Is Money Bankrupting Your Marriage?

IS MONEY BANKRUPTING YOUR MARRIAGE?

Kyle Benson

Does this sound familiar?

Kris is an accountant and Sam is an architect. They’re trying to create a budget together.

Kris: We just need a realistic budget to stick to.

Sam: I do stick to it, but unexpected things keep happening.

Kris: You have to plan for the unexpected. Let’s go back and look at the checks and the credit cards statements, and see where our money is going.

Sam: You never show me the respect that you show your accounting clients.

Kris: I respect you, but I’m upset that you can’t control your spending. How can we save that way?

Sam: I do control my spending, but I have to get things our family needs.

Kris: We don’t need a 60” TV or 16 knives. We don’t NEED all of this crap.

Sam: You never understand or care about my needs.

Kris: I work really hard for our stuff. I do understand.

Sam: I work too. What do you think I do 40-hours a week? Pick my nose?

Kris: I know you work, and I do care, I just want us to be smart about our money.

Sam: It’s not about being smart, it’s about love. You’ve never understood that.

Kris: Not it’s not. Love is about love. Money is about money. That doesn’t even make sense.

Sam: We’re building a life together, one you clearly don’t value as much as the money in the bank.

Kris: You build a life with how you use the money in the bank.

Sam: Thanks for the lecture, Professor Money. Do you see what I’m talking about when I say you don’t respect me?

If you and your partner have similar arguments about finances, you are in good company. There is no easy way for a couple to go through life without butting heads over money. As you can see  with Sam and Kris, nothing has been resolved. It feels like the real issue is not being addressed.

That’s because arguments about money aren’t about money. They are full of power and meaning that make discussions about money more emotional than the situation seems to warrant.

If you asked 100 people what is “enough” money to be rich, you’d soon realize that what is “enough” for one person is completely inadequate for another. That’s because money is not about how much one has, but about how much one has relative to what one believes is enough.

What blocks Kris and Sam, and maybe even your marriage, is not money. It’s the meaning we give money.

Meaning, Money, and Marriage

If I asked you how much you paid for your home, you could probably tell me without hesitation. If I asked you how much you spent at the grocery store four days ago, you would probably need to think about it.

That’s because your memory is designed to focus on the significance and meaning of events in your life rather than the details.

This makes sense. Memory is biologically pricey. Rewiring our neurons and synapses costs a lot of energy. It is nearly impossible to remember every detail about every event in our lives, so our brain “cheats” when it organizes information.

If you’re 43 years old, that means you have 43 years of complicated life experiences with a lot of unimportant micro-experiences, such as buying a sandwich. If you were to analyze the details of every single experience before you decided something, you’d be paralyzed by analysis.

So your brain cheats by deriving an overall meaning of an experience and then fills in the facts to create a narrative that aligns with that meaning.

This is why Sam feels so disrespected when Kris brings up the issue of budgeting. To him, it’s not just her trying to control his spending. It’s her taking away the feelings of love money gives him. Feelings he has felt for most of his life.

Sam’s mind does this because his memory, like yours, is designed to create little cause and effect stories to support the meaning we get from our experiences.

By doing this, we simplify our conflicts around money and we start reacting instead of responding. Sam starts accusing Kris of disrespecting him and reacting to her complaints. Instead he should listen to her complaints so he can understand why she feels that way.

If we were to simplify the meanings of money throughout our entire lives into cause and effect stories, then what we are left with is a simple if X happens, then I feel Y. This is what we call a “money law.”

The Money Laws of Marriage

Money laws are the things that must happen for you to feel financially secure and happy in your marriage. They tend to follow a simple if-then framework.

Money Law Examples:

  • If James saves $1,000 this month, then he truly cares about the financial future of our marriage.
  • If Steve takes me out to an expensive dinner on Friday, then he loves me.
  • If Kim books our two-week vacation, then she cares about my well being.

Broken Money Law Examples:

  • If Sam doesn’t stick to the budget, then he doesn’t care about my needs.
  • If Tom buys another “toy” instead of taking me on a vacation, then I’m not valuable to him.
  • If Susan spends another $300 shopping instead of saving for our kid’s college, then she doesn’t care about our children’s education.

