When Money-Opposites Attract

when money opposites attract

When money-opposites attract: One’s a saver. One’s a spender. One would rather be at the mall. The other is into investments. While they love their differences overall, they struggle with disagreements about money.

Money is the third most frequent topic of marital arguments, after chores and children. Ironing out the wrinkles in money beliefs, behaviors and decisions can go a long way toward reaching financial goals with peace and harmony – whether those goals be at the mall, or in the savings account.

How can couples handle mixed money messages?

Try three steps.

Step 1: Money Script Awareness

Sometimes we don’t realize the underlying money beliefs that drive our own and our partner’s decisions. These are often called money “scripts.” (You can find yours using an online test developed by Dr. Brad Klontz here.) Share with each other the money messages you grew up with. Examples might include “Money doesn’t grow on trees,” or “You only live once.” The goal in sharing is to begin to reach an understanding of the other’s background.

Share who influenced you when it came to handling money. Money script influences can come from various authority figures – parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, or spiritual leaders.

Share what you believe is the most important value that money provides to you. Values derived from money can include security, achievement, sharing, and spontaneity/having fun. Even a general rejection of money (think 1960s hippie culture) can be a money value.

Step 2: Concentrate on conversation

Now that the money differences are on the table, how do conversations about it go? It’s important to communicate about how you communicate. The goal is for each partner to feel heard and understood.

If one or both are falling short on feeling heard and understood, “active listening” is one tool to try. In an abbreviated form of active listening, each partner takes a turn being the sharer and the listener. The sharer tells their story or shares their statement about a topic. The listener then completes three steps.

  • mirror back what they thought they heard,
  • check for understanding, and
  • empathize if appropriate.

For example, say the sharer talks about feeling discounted or ignored with important money decisions. The listening partner listens without comment. The listening partner’s three steps might begin like this:

  • “So what I heard you say was…” (repeat back, even if it’s verbatim, what you heard)
  • “Did I get it all?” (If yes, go to next step. If no, listen to what was missed, and go back to mirroring what you heard.)
  • “I can see how that would be difficult/challenging/etc. for you.” Or, if it’s true, “If I were in your shoes I would feel the same.” This empathetic statement is not necessarily an agreement (although it’s nice), but at a minimum an acknowledgement of understanding.

All three of these must be completed before it’s time to switch roles.

Step 3: Respectful Negotiation

With enhanced understanding, a couple is better equipped to come to a mutually agreeable solution.

Several years ago a couple of young successful professionals debated in the financial advisor’s office whether they should be saving 10% or 20% of their income. One felt strongly that with the lower savings they could hire help at home for the house and lawn. But it was equally important to the other partner to be debt-free by age 40.

After discussion, awareness, communication, and negotiation, they compromised to agree that they would both be satisfied saving 15% of their income, hiring some house help, and keeping their debt-free status as a goal, but not a rigid expectation. 

What about you? What challenges have you encountered in a romantic partnership when it comes to money differences? How were you successful in overcoming them? Or are you still challenged by them? Share in a comment below.

If anything in this post resonates with you, I help people in three primary ways:

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Honey, Ain’t Money Funny? 4 Conversation Ideas

Couples and money honey ain't money funny

Honey, ain’t money funny? Sometimes, not so much.

As Valentine’s Day came and went, a couple struggled with questions about consumerism, the meaning behind gifts, and how money affected their relationship. Whether it was financial inequality, overspending, or miserliness (a la Scrooge), humor was hard to find at a time when they were surrounded by hearts-and-happiness messages.

What can couples do to have a better relationship with money? Following are 4 ideas.

As you try each one, it’s a good idea to plan a special fun reward or celebration at the end. The more you practice at these, the easier the conversations will get. You may find your differences become predictable, manageable, and even laughable.

Idea 1: Monthly Money Date

For monthly money dates, quickies are best. These are for checking the dashboard indicators in your household finances. Agree to limit the conversations to about 15 minutes.

Build in fun and humor by focusing on your progress, positive wins, and gratitude for what you’ve got so far. For big ideas and thorny issues, make a separate date to discuss those using one of the following 3 formats. Then move on to the “real” date part!

A 2 1/2 minute video on 3-Part Money Dates can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TWFKfF0vRQ.

