Honest communication is the life-blood of any healthy relationship, and the emotional stakes are often never higher than when the conversation turns to money.
BY: Dr. Andrew Thorn, Ph.D.
Our son recently married a beautiful young woman. Prior to the happy occasion, we enjoyed a wonderful long distance road trip with both him and his fiancé. This presented us with the opportunity to counsel with them about their plans for a happy life.
Knowing that we had a captive audience, we made sure to address every topic. Nothing was taboo and we dug into the most difficult themes associated with forming successful relationships.
Because we want their marriage to be a success, we willingly discussed the juicy facts and myths of our own marriage. We told them about the lessons we learned and how we learned them. It wasn’t easy, but we put aside our fears of being exposed or embarrassed and gave them a full dose of what we believe they should know as they entered into their own marriage.
The more we discussed the foundations of a successful marriage the more one specific topic bubbled up. You may have already guessed it: money.
There is no doubt about it; money is a very important topic. Some surveys even suggest that it is the number one reason why marriages fail. Because we don’t buy into that theory we made sure to offer a very different message. We told them with absolute certainty that marriages do not fail because of money they fail because most people don’t know how to communicate with each other about money and for that matter nearly everything else.
This led us to share with them a story from our own marriage. Shortly after we married, a woman’s clothing catalogue found its way to my desk at my office. I opened the catalogue and immediately noticed some outfits that I thought would look good on Stacy. I called the number and ordered the outfits. There were no birthdays or holidays to celebrate. I just ordered the outfits as a way of spontaneously expressing my love for my sweet wife.
Stacy was surprised and seemed to like the outfits. When she wore them, people would ask here where she got them and she would say, “My husband bought them for me.” To which the inquirer would respond, “Wow! I wish my husband would buy clothes like that for me.”
This feedback felt good. The next time the catalogue arrived, guess what I did. I bought more outfits. It became a regular habit and the feedback continued to be positive, at least externally.
Secretly, Stacy did not like the way this practice was developing but she did not know how to tell me without hurting my feelings.
One day when someone said, “You must love having a husband that does this for you” I heard her respond, “Actually, I do not.” I was stunned.
When I recovered and inquired why she disapproved she told me that she enjoyed the shopping experience, trying on clothes and selecting her own outfits. She told me that I was taking that away from her. Then she said that she felt like I was controlling her own ability to shop and buy what she wanted for herself. She said I was trying to make sure she didn’t spend our money.
I honestly had never thought anything like that. I was just trying to show my love in a way that I thought was appreciated. It was appreciated occasionally, but I was overdoing it and that made it burdensome for her.
Sadly, we were not communicating effectively about the gifts given and received. We weren’t being clear about how we were using our money either. On that day I learned a valuable lesson. Money doesn’t just represent money; it also represents love, power, control, self-esteem, freedom and so many other valuable qualities of life.
I am grateful that I learned this lesson before it was too late. Most importantly, I am grateful that Stacy was able to finally express her feelings. She withheld them for a long time because she was afraid my feelings would be hurt.
She failed to communicate and so did I. I thought I was saying, “I love you!” She thought I was saying, “I control you!” Neither one of us was getting the message. I was investing a lot of money in this failed message. Sometimes it was money that we didn’t have, but I thought I could show my love to her through those investments.
I sensed some of her dissatisfaction but I did not understand it so I was left to invent a story, “She doesn’t appreciate what I am doing for her.”
She was sensitive to the money that was being invested in her wardrobe and so it curbed her own shopping habits. She too was left to invent a story, “He doesn’t want me to spend money. He wants to control me, so he is controlling our money.”
We were both wrong. Fortunately we figured it out before the feelings festered, but I want to illustrate how easy it is for these types of feelings to get out of hand. It is much worse when the money we share is less that what we need. It is during those times that our stories and the way we communicate about money become even more critical.
Please understand this truth; you don’t need any money to be happy in a relationship, but you will never be happy in your relationship if you don’t learn how to communicate.
It is actually easier to communicate than one might expect. All it really takes is a willingness to love yourself and the other enough to share what you are thinking.
The stark reality is that if you fail to share what you are truly thinking your partner will be forced to there fabricate stories to explain your behavior, and those stories will likely completely disconnected from the truth.
Relationships that last are built upon a trust that allows each of us the opportunity to communicate what we are really feeling. This means that we each must believe that we are mature enough to handle the truth. When we trust in this way, our relationships deepen and so does our trust. When that happens, the stresses of finances, outside relationships, health crises and spiritual crises are no match for the vibrant and intimate strength of a healthy relationship.
Dr. Thorn holds a PhD in Consulting Psychology from The California School of Professional Psychology, and a Masters in Business Administration from Pepperdine University. His third book Leading With Your Legacy in Mind: Building Lasting Value in Business and Life, reached # 1 on Amazon and was recognized as one of the best business books of 2014. Dr. Thorn travels the world helping Presidents and CEO’s for over 100 corporate clients. If you would like to contact Dr. Thorn about his groundbreaking work on behavioral based leadership write to: Andrew@andrewthorn.com