When “money” is a couple’s issue, is there any way to get past it and still have a loving and supportive relationship, especially if every other aspect of the relationship is strong and loving other than the ways of looking at money (particularly in tough times)?
This money question from Jenny describes a problem many couples face. Money issues can be especially intense because money discussions are usually about much more than just money.
When Money Becomes an Issue
In tough times the money issue comes up because it represents a very basic need—security. When you feel threatened your normal rational way of functioning often becomes very primitive.
Your basic emotional instincts take over without their normal restraint. Therefore, the number one rule is to NOT discuss money when you are scared about not getting what you need. It’s very hard to be rational when you’re afraid and you can’t solve anything when you feel that way.
What You Can Do Differently
A couple of things you can do differently is to have some money talks when you’re feeling calm and connected. You can try these questions to stimulate a different kind of conversation. They’re based on Transactional Analysis (TA), a system for understanding, predicting and changing behavior that was developed in the 60’s.
TA explains that you act in at least 3 distinctly different ways. One, your Child Ego State is emotional. Another, your Parent Ego State is driven by and expresses rules you believe are necessary and important. The third, your Adult Ego State operates rationally and makes assessments and predictions based on information.
In computer terms, you can open any of three different programs and use them to address the problem. Some programs provide answers that are more practical than others, but each program gives you a “correct” answer based on it’s own system.
Questions to Ask
These questions are designed to discover the answers those six different programs the two of you are coming up with about money issues. Once you can see how complex this information really is, you can begin to sort it out instead of just arguing about it.
- How would each of your parents tell you to solve the problem? Include step-parents or any other important parent figure as well. (Parent rules)
- What would each of your parents do (have done) if they needed to solve this problem themselves? (Parent models that may become rules for you)
- What would you do if you could do exactly what you want to do and nobody was watching and you didn’t have to answer to anybody about what you did? (Your own Child)
- What are your resources and what are your options? You have this information when you stop to think about it. (Your Adult)
Once you answer these questions, your solution may seem obvious. If it doesn’t, try brainstorming options. Then label each option as to whether it comes form your Parent or Child or from your realistic Adult Ego State or program.
Many couples I work with have come up with different solutions to money issues. I can’t tell which would be best for you without knowing more about the problem. Having this conversation should get you started. The answer may become obvious once you learn about all the different impulses each of you has and sort them out together.
You can use this information about your own Parent, Adult and Child programs to understand what happens in your relationship, one sentence at a time. Just for example, what happens when the Parent of one of you talks to the Child of the other?