Going Home For The Holidays

Nov 10, 2022

    The holidays are coming. You know this already and likely have some gut feelings about this reality. A range of thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about what your holidays will be like unavoidable. Specifically, your mind may turn to what they will be like relationally and financially. There is no way to separate the two try as we might. 


     Going home for the holidays is an excellent time to work on your relationship with money. That’s right, and you can do some money bicep curls and money sprints to strengthen your relationship with money while home for the holidays. 


     Family therapists know that trips home any time of the year, especially during the holidays, will activate old wounds and hurts that linger unresolved between you and your parents,  in-laws, siblings, and step-siblings. 


     Let’s make the most of this holiday season so you can start strong for 2023. You can use your holiday trip home to gain greater clarity and confidence in your love and money life. I am going to show you how in the blog post. 


There are great things on the horizon for your 2023 financial year. 


Becoming a family financial detective?

      Let me tell you a little secret: We know our family, but we don’t. As kids, we think we understand our families. Yet, as adults, we can look back and logically realize there was no way we could have possibly understood the full complexities and dynamics of our family life. Nor the intentions or broader contexts that would lead our parents and step-parents to make the relational and financial decisions they did. The problem is that as meaning-making creatures, even as children, we can’t help but fill in the blanks. Yet the stories we tell ourselves invariably leave us with lopsided and not fully formed understandings of our parents and their motivations. 

Leading with Curiosity

      I was recently working with Cathy and Ben on their family money stories, and Cathy’s recent trip home. While it was not a trip home for the holidays, it brings up the point of how vital family money conversations are as adults. 


     Cathy felt incredible anxiety and overwhelm when Ben would propose his next business idea and would become critical of him. 


     In our work together, Cathy was starting to understand that this was more than Ben’s business ideas. It was about the stories her mother told about her father being a lousy businessman and unable to make sound business decisions for the family. 

Asking new questions

      Cathy was learning to start asking new questions to understand better what was going on with her and Ben. Cathay on her last trip home explained to her father that she and Ben were working on their marriage and money, and she had some questions for him. 


      Fortunately, Cathy’s father was open to talking to her. Part of that came from him, and part came from Cathy saying I want to understand better what happened between him and mom. Cathy’s father went on to acknowledge that indeed he struggled in business at times and that the industry he was working in was also going through some significant changes that he was struggling to navigate. She also learned that her dad resented owning the business, but it had felt like his only option, given his professional training. 


      Her father went on to explain that with his growing family and his sense of duty to provide a better life for all of them than what he had, he could not see another way to give his family the life he wanted. He also explained that he found it very hard to include her mother in the money conversations and that anytime he did, she would just blow up and say it’s your responsibility. 


      Cathy shared that she left this talk with a deeper understanding and compassion for her father. She was seeing how stuck and overwhelmed he was by trying to manage a business in a changing environment. This was something she could not have understood as a little girl. As Cathy let the full weight of this reality set in, she could feel compassion for her father and realize it was not her problem to hold onto anymore. 


      Now, as she and Ben talk through different business decisions, Ben respects that Cathy may initially get a little emotionally reactive, and at the same time, he can realize this is not just about him. Ben has learned to show up for her with more empathy and compassion. Cathy also has learned to touch base with her emotional reactivity to Ben’s business ideas and see if it has hit her fear nerve that things won’t work out.        


What can you learn from your family?

Family Stories Of Money

      Every family has money stories. The ways that money has been available and helpful. Ways in which money has been unavailable and hurtful. It is a rich combination for most families. For some families, their relationship with money is pain saturated. If something can go wrong financially, it will. For others, they seem to live blissfully unaware of their financial reality. Few families seems to model a healthy love and money relationship. 


      When healing our relationship with money, we must become comfortable examining our family money stories from an outsider’s perspective. Often we are too close to the stories to recognize them as stories. When we live in our money stories, we are powerless to see them differently. When we step outside our story and develop an observer’s mind related to our family money stories, the meanings can evolve, expand and create more freedom for us.  


      When you go home for the holidays this year, I invite you to listen to what gets said about money, how money get’s used, and who talks about money. In particular, I want you to listen for the stated emotions related to money and the unstated emotional realities connected to money decisions. 


