About the author: This is a guest article by Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil. Dr. Bonnie was named by New York Magazine as one of the city’s top therapists. Her most recent book, Financial Infidelity, was released in paperback edition on March 31.
Whether or not you’re specifically struggling with money in your relationship, one thing can’t be denied: it’s a hot-button issue, and one that most people can use a bit of help with. One of the best and biggest things I believe a couple can do is construct what I call a “Money Gram” — or a money family tree. This helps couples to understand each other’s attitudes, fears, beliefs and patterns in both families’ money histories. It’ll help give you a heads-up on what could produce potential conflict, or explain why you’ve been having trouble in certain areas.
You need to ask yourselves such important questions as:
- “How was money handled in my family?”
- “Was I aware of any financial troubles as a kid?”
- “How did this affect my view of money?”
- “Was money used as punishment or reward?”
- “How has this influences my finances as an adult?”
These are some topics to get you started — I discuss many more in Financial Infidelity -– and you should have no trouble coming up with more on your own, once you get started! You may know the answers to these questions for yourself, but knowing your partner’s answers as well is almost equally as important if you’re going to move on from a power struggle that often exists around love and finances.
Then, integrate this with what I call “the money love language” — which I teach in Make Up, Don’t Breakup — i.e. giving each other a safe place to be honest about your fears (both financial and otherwise) and using a communication style that affirms where each person is coming from. By doing this, you can slowly begin to erode the stigma that money often creates. It’s absolutely crucial that this stigma be done away with in an intimate relationship, if that relationship wants to move forward. Often couples mistake a lack of communication about finances for a lack of compatibility, but integrating a few of these tasks and dialogues can prove that’s not true!
Another important tip in the compatibility of a relationship is to make sure you fight fair. Have a ten minute heart-to-heart weekly with a figurative emotional “bullet proof vest” to protect from hurt, anger and defensiveness, as you listen and echo back what you heard. It is essential to walk in your partner’s shoes rather than trying to be right. Instead of shame and blame you should give three solutions, and your partner has to pick at least one. Fighting fairly creates the tension that gives you passion and makes you feel safe.
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Updated May 5, 2014 and originally published April 15, 2009.