As you can see, money conflicts are far more meaningful than the dollar value we give them. For some of us, it’s about love and connection. Maybe for you it’s about power and significance. Maybe for someone else it’s about personal growth, or contribution to society. We fight about money because we don’t feel understood by our partners.

Understanding Your Money Laws

If you can identify your money laws, you can instantly help your partner understand you better and improve the quality of your relationship.

If you take time to understand your partner’s money laws,  you will be able to turn the destructive fights about money in your marriage into a constructive way to grow closer to one another.

What Are Your Money Laws?

Want to learn which money laws are bankrupting your marriage? Below are three steps that will help you use money conflicts to deepen your emotional connection.

Step 1: Understand Your Personal Meaning of Money

Throughout life, we pick up subtle and large meanings of how money should be used.

By understanding your hidden meanings to money, you can really help your partner understand why certain things bother you. You can do this by downloading the Meaning of Money In Marriage by subscribing below. Go through the list of items and check the meanings that resonate most with you.

Step 2: Understand Your Partner’s Meaning of Money

Have your partner fill out the checklist. Sit down and share stories about why you have those meanings around money.

Step 3: Create Three Money Laws Each

What do you need to feel financially secure in your marriage? Come up with three money laws and share them with your partner. Examples include:

  • If you take me on a date every two weeks, then I will feel loved.
  • If I contribute to the Red Cross, then I feel helpful to those less fortunate.
  • If I invest in a personal trainer, then I feel sexy and will want to make love to you.

Use money conflicts in your marriage to invest in each other.

Why Conventional Marriage Wisdom Is Wrong

WHY CONVENTIONAL MARRIAGE WISDOM IS WRONG

Christopher Dollard & John Gottman

Marriage is one of the oldest social, economic, religious and legal institutions in the world, and there’s no shortage of opinions on what makes it work. But much of the conventional wisdom is not based on evidence, and some is flat-out wrong. After researching thousands of couples for more than 40 years at The Gottman Institute, these are some of the myths we’ve encountered most often.

MYTH NO. 1

Common interests keep you together.

Some dating sites, like Match.com, ask users to list their interests to help attract potential mates, and LoveFlutter matches users solely based on shared hobbies and activities. In a Pew survey, 64 percent of respondents said “having shared interests” is “very important” to their marriages — beating out having a satisfying sexual relationship and agreeing on politics.

But the important thing is not what you do together; it’s how you interact while doing it. Any activity can drive a wedge between two partners if they’re negative toward each other. It doesn’t matter whether two people both enjoy kayaking if, when they head out on the lake, one says, “That’s not how you do a J-stroke, you idiot!” Our research has shown that criticism, even of paddling skills, is one of the four destructive behaviors that indicate a couple will eventually divorce. A stronger predictor of compatibility than shared interests is the ratio of positive to negative interactions, which should be 20-to-1 in everyday situations, whether a couple is doing something they both enjoy or not.

MYTH NO. 2

Never go to bed angry.

It’s one of the most cliched pieces of relationship advice, immortalized in Etsy signage and a ’90s R&B ballad by Silk: Don’t allow an argument to go unresolved — even overnight. No less an authority than the Bible agrees: “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26).

This advice pushes couples to solve their problems right away. Yet everyone has their own methods of dealing with disagreements, and research indicates that about two-thirds of recurring issues in marriage are never resolved because of personality differences — you’re unlikely to work out that fight about the dishes no matter how late you stay up.

In our “Love Lab,” where we studied physiological reactions of couples during arguments (including coding of facial muscles related to specific emotions), we found that when couples fight, they are so physiologically stressed — increased heart rate, cortisol in the bloodstream, perspiring, etc. — that it is impossible for them to have a rational discussion. With one couple, we intentionally stopped their argument about a recurring issue by saying we needed to adjust some of our equipment. We asked them to read magazines for 30 minutes before resuming the conversation. When they did so, their bodies had physiologically calmed down, which allowed them to communicate rationally and respectfully. We now teach that method to couples — if you feel yourself getting overwhelmed during a fight, take a break and come back to it later, even if that means sleeping on it.

