How Knowing Your Money Story Improves Your Relationship

financial intimacy money stories relationships Jan 06, 2022

Welcome to 2022. 

As we embark on this next year’s important to see that who we are this year is created through everything that occurred in the years prior. 

We are all living an unfolding story with plenty of plot twists and turns. When we take the time to reflect on our money story and the one unfolding with our partner we can start to see how we are changing, and what patterns continue to show up. 

If you have been reading for some time, you know that an important part of financial therapy is becoming more connected with your story. 

If you are new to the blog even the words of financial therapy may be new to you. 

Either way, one of my favorite types of therapy when it comes to finances is narrative therapy. This is the intentional process of working with your story to help you both understand and own the story you tell yourself about your life. Truly a liberating experience for sure. 

Here’s the challenge, when I work with couples they often know parts of each other's story, but they have seldom, if ever, heard it told as a full narrative. 

When we tell each other our entire story, almost like reading it from a book, it adds layers of meaning to the story that perhaps the other partner has never realized before.

Recently I was helping a husband to tell his story to help his wife connect deeper with the why behind his money behavior. I had that spidey sense (therapy intuition) that there was so much more. As he told his story, the pain of the story could finally come out. Not just the facts of the story, but the emotional pain. At the end of the session, you could see the relief on his face as his wife was able to be present and caring to him in a way no one prior had been. This was a deeply healing moment for the two of them. 

You can bet the trust and intimacy between this couple deepened that day. 

The trust and intimacy between you and your partner can deepen as you come to share each other's stories deeply. 

The Story of The Two of You And Money

Every couple has a money story. 

A money story is about the role of money in your relationship. 

The money story is about the ways that the presence and/or absence of money has affected the decisions you have made as a couple. 

It includes the wide range of feelings and/or absence of feelings that have been evoked in the process of living together and making countless money decisions. 

Money stories include everything from the simple trips to Target, to the future funding of retirement and everything in between. 

Our life with money is like the air we breathe - ever-present often without us even realizing it. 

Your Money Story

Stop and take a minute to think about it. How much does the reality of money shape your experience of your relationship and with life? It is more than most have ever considered. 

What do you get from considering money in your life? Often it initially increased distress, overwhelm, and emotional pain. This is partly why so many of us try to minimize the role of money in our lives. Yet it is this very avoidance of your money story that will leave you stuck repeating unwanted patterns around money and relationships. 

Eventually, when you explore your money story, you’ll connect with a deeper sense of understanding for yourself and for your partner. Plus, you and your partner will be able to connect in a deeper more intimate way that includes levels of empathy and intimacy you may not have experienced before. 

Let’s take it a step further and begin to explore your money story. 

Give yourself 15 minutes to write a money autobiography. This is going to scratch the surface of your relationship with money. We have to go deeper to go further in relationships and with money. 

Simple Instructions:

  1. Start from your earliest childhood memory of money
  2. Then just let your mind serve up memories of money and relationships over time.
  3. Free write for 15 minutes set a timer so you don’t have to check the clock. No need to edit, censor, or re-write. 
  4. When you're done now go back and read through your story. What themes emerge? Where is there emotional pain (sadness, anxiety, fear, shame, etc.) and emotional pleasure (joy, excitement, hope, pleasure). 
    1. If you need help with emotion words here’s a great list.

 

Okay, I can hear you now. “Why am I doing this?” 

At a brain level, this type of activity is helping to connect multiple regions of your brain together. The more integrated your brain becomes with stories the more effective you become in navigating your social world. Simply said, telling and deepening your story helps your brain become more complex and nuanced. Two things we need more of to thrive in our intimate relationships with our partners. 

My wife and I’s Story

My wife and I have been learning and practicing how to talk with each other about money for years. Often informally, because I am a financial planner turned couples therapist and I love talking about money and relationships. Lucky her. Okay, she hasn’t always felt so lucky, but we have learned. 

At dinner the other night the story of our engagement and her request for a prenuptial came up. 

This is a hot topic for a lot of couples I work with. It is not an easy one to navigate and it wasn’t until our last conversation that it really sank in what a big deal this was to my wife. 

Money stories can take a long time to deeply understand and work with. We have been married for 15 years. 

To say I struggled to understand or inquire about my wife’s perspective in the early years is an understatement. 

What I realized during this conversation is just how much fear she had about merging our lives, especially the financial part. 

She had seen some really painful things unfold between her parents and money, as well as a couple of close friends, their marriage, and money. I had not, and could not see why she would be so worried about merging our financial lives together. I also felt like a prenuptial would be forecasting the future demise of our relationship. 

A large part of what I did not account for was the role of witnessing divorce in her life compared to mine. At that point, I did not have first-hand experience of divorce, but she did. I can now see how those experiences profoundly shaped some of her own expectations about our merging of lives and money.

The lesson from this story is that where there is emotional pain connected with relationships and money, there is likely to be future challenges. That is, until you take the time to connect the pain with past experiences which helps to resolve that pain. 

This is easier said than done, but is such an important process to engage in.  

Her experiences of witnessing divorce and money challenges represent financial trauma. 

The very nature of financial trauma is often an interweave of close relationships and money dynamics that leave one or both people feeling hurt, vulnerable, terrified, ashamed, betrayed, and without any witness or acknowledgment of this reality. 

When threatening experiences happen without recognition and empathy the memories often get stored in our mind, brain, and body as potential future threats. Then, when we experience similar things in the future our whole system instinctively responds to that old perceived threat, often clouding the issue at hand.  

What is the future of your story? 

The good news is that your story is still unfolding as the story of my wife and me. 

You can learn more about your story, and your partner’s story. You can add depth and meaning to your shared story. You can practice listening to and hearing each other's stories for the deeper layers of meaning and connection. 

I love watching couples develop financial intimacy together. A large part of that is learning and connecting with each other's stories in new and profound ways that shift their fundamental understanding of each other towards compassion, care, and connection. For my wife and I, I know that this has been true. I’ve also seen how much it has resonated with many of the couples I have worked with. My wife and I feel so grateful to be on the path of creating wealth together and mutual financial trust and intimacy. 

This year is going to be a great year to engage your couple and money story. 

My upcoming program gives you an opportunity to do just that. Come join a community of couples dedicated to discovering and fostering financial intimacy in their lives together. The Couples Guide to Financial Intimacy is where you can do that. 

Learn More Here

Cheers to a Financially Intimate 2022, 

Ed Coambs

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