      Colby Peters, Ph.D. MCSW has extended my language on emotions. I have struggled to find the words that reframe emotions from either good or bad to something more helpful.  I understand from volumes of research that all emotions serve a purpose and that when we frame certain emotions as bad, we create a problematic relationship with those particular emotions. Dr. Peters uses the words comfortable and uncomfortable emotions to reframe how we think about emotions. 


       Her emotion wheel charts prove to be helpful in identifying the comfortable and uncomfortable emotions we experience as humans. What’s even more brilliant about her emotion wheel charts is it gives options for more nuance or simplicity around emotion words. Part of our feeling heard and connected with is the experience of emotional granularity. Emotional granularity is putting the right emotion word with the experience. 


      I use emotional granularity in my counseling work often to help clients identify more specifically what they are experiencing related to money. As they have this experience, I literally watch their shoulders relax, and they take a deep breath. This is a physiological change attributed to emotional granularity. 


      You might say you felt so angry when your husband spent $10,000 on a new high-end road bike without talking to you. Anger is a core emotion, and there is greater emotional granularity to identify that you felt betrayed and resentful of his decision. 


      On the other end of the continuum, perhaps you just bought the nicest car you have ever bought. It has been your dream to buy a luxury car, and your partner, instead of recognizing your sense of pride about buying the car, says  “oh she is happy about it.” Leaving you feeling missed and emotionally misattuned. 


Comfortable Emotions and Money

      When your get home for the holidays, I encourage you to notice how often comfortable emotional words come up for each of your family members and money. It will be helpful to review the emotion wheel chart. I know that I benefit from time to time by going back and looking at the emotion wheel chart to remind myself of the range of options for different words that can describe what I am experiencing. 


      Take a few minutes now to see if you can brainstorm how many comfortable emotional words you can come up with. What do you notice about your emotional fluency? 


      What is it like for you to connect with comfortable emoion words like pride, trusting, playful, curious? Are these words you can apply to the way you use and experience money in your life? 


      Building a life of financial freedom and comfort comes with learning how to bring more comfortable emotion words into your experiences with money and relationships. Just accumulating more money will not get you greater financial comfort if you can not also experience the psychological experience of comfortable emotions. 


      Many people discovered, as I did as well, that as they accumulated more money and income, they felt greater stress, anxiety, fear, inadequacy, shame, and bitterness. Working on my relationship with money, and learning to navigate my wife’s emotional relationship with money have both been powerful agents for enjoying our shared financial life and experiencing comfortable emotions more of the time. 


Uncomfortable Emotions and Money

      Learning to work with uncomfortable emotions is essential to developing financial freedom and financial well-being as well. Try as we might, we can not entirely avoid uncomfortable emotions, especially when they appear around money. Our avoidance of uncomfortable emotions is a form of psychological denial and will increase our propensity to anxiety and depression in the long run. 


       When you are home for the holidays, notice how often there is discomfort around money and different family members, what uncomfortable emotion words show up. Because we are habitual creatures there are likely some common uncomfortable emotional patterns. And when uncomfortable emotions show up there are then likely predictable reactions and responses that come up. 


      Recognizing that uncomfortable emotions are a signal for humane interaction and an increase in empathic care is so critical to returning to a connected and caring relationship instead of one where relational hurt and distance expands. 


Let’s Go Home For The Holidays

      Experiencing emotions around money and relationships is not going to stop. It is actually essential to our experience of financial well-being. What can change is our ability to navigate and work with the full range of emotions we have and when they are triggered by money topics. 


      Let’s remember that healing your relationship with money and family is an ongoing process, not a singular event. I have been on this journey for years and am surprised by the room for incremental improvement. So this holiday season, let your relationship with money gradually heal and grow. Remember why you are doing this. You are doing this to experience increasing joy and pleasure around money in your life. 


      We can check the competition and judgment at the door. Let’s lead this trip home for the holidays from a place of curiosity and compassion.


      If you need more help, give yourself the gift of The Couples Guide to Financial Intimacy to continue deepening your healing and healthy relationship with money and the people most important to you. 

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