MYTH NO. 3

Couples therapy is for fixing a broken marriage.

This is a common misconception. A 2014 New York Post story on “the crumbling marriage of Jay Z and Beyoncé” noted grimly that “they’re allegedly traveling with marriage counselors.” Seeking help early in or even before marriage is often seen as a red flag. As one skeptic noted in New York magazine, “If you need couples therapy before you’re married — when it’s supposed to be fun and easy, before the pressures of children, family, and combined financials — then it’s the wrong relationship.”

This idea often keeps spouses from seeking the sort of regular maintenance that would benefit almost any relationship. The average couple waits six years after serious issues arise before getting help with their marital problems, and by then it’s often too late: Half of all divorces occur within the first seven years of marriage. In a therapist’s office, spouses can learn conflict-management skills (like the Gottman-Rapoport intervention, based on a method used to increase understanding between nations during the Cold War) and ways to connect and understand each other.

The point of counseling is not to salvage a bad marriage or sort out trauma. It’s about revealing the truth about a relationship. As Jay-Z told David Letterman, he gained “emotional tools ” in counseling to help him maintain his marriage.

MYTH NO. 4

Affairs are the main cause of divorce.

An affair is traumatic for any monogamous relationship. “Extra-marital affairs are responsible for the breakdown of most marriages that end in divorce,” an article on Marriage.com reads. Today.com offers a similar analysis: “Cheating is one of the main drivers of divorce.”

While affairs can destroy the foundation of trust upon which a marriage is built, the cause of divorce typically precedes the affair. In a study from the Divorce Mediation Project, 80 percent of divorced men and women cited growing apart and loss of a sense of closeness to their partner as the reason for divorce. Only 20 to 27 percent blamed their separation on an extramarital affair. In their clinical work, John and Julie Gottman learned that partners who have affairs are usually driven to them not because of a forbidden attraction but because of loneliness. There were already serious, if subtle, problems in the marriage before the affair occurred.

MYTH NO. 5

Marriages benefit from a ‘relationship contract.’

It’s important to do nice things for your partner and to do your fair share around the house, principles that an increasing number of couples have decided to formalize with a contract. One essayist explained in the New York Times how hers “spells out everything from sex to chores to finances to our expectations for the future.” Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan also hashed out some rather specific details in their contract, such as: “One date per week, a minimum of a hundred minutes of alone time, not in his apartment and definitely not at Facebook.” Far more couples opt for informal agreements, written or verbal, delineating who’s responsible for what.

The concept, though, has no basis in science. In 1977, researcher Bernard Murstein found that marriages oriented around reciprocity were less successful. And from what we’ve seen in our clinical work, keeping track can cause couples to keep score, which can lead to resentment. Dealmaking, contracts and quid pro quo mostly operate in unhappy marriages. Criticism and contempt can arise from unfulfilled expectations, especially if those expectations are quantified. And when one partner does something nice for the other and there is a contract in place, they may expect something equally nice in return. That response may not happen for any reason — a busy week, forgetfulness — which can create resentment and an environment of trying to “win.”

Consider one thing nearly all couples fight about: housework. A couple wants to have an even division of chores and responsibilities, so they make a contract. But a few months later, there’s a pile of dishes in the sink, and they’re fighting again. According to a study of 3,000 couples by Harvard Business School, the solution is to ditch the contract and spend money on a cleaning service. Why? So the couple can spend more time together having positive interactions and fewer arguments. Instead of a contract, it’s a compromise.

Couples need to act in kind and loving ways, intentionally and attentively, as often as they can. Some things simply cannot be mandated, not even by contract.

Do You Bottle Your Emotions? Susan David, Ph.D. Describes How It Hurts Your Relationship

DO YOU BOTTLE YOUR EMOTIONS? SUSAN DAVID, Ph.D. DESCRIBES HOW IT HURTS YOUR RELATIONSHIP

Interviewed by Kyle Benson For  The Gottman Relationship Blog

Susan David, Ph.D. is an award-winning psychologist on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and the CEO of Evidence Based Psychology, a boutique business consultancy. Her new book Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life teaches a counterintuitive approach to achieving your true potential, which was heralded by the Harvard Business Review as a groundbreaking idea of the year in 2016.

