The Elements of a Financially Intimate Coupleship

This podcast is a conversation with Debra Kaplan, a couples therapist and financial therapist with whom I co-authored a recent book called Coupleship Inc.: From Financial Conflict to Financial Intimacy. It is based on the concept that, when partners join in a marriage or other committed relationship, they form a financial as well as a romantic partnership that is like a business entity. Money is a big issue for a lot of couples.

As co-authors, we agreed strongly that couples with issues around money need help from professionals with expertise in both therapy and finances. Deb’s career has included work on Wall Street as a commodities trader as well as her current therapy practice. One of the dynamics she has seen, especially in working with couples, is the impact of power and money on people’s lives and the way they negotiate conflicts in their relationships. As I am a certified IFS practitioner and have been doing IFS therapy for myself for several years, I brought that perspective to Coupleship Inc. along with my financial planning experience. The book is written as a do it yourself guide for couples.

One area we focus on is communication. Partners in conflict need skills to help them get out of their own way and to understand the parts of themselves that are at odds with each other. This is where the IFS lens can be especially helpful. In a way it is intuitive, because in conversation or in our own internal narratives, we so often say things like, “Well, a part of me really agrees with that or wants to do that, and another part of me doesn’t.” At the same time, we don’t necessarily apply the same perspective to our partner. We don’t tend to consider that the beliefs behind a conflict do not define our partner but come from one inner part of them. So IFS became a natural way throughout the book to help couples work through conflict and move toward real intimacy and communication.

So often, with couples, each partner assumes that if the other partner would only change, the problem would be over. They may consult a therapist or a financial advisor with the idea of getting the professional to join in “fixing” the other partner. The tools in Coupleship Inc. are meant to help both partners explore what is going on inside themselves and each other. The intent is to bring together their emotions, beliefs, and behavior. This helps them understand themselves and one another as they uncover the good intentions behind their conflicting money behaviors.

Another important point we make is that talking about money is harder than talking about sex. I have seen this many times in working with groups. Deb’s experience as a sexual addiction counselor and trainer for therapists also bears this out. She says, “Talking about sex on very detailed levels can be a lot easier than disclosing what one makes or how one spends, or how much debt one has, or how many credit cards one uses, or how many financial secrets is one keeping.” Even in leading training sessions for therapists, she sees that raising the topic of money is when “the wheels come off the bus.”

The book does not include money management tools like budgeting, which are available from many other sources. We focus on emotions and communication, since an estimated 80% of financial conflicts or financial roadblocks have to do with emotions rather than a lack of knowledge. Once we can heal and balance the emotions, the money management tools can be applied much more easily.

Our hope for readers of Coupleship Inc. is that couples will gain some tools for communicating more intimately, and they will understand that both a healthy financial relationship and a healthy romantic relationship matter. Both are essential to the wellbeing of a partnership.

Check out The Financial Therapy Podcast by Rick Kahler concerning this topic.

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