Guest Post by Althea Mortensen, Creator of the Make Love to Your Money Coaching Program
Sex and Money.
These are the two most common sources of conflict for couples. Conversations and behavior around the topic of money can create an atmosphere of secrecy, insecurity, and fear. Hidden expectations about earning potential, spending habits and money tasks, such as balancing the budget, filing taxes or investing, prevent solutions that reflect the needs of each individual and sabotage the foundation necessary for couples as they attempt to plan their financial future together.
Is there a “happily ever after”?
Yes. NBC News reports that a 2015 MONEY magazine poll found that across the generations, couples that have greater financial trust in each other and fewer money conflicts reported having better sex lives.
That’s good news!
As both a financial professional and money mind-set coach for women, I provide insights that create effective partnerships around money. Let’s explore three steps to achieve intimacy, agreement, and peace of mind with your partner around one side of this dynamic equation.
Who’s In Bed With You?
Whether we recognize it or not, we all have a relationship with money. This often reflects family and cultural values, religious doctrine, even advertising, and the media. Spending patterns, habits and money beliefs we’ve absorbed since childhood become a lifestyle as we unconsciously continue - or rebel against - behaviors we’re familiar with. Either way, these may not be an accurate representation of the future we’d like to create with our partner.
Most of us realize that regular, scheduled communication is the first key to avoiding conflict with both the bank account and the bedroom. First, determine who’s in bed with you, so to speak, when it comes to money. Can you identify your family money story? Whether you had money or didn’t when growing up, the collective history of the family tends to influence our expectations as a couple. Write a brief paragraph that summarizes this narrative. Be honest!
Next, make a short list of your own personal money beliefs you’ve accumulated them over time. Beside each one, note who this statement actually belongs to. Your mother? Your father? Does the media inform you of what you should value or how you should spend your money? Be sure to write them down, even if you’re already beginning to question their validity as something that isn’t necessarily yours.
Below are a few limiting statements that get in the way of creating an intentional and successful money relationship I’ve encountered when working with couples over the years. The best indicator of whether they are worthy of attention is the way they make you feel. Challenging them can be difficult but rewarding. Get help if you need it.
“Whoever earns the most money has the most decision-making authority (translate: the most power) in a relationship”.
“I/You/We have to work hard and sacrifice time/health/family/our relationship for money.”
“Money will take care of itself. I/You/We shouldn’t have to worry about it.”
“There is a limited or finite supply of money.”
“Having money or earning too much money risks censure, judgment, or increases the risk of having it taken away.”
Invite your partner to create their own list and schedule a time to share them with each other in an atmosphere of curiosity, and without judgment. Honor each other’s needs, experiences and point of view. Be willing to infuse this final step with compassion and even a bit of laughter.
What beliefs or behaviors around money are useful?
Are there expectations around money tasks that surfaced you’d like your partner to be aware of?
What can be forgiven, and should be discarded?
Remember, this step is merely about achieving clarity so that the two of you can begin to build a healthy money foundation and create a new money future together. What you’re aware of, you can change.
Stress can diminish both the quality and effectiveness of what you do under its influence. There is also a strong link between stress and other negative emotions such as worry, anxiety, fear, and anger. Because the topics of both sex and money are infused with strong emotions, we often experience a downward spiral in our interactions that benefits no one, least of all our relationships. It’s no surprise that both soon become the largest source of conflict.
I want better for you.
First and foremost, agree to be on the same team. Your partner - or money, for that matter - is not the advisory. However, it can help to understand a little about behavior around money that’s naturally fueled by the hormones in our body. The statements of “She can’t stick to the budget” or “He’s too controlling” have a source in our biology.
The primal instincts of our inner animal compel behavior around survival. These needs cause behavior that prevents us from approaching money tasks with creativity and empowered choice. Additionally, fundamental needs may differ between men and women, including the need for security, the need to provide for and protect a stable future, and the need to feel appreciated and valued for contributions. Women have different emotional perceptions, realities, and responses than men to threats and the need for safety. For example, if we don’t feel safe, the amount of estrogen in our bodies compels us to gather resources in anticipation of lack or scarcity. This translates into shopping and spending beyond our means, often uncontrollably – and in direct conflict with a testosterone-supported need to “protect” the budget!
To become more intentional, begin by selecting a time to sit down together to write a new money story. This one is for you the two of you, as a couple. Free yourself and your imagination by beginning with the phrase, “If I had it all my way . . .” and allow yourselves to dream and expand beyond your individual history. I recommend selecting a place entirely unconnected to any money conversations you’ve had in the past. Sit together in front of a piece of artwork at the museum. Relax in the sand at the beach. If you’ve always argued about money in the kitchen, take the conversation to the bathroom and sit in the tub. Put on hats. According to author Kord Murray in Borrowing Brilliance, changing just one thing by doing something different allows for creative thinkers to come up with new ideas. Albert Einstein also used this method, so you’re in good company.
Next, create a spending plan that you both feel comfortable with and list subsequent money tasks required for achieving it. Be specific and detailed. Include earning, spending, saving, investing amounts and the necessary activities surrounding each. This can take some time, depending on the complexity, so don’t be afraid to revisit this important step several times before agreeing on your list. It may not seem romantic, but by creating a strong and clear foundation you’ve allowed for the deep trust, feelings of safety, peace, and connection we all crave.
Finally, identify who will be accountable for each item. A great place to start is with what would you like to be accountable for. Which task would it be a privilege to provide for your partner? Can he trust and truly count on you to complete your selection? Accountability begins with a conscious agreement and not hidden expectations about who should - or should not - do something. If necessary, refer to your money history and limiting belief list so you’re not caught up again with behaviors you don’t want to include in your new money partnership.
Appreciate and Celebrate
The most important part of any spending plan may be the portion you and your partner allow for time together and in appreciation of each other. This, of course, can be simply time spent rather than money spent – as long as it’s together. In The Soul of Sex: Cultivating Life as an Act of Love by a former monk, psychotherapist and author Thomas Moore reminds us that pleasure is not only valid but a necessary and inspiring goal in everyday life. Yet according to MONEY magazines Love & Money poll, spouses’ top complaint about their partners is “too many frivolous purchases.” In the pursuit of money, it’s important to have an awareness of what values we desire our money to be in service to.
Lastly, what is your personal currency of appreciation? Try a few ideas from the pages of The Five Love Languages, written by pastor and counselor Gary Chapman. According to Gary, people express and receive love through one of five languages: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. Some people find focused attention meaningful while others respond best to praise.
Revisit your agreement periodically and make adjustments as necessary. Remember that you’re on the same team. By becoming aware of your past money story and creating a new one that’s more satisfying, as well as communicating and being intentional about your choices, you can create more trust, financial intimacy and satisfying money relationships in all areas of your life.