Idea 2: 48-Hour Relationship Conference

No you don’t have to talk about money for 2 days. What a buzzkill!

Instead, in a Relationship Conference, each partner takes a turn being a pure listener to the other partner’s issues. Being the listener in a relationship conference means saying nothing while your partner talks. You can decide on the timeframe, but make it somewhere between 15 and 45 minutes. You can take notes.

After the first partner shares, take a break from anything money-related for 24 to 48 hours. Allow thoughts and feelings to arise to reflect on what you heard. Then reverse roles. This is the first partner’s turn to simply listen. Then wait again for whatever timeframe you decide – 24 to 48 hours.

Finally, take turns to summarize what feelings and issues came up. Make sure you give space for listening to each partner’s perspective, checking in to make sure you heard them well.

Remember to have an activity planned in advance to celebrate your ability to tackle tough stuff.

Idea 3: Take Turns Active Listening

Another option is to take turns all in one setting being the active listener. Active listening means being fully present to your partner’s issues and emotions without bringing up your own responses or emotions. (Tip: This is really hard for most people who have never done it before.)

You do this by

  1. repeating back what you heard,
  2. checking in to make sure you got it all (“Did I get it all?”), and
  3. asking to hear more about the emotions underlying each statement (“You said you felt excluded. Tell me more about that.”) Once your partner agrees they feel completely heard and understood, then it’s your turn.
  4. Again, remember to have something planned in advance to celebrate and give yourselves credit for your progress with active listening about money.

Idea 4: Ask For PracticeHelp

Are there some money issues in your relationship that seem too difficult to talk about on your own?

Sometimes each of these exercises work best if practiced with a counselor first. And that’s ok. Sometimes we need training wheels before we’re ready to ride the conversation bicycle on our own. Give yourselves the gift of an enhanced relationship by getting some professional tips on how to have a healthy conversation about money.

Finally Feel Free

Remember when you learned to let go of the bike’s handlebars? Imagine feeling that free in your relationship with money and each other. One’s Scrooge to the other’s spending might actually be something you learn to laugh about for years to come.

You know you’ve arrived when you find yourselves saying, “Honey, ain’t money funny?”

For more tips on the psychology of money, subscribe to our award-winning monthly e-letter, “The View From the Porch,” at https://bit.ly/3t2uwfn.

Or, check out Holly’s book: The Mindful Money Mentality: How To Find Balance in Your Financial Future.

Continue ReadingHoney, Ain’t Money Funny? 4 Conversation Ideas

Honey, Ain’t Money Funny? 4 Ideas For Couples’ Money Convos

Couples and money

Honey, ain’t money funny? Sometimes, not so much. As Valentine’s Day came and went, a couple struggled with questions about consumerism, the meaning behind gifts, and how money affected their relationship. Whether it was financial inequality, overspending, or miserliness (a la Scrooge), humor was hard to find at a time when they were surrounded by hearts-and-happiness messages.

What can couples do to have a better relationship with money? Following are 4 ideas. For each one, it’s a good idea to plan a special fun reward or celebration at the end. The more you practice at these, the easier the conversations will get. You may find your differences become predictable, manageable, and even laughable.

Idea 1: Try a Monthly Money Date

For monthly money dates, quickies are best. These are for checking the “dashboard indicators” in your household finances. Agree to limit these conversations to about 15 minutes. A 2 1/2 minute video on 3-Part Money Dates can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TWFKfF0vRQ.

Build in fun and humor by focusing on your progress, positive wins, and gratitude for what you’ve got so far. For big ideas and thorny issues, make a separate date to discuss those using one of the following 3 formats. Then move on to the “real” date part!

Idea 2: Try a 2-Day Relationship Conference

No you don’t have to talk about money for 2 days. What a buzzkill! Instead, in a Relationship Conference, each partner takes a turn being a pure listener to the other partner’s issues. Being the listener in a relationship conference means saying nothing while your partner talks. You can decide on the timeframe, but make it somewhere between 15 and 45 minutes. You can take notes. Take a break for 24 to 48 hours and allow thoughts and feelings to arise to reflect on what you heard. Share those with your partner by reversing roles – it’s their turn to simply listen and reflect for whatever timeframe you decide – 24 to 48 hours. Summarize how you both felt about the Conference. Then celebrate your ability to tackle tough stuff.