Part one of the interview is here.

Kyle: I love your book, especially the part about bottling and brooding. Can you speak about those two terms and how those might show up in a relationship? In particular, can you speak to how to use either self-compassion or other techniques to stop holding our emotions hostage in a way that it harms our relationships?

Susan: Yes. Effectively bottling or brooding are characteristic of ways that people deal with difficult emotions and difficult experiences. We often default to one of these positions.

Bottling is essentially pushing the emotion down. For example, you’re upset with a person. You’re feeling angry because you feel exploited, and what you do is you tell yourself, “I’m just not going to go there, and I’ve got to go to work. I’ve got all this other stuff to do.”

And what you are doing is pushing the emotions down. Often you do this with very good intentions. You feel at some level that emotions are locked up in a bottle, and you have all of this other stuff that you can’t do, so you continue to push the emotions into a bottle, per say.

Brooding is when you are so consumed with the emotions you’re feeling that it becomes difficult to do anything else. When you’re brooding, you’re dwelling on the emotions, you’re analyzing hurt. You’re thinking, Why am I feeling what I’m feeling? It’s like you can’t let go and you obsess over the hurt, a perceived failure, or a shortcoming.

Brooding has some very good intentions—one of which is to try to deal with emotions effectively. So both bottling and brooding are done with good intentions.

Kyle: Fascinating. I believe you had a really good example of bottling and brooding in your book about holding books. Could you explain that?

Susan: Of course. For instance: If someone said to you, “You have this big pile of books, and I want you to carry these books away from you.” That’s what bottling looks like. It’s where you have these emotions and thoughts and you try to hold them at an arm’s length in a very almost white-knuckled way. You’re trying to push them aside, and what happens over time is your arms get weak and they start shaking and you are likely to drop the load. The same happens when you are brooding.

When you are brooding, what you are doing is you are holding all those books—and we say each of the books is like an emotion or a thought. You are holding the books so close to you and gripping them so tightly that it impacts your ability to be in the world, your ability to see the other person and to respect them, to love and to see your children, to laugh, and, again, at some point you drop that heavy load.

Kyle: I love that visual. It makes a lot of sense. Can you take a moment to explain why we bottle or brood and how it impacts our partners?

Susan: Well… What’s really interesting is that while people use bottling and brooding with good intentions, we know from the research that it tends not to work.

When people characteristically bottle their emotions or brood, even though they look so different, those patterns of emotions are actually associated with lower levels of well-being and high levels of depression and anxiety. We also know that it impacts the quality of the relationship.

When people bottle, they are pushing aside their emotions, and their partner can often feel that they aren’t present—that they aren’t being authentic or vulnerable in the relationship.

When people are brooding, their partner can often feel that there is no space for anyone else in the conversation because they are so self-focused that it becomes difficult to enter into the space in a way that they feel seen.

And, also, people can switch from one to the other. Sometimes someone will bottle, bottle, bottle, and then they start brooding, and feel bad for brooding, so they push emotions aside and they bottle again.

It’s a really interesting way of being. One of the things that I talk about in Emotional Agility is creating a relationship with our emotions by making room in our hearts for our emotions and our thoughts.

Kyle: So it sounds like you’re trying to create space between the emotions rather than react to them. How do we stop the cycle of brooding and bottling?

Susan: The best way is to stop trying to engage in a struggle of whether you should or shouldn’t be feeling something, but rather just notice those thoughts and emotions, and do so with compassion and curiosity and courage because sometimes they are difficult emotions.

A very important piece of research has shown us that when people try to push emotion aside what happens is there’s emotional leakage. You don’t want to tell the person you are upset and keep it in you, so you keep it in you, and then you completely lose sense and flip out.

We know these things don’t work. What I talk about in Emotional Agility is ways to start being healthier with our thoughts and emotions. That way we do not struggle with them and rather recognize that your thoughts, your emotions, and your stories have evolved in us as human beings to help us to feel protected, to help us to survive, and to help us to communicate with ourselves.

