discussing money

Why Is It So Hard Discussing Money With My Partner?

In this session with Debra Kaplan, my co-author of the book Coupleship Inc., we discuss the basic concept of the book, that a marriage or committed relationship is a business merger as well as a romantic partnership. Yet when people are forming a relationship, the last thing they typically want to talk about is something as unromantic as money. It’s so very logical and practical. And romance and attraction are not about logic, but about heart and bonding and attachment. Yet at some point, the real conversations that support a lasting healthy relationship have to include the essential topic of money.

When partners come together, it is like the merger of two organizations. Each one brings its own culture, its own employees, its own history, its own culture, and its own and expectations. Each partner’s “employees” are the internal parts, as described by Internal Family Systems therapy, that carry their beliefs, including those about money. Some of the internal parts hold beliefs shaped by trauma, and many of these parts are emotionally young and stuck in protective roles they assumed as small children. (To understand this more fully, I encourage you to listen to the more detailed explanation in the podcast.)

The beliefs each partner’s internal parts bring to the coupleship include those about money, their money scripts. Each of us holds many money scripts, maybe from around 50 to perhaps 200. All of them are partially true and partially false, depending on context and circumstances. Some of them may be conflicting. For example, someone may have one money script that, “I need to save money so I feel safe,” and another one that “Buying gifts for others shows I love them.” These contradictory beliefs may cause conflict within that person. In addition, the beliefs formed out of trauma are likely to be associated with painful emotions like shame and guilt.

So each individual brings into the coupleship this complicated system of money scripts and emotions. Both partners are dealing with their own money scripts as well as each other’s. When partners disagree about money, the conflict is often between their differing money scripts. When they argue, the fight is likely to be between the very young, wounded parts that hold those money scripts. Given the complexity and potential for conflict, no wonder partners find it so hard to talk about money.

Changing this dynamic requires each partner to do their own individual work around money and emotions, perhaps with the help of a therapist. This is essential to help each of them heal their own financial traumas and to move past the common mindset that the other partner just needs to change or to be “fixed” and the money conflicts will disappear.

The greatest chance of healing a coupleship financially is when each partner understands and takes responsibility for their part of the conflict. Once partners really begin to communicate and understand what’s going on for themselves and each other, discussing money becomes much easier. Arguments turn into conversations that can build trust and intimacy.

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

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