Idea 3: Take Turns Active Listening

Another option is to take turns all in one setting being the active listener. This means being fully present to your partner’s issues and emotions without bringing up your own responses or emotions. (Tip: This is really hard for most people who have never done it before.) You do this by repeating back what you heard, checking with them to make sure you got it all (“Did I get it all?”), and asking to hear more about the emotions underlying each statement (“You said you felt excluded. Tell me more about that.”) Once your partner agrees they feel completely heard and understood, then it’s your turn. Remember to celebrate and give yourselves credit for your progress with active listening.

Idea 4: Ask For Practice Help

Are there some money issues in your relationship that sound too difficult to talk about on your own? Sometimes each of these exercises work best if practiced with a counselor first. And that’s ok; sometimes we need training wheels before we’re ready to ride the conversation bicycle on our own. Give yourselves the gift of an enhanced relationship by getting some tips on how to have a healthy conversation about money.

Remember when you learned to ride and then let go of the handlebars? Imagine feeling that free in your relationship with money and each other. One’s Scrooge to the other’s spending might actually be something you learn to laugh about for years to come. You know you’ve arrived when you find yourselves saying, “Honey, ain’t money funny?”

For more tips on the psychology of money, subscribe to our award-winning monthly e-letter, “The View From the Porch,” at https://bit.ly/3t2uwfn.

For an online course on couples and retirement readiness, see the Simple Finance page at: https://my-simple-finance.thinkific.com/courses/retirement-readiness-signature

Continue ReadingHoney, Ain’t Money Funny? 4 Ideas For Couples’ Money Convos

Monthly Money Dates

couples and money

Monthly money dates sure don’t sound very romantic. However, it’s said that money and sex are the two biggest reasons for divorce*. Could it be just a coincidence they are also two of the most difficult topics for couples to discuss? So perhaps it might make sense to figure out how to talk about them. Making regular times to talk about a difficult topic can often break down walls within other relationship areas.

In fact, a money date doesn’t have to last that long. Probably at most 15 minutes. (Unlike that other difficult topic, quicker is better.) One suggested format for a money date has 3 parts, with each partner taking turns:

For Part 1: “Here’s what I contributed this month.”

And Part 2: “Here’s what I see for major expenditures coming up.”

Then Part 3: “How are we doing?”

Money Date Part 1: What You Contributed

First, telling what you contributed, no matter how big or small, starts the conversation with recognition for your efforts. If one partner stays home or is out of work, find a way to recognize other ways you contribute – whether it’s nurturing the kids or searching for that next great job.

Money Date Part 2: Upcoming Expenditures

Second, talking about what’s coming up, or could come up, leaves little room for unpleasant surprises. While this may be the hardest part of the conversation, it’s placed here for a reason. Psychological studies show that thinking about how much we spend or have spent can induce the same emotions that lead to depression. On the other hand, counting what we have induces the same emotions that lead to happiness and fulfillment. That’s why the spending question is sandwiched between the other two.

Money Date Part 3: How Are We Doing?

Third, how well you are doing? Ask, what goals are worth tracking? If you are unsure where to start, try the following four indicators: retirement accounts; savings levels; debt levels; and charitable giving. Rather than constantly comparing to an ideal number, find a way to recognize progress from where you were at some point in the past. No matter where you might see room for improvement, walk away with at least one thing you can both point to and be glad or hopeful about.

Money Date Wrap-up: What Next?

Sharing your hopes and working through challenges about money decisions, even for 15 minutes, can be an intimate couples exercise. If you follow this formula successfully, you might find you’re a little more interested in that other intimate topic that’s hard to talk about. (And feel free to take longer than 15 minutes for that one.)

For more tips on the psychology of money, subscribe to the award-winning monthly e-letter, “The View From the Porch,” at https://bit.ly/3t2uwfn, check out Holly’s book, The Mindful Money Mentality: How To Find Balance in Your Financial Future, or sign up for the online Retirement Readiness course.

*see Dr. Dae Sheridan’s Tedx Talk, “Real Talk about ‘The Talk'”

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Does More Money Lead To A Happier Relationship?