It’s important to extend compassion to yourself, recognizing that you are trying to do the best that you can with the circumstances that you face. That doesn’t mean you are self-excusing. It doesn’t mean you are being lazy. It just means you are choosing to befriend yourself.

Kyle: That’s such an important statement. I often say beating yourself up is never a fair fight and talk about the importance of being your best friend in your own struggles.

Susan: I love that. I want to note that there are a couple of really important, practical aspects to this. One of the things that I talk about is the importance of recognizing that often when we brood about something or when we bottle something what we are trying to do is we are trying to manage away those emotions in very different ways. But often underneath those emotions is a value. We talked about values earlier in the interview.

We tend not to get upset about things that we don’t care about. Often under our bottling or brooding of emotions is a sign post of something that’s important to us.

It’s a signpost to a particular need we have as a human being or it’s a signpost to something that we hold dear in our relationship. Maybe we are feeling we aren’t getting enough of a need.

Befriending yourself is a really important aspect because instead of treating your emotions and thoughts as the enemy, you’re able to treat them as data. The directions and data often enable us to perceive these values—these things that are important to us.

Kyle: Finding the hidden meaning in the emotion is important. Do you have some suggestions for how we can do this?

Susan: I do! A practical strategy that I talk about is to ask yourself, “What is the func?” Which is short for “What is the function of the emotion? What is the emotion trying to tell me about what is important to me?”

Another aspect that helps people to be effective with their emotions is to try to nail your emotion accurately. Often when people are in stress in relationships they’ll say things like “I’m just stressed” or “I’m just angry.” Very often beneath that emotion is a more nuanced emotion, and I can give you an example.

I spoke with a client many years ago who used to label everything as anger. He would say to himself, “Look, I’m so angry. I’m so angry,” and he would do this with his wife. He would get so angry so quickly, so I started to say to him, “Let’s try to see one or two other options.Yes, you must be angry, and, yes, your wife might be angry, but what are two other emotions that might be hidden underneath that anger?” It was so interesting.

His wife actually came to me two months later and said, “I don’t know what you said to my husband, but it has completely changed the relationship,” and, when I spoke to him about it, he said to me that what has happened is she kept on feeling anger in him, but when he started to say one or two other options that surfaced for him, he expressed disappointment that she was feeling a bit disappointed or that she wasn’t angry.

She was just slightly annoyed, which is very different than anger. If you can start to recognize in a more nuanced way that your partner is disappointed or annoyed, it completely shifts the interaction.

A really important aspect of moving from bottling and brooding effectively is to try to do the “What the Func?”

Another aspect is to try to get to a space to enable the emotion in a way that just feels more accurate and more nuanced because that is just a really critical aspect of being effective in the world.

We know that people who are more nuanced about their emotions actually tend to do better in difficult situations and, again, have better wellbeing. That’s another practical strategy.

A third practical strategy when it comes to moving out of bottling and brooding might be to engage in broader perspective taking. Often when people are stuck in a situation in a relationship they see things from only their perspective. So a critical aspect of any kind of relationship therapy is to start helping to open or widen the telescope lens.

Kyle: This is a huge aspect of the Gottman Method! Our therapists are trained to help couples understand each other’s perspectives before problem-solving. The motto is understanding must precede advice.

Susan: That’s excellent because people often are just seeing a very small perspective, but when they start to see things in a far more panoramic view, things can shift.

You can do this by saying, “This is what I’m feeling. What is my partner feeling?”

Even that question is a really important aspect of a widening perspective. Another example is I think that the person is doing X, but, if I had to ask the wisest person in the world, they would bring in a different perspective. It could also be a fly on the wall or anything that gives you a new way of looking at what’s going on.

Kyle: Lovely. I totally see the power in that. It’s such a powerful way to stop getting hooked on your emotions and to start working with your partner in a way that creates an emotionally-connected relationship—even in conflict. Thank you so much, Susan, for sharing your wisdom.

Editor’s Note: This is part two of a two-part interview with Susan David, Ph.D., author of Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life.

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