Friday, April 26, 2013

For the Love of Money

Money, Money, Money, Money. If you ask couples what topics are the hardest to discuss, and the hardest to resolve, I am sure that the topic of money will top the list. No question about it –talking about money is often times a difficult conversation. In fact, the more couples argue over finances, the higher the likelihood of divorce /and separation. Not good news! It is sad to say but fighting over money can destroy and derail your relationship.

Even though we can’t discuss all of the reasons why money conversations are problematic, I want to offer a few tips that I hope will help you reflect on your own relationship with money. And after your personal  reflection, I hope you and partner take time to uncover the cause of your own money disagreements because managing money is necessary, but fighting over money isn’t.

Tip #1: Make sure your dollars make sense.  In other words, make sure you know what you are really fighting about because money discussions are seldom about dollars and cents. If they were, money conversations would be more financial, rational, and mathematical talks, and not the heated emotional exchanges that rip relationships apart.

So how do you make sure that your dollars make sense? First, be willing to talk about money before, during and after you commit to a relationship, and accept that money conversations are a necessary part of sharing your life and sharing  your love. I would even recommend having a bi-monthly or monthly discussion about household finances.  Because even though it does not sound romantic, being in a relationship requires business skills. It requires financial coordination, communication, commitment and care.

So how do you get started? Outline the household  expenses and decide how and who will pay what bills, and/or  decide who will pay what % of household bills. If it works best for you to share an account, share. If it doesn’t,   don’t.  Make sure whatever arrangement you have is fair and equitable.  And most of all, be sure that the financial agreement works for both of you. After you agree to a course of action, there should be NO changes unless you both come back to the table and discuss and plan for the change. Why?  Unilateral changes are not fair , and most of all, they chip away at trust.

It also make senses that the partner who is better at handling and managing money, accept a bigger role in handling the joint finances. Don’t get upset, it just makes sense. Just think about it- If you have trouble balancing your own checkbook and your wife is a CPA, why shouldn’t she handle the money?  Remember whoever is better at something should be responsible for it. That rule not only applies to money, but it applies to all functions in a relationship. Why? Because capitalizing on each other’s strengths and covering each other’s weaknesses  is a sign of a healthy relationship; it is a sign of a true partnership. But if that does not work for you, I would at least recommend  writing a list of financial tasks and allocate them between the two of you based on your expertise, experience and your desire.

In summary, both partners should be informed about the household expenses and both partners should be involved, even if they are involved differently.  Both should have a say and a role in decisions about expenditures and large purchases. Both parties should have information about shared accounts, passwords and pins. And information about private accounts should be written down somewhere. That way if something happens to one partner, the other is not left in the dark about financial matters.

Tip 2: Make sure you don’t equate money with power. Make no mistake about it, some money arguments are about power and control. And even though people won’t admit it, many of us believe and subscribe to the Golden Rule: Whoever has or makes the most gold, rules.  I hate to admit it but when I was in my twenties, I bought into that concept. I thought that since I made the most money I got to dictate how many was spent. Wrong!!  I was wrong and unfortunately many other couples are wrong too.

So just to set the record straight -money should never be used to control, manipulate or force a partner to do anything. Why? It breeds resentment, mistrust, frustration and jealously. And if you are using money to dominate your partner, don’t mistake her temporary compliance for acceptance. Honestly, you better watch you back because nothing taints a relationship more than manipulation and domination. And eventually, your partner will grow weary of being controlled and leave you and your money behind.

Tip 3: Make sure what you value is really valuable. What’s valuable? Trust is valuable and every time you fail to adhere to an agreed upon budget, you are chipping away at your partner’s trust.  Trust me, financial fidelity is just as important as sexual and emotional fidelity. And if your partner can’t trust you to properly manage money, or to go to the mall without buying 10 pairs of shoes, or to have a credit card without it burning a hole in your hand, or to stick to a budget, your relationship is in trouble. And lying about purchases  is just as deadly too. Because even if your partner does not immediately see the purchase, when they find out that you did not honor your word, trust may be irrevocable broken. As my grandmother use to say, trust takes a long time to earn and little time to lose. So, is the purchase really worth it?

