Can Brain Science Helps Us Achieve Financial Intimacy?Jul 07, 2022
What does the brain have to do with financial intimacy? Much more than you might imagine.
It is a reciprocal relationship. Let me introduce you to a wonderful area of science called Interpersonal Neurobiology. This area of science draws from multiple areas of understanding how relationships shape our brains and minds and how brains and minds shape relationships.
When our brains and minds work well, it leads to increased financial intimacy, better communication, and improved cooperation between partners when managing their money. In this article, I’ll describe how our brains work, why this helps improve financial intimacy and provide tips on bringing brain-based ideas into your relationship with your partner.
Understanding the Brain
One of the significant benefits of reading about interpersonal neurobiology and brain science is that it helps you better understand the most complex part of your body.
You get to understand your brain better to be a more effective communicator, thinker, and decision-maker.
It can feel overwhelming to understand the brain initially, but it doesn't have to be. Understanding what makes up our brains is a crucial step in being able to communicate with our partners on a deeper level. Plenty of resources are available to help you understand how your brain works.
Instead of getting stuck at the level of saying your partner is so irrational, crazy, stupid, or I just can’t understand why they did that. By deepening your understanding of how brains work, your ability to be financially empathic with your partner will increase.
You will eventually recognize that what once looked irrational, crazy, or stupid was likely coming from one of three significant brain areas and not the whole brain as an integrated system.
Likely you might even find yourself saying…”Oh my partner is in amygdala hijack right now”
Three Brains In One: Forebrain/Midbrain/Hindbrain
The human brain can be divided into three parts: the forebrain(thinking), midbrain (feeling), and hindbrain (intuiting/instinct). Understanding these different brain parts is critical for couples trying to become financially intimate.
While many factors determine our financial decisions (such as personality types and environment), the three brains theory offers a different view.
Understanding that we can make money decisions from different parts of our brain changes everything. It allows us to recognize what area of our brain we use when making a particular decision about money, whether it’s budgeting, investing, or saving.
The Hindbrain is Responsible for Instincts and Survival
The hindbrain is also known as the reptilian brain. It is located in the base of our skull and is the home of our instincts and the connection to our nervous system. The hindbrain constantly monitors for safety and survival.
Our hindbrain is not something we consciously control. It is far more involuntary than that. But it is also the part of our brain most likely to get us in trouble with our finances.
Do you remember being told not to touch a hot stove as a child? Then you touched the hot stove. What happened? Which was a more powerful lesson.
Did you have metaphorically hot stove money scenarios in your home where you learned money was dangerous or not safe? I imagine you can fill in your blanks like painful fights about money between your parents or the threat of not having enough money to buy food.
Remember, your partner has their own hot stove experiences with money. They are also stored in their hindbrain.
Many financial therapy clients I work with and couples going through The Couples Guide to Financial Intimacy must learn to retrain their instincts and nervous system around their hot stove money experiences. Unfortunately, we can’t logic our way through this one. Sorry, the nervous system is “stronger” than the forebrain.
We will have to feel our way through back to safety around money. Just like in time we learned how to feel our way back through the safety of the stove. That is I am assuming you don’t have a lingering fear of a hot stove that stops you from cooking.
The Midbrain is Where Our Emotions Come From
We all have emotions processed in our midbrains; this is universal to humans of all backgrounds. Our midbrains help us healthily organize how we perceive, understand, and react to our emotions. When these emotional responses are hindered, we see problems such as codependency, controlling behavior, depression, and anxiety emerge.
Suppose you find that your financial intimacy is suffering because of money arguments. In that case, you might want to work on your midbrain by learning tools to help you organize and integrate different emotional responses. The amygdala is one specific part of the midbrain and plays a significant role in emotional regulation.
When we have painful memories related to money, our amygdala tries to draw on those past experiences and signal us that there is a threat, sometimes even when there is no present threat.
Utilizing financial empathy helps your partner feel seen in their emotion, which helps regulate the emotional reaction without leaving your partner feeling dismissed or minimized. Not that your partner would accuse you of that, or would they?
Dr. Louis Cozolino, the author of Neuroscience of Psychotherapy, makes a strong brain based case for empathy. In his book, he helps explain the brain science behind therapy and makes significant connections between accurate empathy and emotional health. So yep, you guessed it, you get to be therapeutic with your partner.
Why are you being so emotional about that…
Get over feeling that way…
It’s time for
I imagine your feeling… about…(money situation).
I wonder if your feeling…about…(money situation).
The Forebrain is Where We Understand Ourself
The forebrain is just behind your forehead. Planning for the future and being able to analyze numbers come from this part of the brain. When we actively work to develop the forebrain through reflective practices, we create more dynamic frontal lobes that make us better at planning for our financial future and coordinating with those that matter most to us.
Understanding yourself and others will help you empathize and respond to their needs. Our ability to understand ourselves and develop self-awareness helps us understand our vulnerabilities, strengths, hopes, and dreams. It also enables us to plan for long-term survival and flourishing.
When The Triune Brain Works Like a Symphony
As we grow and mature, given a socially and psychologically healthy enough environment, our brains naturally grow, mature, and integrate. We are allowing our mind and brain to work more and more like a well-orchestrated symphony.
However, when we experience unprocessed childhood, adolescence, or adulthood trauma, our brains can feel more like a death metal band or your aunt Bertha who sings off-key in church. Sorry, aunt Bertha, you know we love you.
When we struggle to achieve financial intimacy, it is likely because our brains struggle to integrate what our instincts tell us fight/flight/freeze, how we feel about the scenario, and what our thoughts are trying to get us to think.
Wishing You Healthy Love and Money,
MBA, MA, MS, CFP®, CFT-I™, LMFT
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