard at hearing them, not just presenting your own thoughts.
Finally, seek common ground and a solution together. Pray about it, on your own and with each other. At the end of the day there is no right or wrong, just what works for you.
Next issue I’ll throw out a few specific ideas and fixes for some of the more common money issues that I’ve come across over the years. In the meantime, I’m interested to hear from you on how you may have solved money problems in your relationship in the past.
Arnold Machel, CFP® lives, works and worships in the White Rock/South Surrey area. He attends Gracepoint Community Church where he serves on the Leadership Team. He is a Certified Financial Planner with IPC Investment Corporation and Visionvest Financial Planning & Services. Questions and comments can be directed to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website at www.visionvest.ca. Please note that all comments are of a general nature and should not be relied upon as individual advice. While every attempt is made to ensure accuracy, facts and figures are not guaranteed.