Not only is trust valuable, respect is also valuable.  And trust and respect usually go hand in hand. But here is a dose of reality - partners usually don’t meet at exactly the same financial time in their lives.  Honestly, it is rare that partners earn the same amount money, have the same  amount in savings, have the same amount in debt, or have the same amount  of financial savvy.  Most couples just don’t so there is bound to be some financial inequality. And even if we don’t want to admit it, if not handled and discussed effectively and empathetically, financial inequality can result in resentment, jealously, anger and disrespect. Why? Because nobody wants to feel as if they are in a lopsided or one-sided financial relationship.

But here is something to consider. If you are in a relationship for the long run, then who makes the most money is essentially irrelevant as long as one partner does not expect  the other to assume responsibility for the debt they brought into the relationship. Yes, you can help eliminate each other’s debt, but it should never be expected that you will assume responsibility for it. Keep in mind that you are agreeing to a relationship, not a personal bail-out.

But it also important to consider this - Maybe one partner earns more money, but the other likely adds value in non-monetary ways.  And after counseling many couples, I have found that is usually the case. So here is an exercise that can help. List everything you both do to make sure that the household functions effectively and efficiently, and then review your list. I am sure you will see that you both contribute equally, but differently. If there is a great disparity in income and in household workload, I predict that there are additional issues in the relationship that are preventing reciprocity.

Tip 4: Money does not make you. Money does not make you happy ,sad, smart, funny, or anything else. You are who you are. Money gives you 2 things: options and access. It give you options to purchase homes, education, clothes, travel, etc. It also gives you access to services, events and people that you never had before. But money is not you; it is a means of exchange, a way to transact business, and a system of measurement. But it is not you.

Unfortunately, some people base their self-worth on their net worth. And when their money is gone, they no longer feel valuable, useful and significant. Others use money as a way bolster their low self-esteem or as an
entrée’ into a new social class. But if money defines you, you are headed for heartache because money does not have emotional or spiritual transforming power. And if you only like someone or stay in an unfulfilling relationship because of money, you are robbing yourself of an opportunity to experience true love with someone else. I know that you have heard this before… can’t buy you love. It may buy you temporary physical comfort, but the heart and spirit will not be deceived.

So if you are financially well off, great. Celebrate that. But if you are depending on your financial portfolio to compensate for something you lack emotionally and spiritually, you will be disappointed. And if you are depending on your money to attract a mate, watch out. If you use your money as bait you will only attract gold diggers, opportunists,  parasites and users. And none of those personality types are partnership material. We all need money, but money alone will not  make you or solidify your relationship. So remember what money is- a means for exchange. It is something to spend, save and share.

 Tip 5: Money does not equal love. Receiving expensive gifts can feel like love but it is not. Even if your Love Language is receiving gifts, using money as the sole indicator of someone’s love sets you and them up for failure. Why? Because what happens when the money is gone? Do you stop loving? The adage is true….the best gifs in life are free. Gifts like listening, hugging, sharing, patience, understanding, helping, affirming, and the list goes on. Don’t get me wrong, gifts are wonderful. I love receiving gifts myself.  But what many people remember most is not the gift, it is how the gifts made them feel. 

 I realize that some people were raised in families where expensive presents were a sign of love, affection, and care. I realize that we all like gifts because gifts let us know that someone is thinking about us. I get that. But regardless of how we were raised, it is important to remember that money is a tool that can be used to express love. But, Money IS NOT love.

Are most money discussions hard?  Yes, but they don’t have to be if approached with honesty, openness and clarity. So before, during and after committing to your partner, talk about money. Talk about how you handle money, your goals with money, how you spend money, how you invest money, how you share money, how you donate money, how you value money. Talk and keep talking. We all need to handle money, but just be sure that money is not handling you.

Blessing as you continue to CREATE Love!

SharRon Jamison
Author of I Can Depend on Me

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