“Finances play a role in determining marital happiness, and conversely, marital happiness and stability influence a client’s long term financial plan.” This was part of the conclusion of a study on money and marital happiness published in the August 2015 Journal of Financial Planning (the JFP study). Marital happiness and money agreement, it shows, are linked to a degree that if one is doing well, the other is inclined to follow. Unfortunately, the reverse is true, too. Frequency of money arguments has been found in past studies to be a predictor of divorce.  This more recent study supports that conclusion, too.

According to another survey, published in June 2014’s Money magazine, of all age groups, couples in their 30s have the most arguments about money. Argument frequency declines as couples age; and moreso if they have no children, or no children at home.

Money Arguments have nothing to do with levels of income.

But interestingly, both studies show that money arguments have nothing to do with levels of income. Whether couples are barely scraping by, or living large, if the couple isn’t on the same page about money, more of it won’t make the relationship any better.

There are many tools and resources available for couples who want to work on a better relationship with money. One that I use in my practice are Money Habitudes(TM) cards, by Professor Syble Solomon. The cards help bring awareness to our money “scripts” and how they differ between partners. There are also too many books to mention here.  Email me at holly@hollydonaldsonfinancialplanner.com if you would like a resource list.

Sometimes Professional Help is Needed

Financial professionals can be of some help to couples struggling with money issues.  Sometimes a financial therapist or mental health professional is needed to work on other factors that contribute to marital happiness first – such as self-esteem; perceived control over one’s life; and agreement about chores and children – the two topics in the JFP study that beat out money in the top 3 for argument frequency.

There is no denying it – the relationship we have with money itself sets the tone for the relationships we have with significant others. It’s in everyone’s best interest to do what we can to improve it.

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When Does Financial Advice Become Couples Therapy?

I had just finished giving a talk on the psychology of money to a group of professionals, and a participant waited in line to speak to me afterwards. The person before him took quite a while, so I figured whatever he had to tell me must be pretty important to him. With a passionate look in his eye, he approached me and said, “I don’t think any of this emotional stuff about money is my job. I am not a psychology professional, and I don’t want to pretend to be one. In fact, I think I am asking for liability problems if I start bringing up things I don’t know about. I am bound to get myself in trouble, and maybe make it worse for them. Clients come to me for investment and financial advice. That’s what I’m good at, and that’s what I’ll give them. End of story.”

If you work with financial advice, and especially couples, long enough, emotional issues come up. Many financial advisors tread lightly with​​, or even avoid,​ confronting emotions behind clients’​ spending, investing, and sharing decisions. What if a​ couple brings up something the advisor doesn’t know how to handle? What if it produces a big ugly argument? What if somehow they get blamed for starting it?

How does a quantitatively-skilled financial professional understand when they are being helpful, and when they might be causing harm? The best thing I have learned to do is simply help with awareness. There are two possible outcomes from it: 1) the awareness and talking out loud with a third party helps the couple come to their own compromise and resolution; or 2) the awareness and talking out loud helps the three of us realize that resolving it might require more help than I am able to give. In other words, I never presume I have an​ argument’s answer, but I

​am willing to explore whether they have the answer within themselves. The worst that happens is that I’m wrong, but at least then we all know it and own it, rather than ignore it.

How do we​ get to this place of awareness? Trying these questions:

1. Is this normally how the conversation goes when you talk about this issue?

2. How does it normally end up?

3. What have you considered doing about it?

4 (If necessary). It sounds like this is a place where you might be stuck, and could use some outside help to work through. How would you feel about doing more work on it with a counselor?

With two clients in the room, the importance of bringing up these issues is more than doubled. If a couple is handling money disagreements in an unhealthy way, studies show the relationship itself is at great risk. And breakups and divorces cause way bigger money problems than the typical argument subject. Keeping this fact in mind means financial advisors ​might ​have a vested interest in helping couples face difficult money issues. Focusing only on the numbers may seem easier, but in the long run, the story for all three people ​may not​ end nearly as well.

See this post on YouTube here: Advice vs. Therapy – Holly P. Thomas, CFP

Continue ReadingWhen Does Financial Advice Become Couples Therapy?

