Marital Finances ~
Marital finances and/or financial disagreements and problems have long been associated with marital dissatisfaction and discord. Ask any number of couples to identify what they believe are the primary issues that lead to marital arguments and conflict and you will most likely hear finances and communication. And while it may be true that problems related to finances and communication, (and a host of other problems) may be the proverbial “last straw” that got the couple into therapy, these issues are generally more of a symptom than a root cause.
In other words, communication and financial problems are indicators that point to a more central or underlying difficulty or issue that is simply masquerading as a financial or communication issue. Teaching a couple good communication and budgeting skills will seldom alleviate the conflict or disconnection because the financial and/or communication problem is not the real problem.
Marital finances and/or communication issues are, however, great mirrors through which we can explore the dynamics undergirding marital disconnection and discord. Show me a couple that can’t outline a clear and concise financial plan and I will show you a couple that is having problems communicating.
It would be fair to say that the majority of couples who come to therapy because of marital conflict would prefer to talk about communication issues. They are generally less excited about talking about their financial matters. They believe that if they could communicate better, everything else would fall into place. And to some extent there is validity in that perspective. Increased communication skills can enhance a couple’s ability to express and discuss their differences. However, couples are often unaware of how financial interactions, or the lack thereof, mirror or mimic the relational dynamics of the couplehood. In short, financial problems, standoffs, disconnects and conflicts act as a template for the couple’s particular brand of marital conflict.
A close evaluation of the marital financial dynamic can often uncover the attitudes, beliefs, concerns and perceptions that are actually the areas of greater concern and the true precipitating cause of the marital issues.
Types of Couple Financial Patterns
The Yours and Mine Couple
The yours and mine couple are a couple that have not fully committed to the marital relationship. Such a dynamic is indicative of a lack of trust. This couple will generally maintain two separate bank accounts and assign certain financial responsibilities to one partner or the other. It is not unusual for this couple to pay for therapy services on a rotating or alternating basis. There are concerns about what is fair and one partner taking advantage of the other. This couple may assign specific bills to one partner or the other, i.e., I pay the mortgage, you pay the water and electric bill. In the yours and mine couplehood the partners are engaged in a struggle for dominance or control.
The Yours, Mine and Ours Couple
The yours, mine and ours couple have a greater level of trust than the yours and mine couple but there are still concerns about totally committing to the relationship. This couple may have a joint account but will also maintain separate accounts with money that is specifically managed by the owner of that account. This money management template is indicative of a kind of bet hedging. The partners are generally committed to the relationship, unless or until, something stops working or one partner does not live up to the expectations of the other partner. In the your, mine and ours couple the partners demonstrate a desire for mutuality that is being thwarted by anxieties and perceptions about power, control, security and rejection.
The You Without Me Couple
The you without me couple is an unequal yoking in which one partner assumes a more subservient or avoidant stance in the relationship. This couplehood often features a leader partner who assumes a more authoritative position in the relationship and manages virtually all of the marital assets with little to no input or involvement by the placating partner. This marital dynamic is a set up for resentment, passive retaliation, blaming and issues related to contempt and defensiveness. The passive partner in this couple dynamic is generally, however, the true dominate. The you without me couple has established a pattern of control in which the seemingly subservient partner is actually holding the power in the relationship.
The Me Without You Couple
The me without you couple is similar to the you without me couple, but the power dynamic is reversed. In this couple constellation, the true dominate is the authoritarian partner who insists on managing the couple’s finances. The dominate partner may see any attempts by their mate to be involved in financial matters as a threat or a negative critique of their abilities. The less dominate partner is generally less assertive and more willing to allow the dominate partner to manage the couple’s finances in order to avoid or maintain some sibilance of marital integrity and order. The me without you couple is often struggling with co-dependency, assertiveness, insecurity and issues related to self-doubt and/or rejection.
The Me Over You Couple
The me over you couple is a hierarchical dynamic in which one partner genuinely sees the other as unable or incapable of being a part of financial discussions. The lead partner is generally the primary contributor to the marital assets and uses this position as grounds for dominating the partner who contributes less. This dynamic breeds instability in the relationship as the less powerful partner often feels especially vulnerable and at risk. The dominate partner in this relationship may use their financial position as a tool for maintaining control of the relationship and may verbalize their intent to leave or reject the more financially vulnerable partner should they not meet with the approval or directives of the lead partner.
The You Over Me Couple
The you over me couple is a variation of the me over you dynamic in which the partner who contributes less is content and supportive of their partner taking the lead in all financial matters. While it is still a hierarchical dynamic, it is a more imposed rather than asserted positioning. In this dynamic, the hierarchical position is encouraged by the less involved or avoidant partner who happily assumes a less involved and less responsible position under the “leadership” of their partner. Here the partner placed in the hierarchical position may assume the dominate role and manage the couple’s finances but inwardly develops a resentment for the freedom enjoyed by the less involved and less responsible partner. Over time, the managing partner may begin to use their leadership role to pressure the less involved partner to assume responsibility in other areas of the relationship.
The Us Couplehood
The us couplehood is a partnership of equals. In this couplehood both partners assume equal responsibility for financial matters. Regardless of the earning positional of the partners, all earned incomes are placed in a mutual account that is used to provide for the partner’s shared needs. While one partner may assume the role of actually paying the bills, both partners share equally in the planning and distribution of their funds. This couple regularly plans for their future and jointly considered the types of investments they will make. They are able to feel secure in the relationship and seldom experience concerns about dominance, power or hierarchy. This couple seldom argues about money and often celebrate accomplished financial goals.
While these outlined financial patterns are not a complete or exhaustive list of the types of marital conflict couples experience, they do provide insight into the underlying issues that support and facilitate couple discord and disconnection. Such patterns can help couples begin to identify how problems related to trust, control, rejection, co-dependency, dominance, avoidance, passivity, abuse and power manifest in the various aspects of their couplehood.
Helping couples consider the dynamics involved in their financial matters is never about the couple’s actual money. How they mange their money, feel about their money, relate to their money and interact with their money does however, does provide insight into the beliefs, attitudes, perceptions and concerns that form and undergird the couplehood.
In and of itself, money is nothing more than a social construct designed to provide for the exchange of goods and services. After all, both money and Kleenex are simply types of paper. Their value is determined by the significance we assign to both.
What we infer about money is much more important than the actual money itself. As scripture rightly asserts, it is the love of money, not the money itself, that is problematic.
“For the love of money is the root of all evil” ~ 1 Timothy 6:10
Helping couples sort through the dynamics of their financial matters may not seem like an important or appropriate use of the therapy hour. But like most external manifestations or behaviors, the external is often the best measure of the internal. As couples begin to explore their financial patterns, concerns and dynamics, they begin to better understand how their attitudes and beliefs about money mirror their attitudes and beliefs about power, control, acceptance, equality, value and security.
As couple’s explore and work through the underlying issues that play out in their financial matters, they gain not only a more conducive, equal and satisfying marital relationship…they often find themselves enjoying the benefits of a healthier bottom line as well. Healthy couplehood, healthy finances. And that, my friends, is a pretty lucrative return on investment.
Want to learn more about how financial dynamics impact the marital relationship?
Schedule your appointment online or call the main office at 317-760-0604.
Chrysalis Connections Counseling and Family Relationship Center
Your Partner in Life
429 E. Vermont St., Suite 208
Indianapolis, IN 46202