When She is Better Off Than He Is

Some couples find finances difficult to discuss when she is better off than he is. According to the website FiveThirtyEight, 40% of women now earn more than their husbands.

In the July/August 2019 issue of Psychology Today, Esther Perel, a New York psychotherapist, said that women’s liberation has freed them from dependence on men. “But it hasn’t prepared women for men’s dependence on them. Women often have a lot of resentment when they find themselves responsible in the way men have for generations.”

In an October 2013 blog post, “Why Wealthy Divorced Women Don’t Remarry and Men Do” dating coach Evan Marc Katz wondered whether women might rethink their expectations for the man’s financial contribution to the relationship. This makes sense especially when all other aspects of the relationship are equal. After all, many wealthy men remarry to women who are not as financially well off, and why? Companionship, compatibility, and physical attraction. If a wealthy man is happy to pick up the tab for trips and dinners, why aren’t wealthy women?

A Couple of Fictional Cases

A few years ago, I asked my licensed mental health counselor husband, Ken Donaldson (shameless plug, he’s also author of Marry Yourself First: Say “I Do” to a Life of Passion, Power, Purpose & Prosperity) a series of questions based on two fictional composite case studies. With over 30 years’ experience in couples counseling, he gave his thoughts in the Q&A section below.

Alan and Donna: Donna is a 53-year-old professor who became disabled after an accident. Her disability is not evident to most people, but at any moment she could be hospitalized. She received a large settlement from the accident. She is making a new life for herself and wants to live well while she can. Alan, her 55-year-old boyfriend, is a painter. He is a handsome romantic and kind to her. Alan does not know Donna’s financial situation. He does know he cannot always afford the restaurants where Donna wants to eat, though. Much of the time she picks up the tab. They both feel awkward about it.

Janet and Harold: Janet is a 52 year old retired author. Her books have sold enough copies that she can live comfortably without working. Her boyfriend, 58-year-old Harold, had an IT career before he was downsized. Since then he has not found a new job or career that seems to be a good fit. Janet loves Harold’s athleticism, his sense of humor and tenderness. They connect on many levels. The problem is, she wants to travel with him to places like Australia, Alaska, and Europe. Neither Harold nor Janet like the idea of Janet paying for the whole trip. Harold does not know Janet’s financial situation, but he does know she is better off than he is.

Q & A With Relationship Counselor Ken Donaldson, LMHC

Q: How does avoidance of the activities that both couples want to do affect their relationship?

A: This would only add to distance in the relationships. Although both people will benefit from doing separate activities that they enjoy, there is much to be lost by leaving the other out when it is motivated by fear and/or avoidance.

Q: How could each couple stay together in a healthy way?

A: Every healthy, harmonious and lasting relationship is built on the HOW factor: Honest, Open and Willing. Those are the cornerstones that prevent the termites of deceit, deception, distance and breakdown. I believe these cases both require a lot of extended processing and perhaps the assistance from both a marriage counselor and a financial expert would be extremely helpful.

Q: What kind of paradigm shift might they try, and how could such a shift be brought about through seeing a professional?

A: As mentioned above, a qualified marriage counselor, especially one who had experience with these types of cases, can only help. Openness, although not rocket science, is always the best policy in cases like this. If either or both can’t handle “the truth” it says something about the foundation of the relationship, which signals that it needs to be strengthened. Harville Hendrix, author of Getting the Love You Want, has some great dialoguing tools I use often with in couples counseling and in all conflict resolution (and intimacy building) situations.

Q: What is your opinion about the line between sharing financial information and keeping financial secrets?

A: It is a fine line at times, but it is also based on trust. Trust is probably the cornerstone of all cornerstones. It’s like poker: Sometimes you have to hold your cards for a long time before you show them (or fold them). But, when the time is right, right action is the only move. Avoidance leads to more avoidance, and openness leads to more openness. However, it is all based on the level of relationship they want. If they only want a level “7” then maybe total transparency is not needed. But if they want a “10” then, again, nothing will be better than open, honest and willing.

Couples and Money in February

Here on our blog and in our e-letter, February is Couples and Money month! What are you doing to grow financial intimacy with your partner? Check out our Resources page, or the award-winning monthly e-letter, “The View From The Porch.” (Sign up at the bottom of our Home page).

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