How The Wisdom of Trauma Can Shift Your Love & Money Story

financial empathy trauma Feb 02, 2022

Being a trauma-informed couple is likely a new concept to you. Heck, I don’t think I have ever put these words together like this before writing this blog.

If you have been learning what a trauma-informed society means, then you are likely familiar with trauma-informed care. Personally, the work of Dr. Gabor Maté has helped us understand the root of our deepest wounds and the lasting legacy of trauma in our lives.

If you are just dipping your toes in the water of healing, then being trauma-informed is a great start.

Becoming A Trauma-Informed Couple

For many couples when I start working with them, they are in the blame my partner/blame myself for the problems of our relationship and financial life stage. 

They are stuck, angry, resentful, and just at their wit's end. 

Completely understandable. 

When we can’t figure out how to solve our problems, we fall further and further into despair and hopelessness. This becomes our whole sense of the world and is an invisible force until a new vision for authentic connection built on the cutting-edge science of interpersonal-neurobiology is engaged. 

From the beginning of working with couples, I am moving from the blame/shame cycle towards seeing themselves and their partners from a trauma-informed perspective. Why a trauma-informed perspective? The work of many great researchers, including Dr. Peter Levine, has been paradigm-shifting. 

Why am I doing this? 

Because after years of study and working with couples I have found that it is far more effective to focus on what has happened to people than what is wrong with them.  The new book What Happened To You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing by Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Bruce Perry gives many real-life examples of normal responses to childhood trauma, 

The science is very clear on the impacts of adverse childhood experiences. Creating healing for past painful experiences creates new freedom and flexibility to respond differently to the wide range of life realities my clients are trying to navigate. 

This is what becoming a trauma-informed couple is all about.

Watching The Wisdom of Trauma

Recently my wife and I sat down to watch the groundbreaking documentary The Wisdom of Trauma by Dr. Gabor Mate. This documentary film will challenge your concepts of what it means to have a happy childhood and your understanding of childhood development. Dr. Mate is a trauma expert and the connections with substance abuse. Beneath chronic illness, drug overdose, domestic violence lay a history of past trauma that left people questioning if they are worthy of love. 

Just being able to do this is huge growth in our life and relationship. We have been on a tremendous journey of walking through some very painful mental and relationship health issues. 

When I started on the journey to become a couples therapist, neither my wife nor I could have predicted that my life and work would become centered on trying to heal my trauma history, including PTSD from being a firefighter, sexual abuse, and emotional issues from childhood. 

For all we knew, I was a “normal” adult individual. I could not and did not want to see how past experiences were impacting my own life.

Just even using the word trauma to describe either of our own respective experiences from childhood or what had happened between us would have been unthinkable years ago. It wasn't until we hit such difficult times that we had to make sense out of mental illness

We have moved much further along the continuum to openly reflecting and becoming curious about our own respective traumas and how they have impacted us, our relationship, and our financial life. 

Watching the documentary The Wisdom of Trauma was another huge step forward in our relationship towards becoming a trauma-informed couple. It increased our own language and understanding of how our own traumas impact our present realities. 

I can not encourage you enough to check out the documentary The Wisdom of Trauma to help you in your journey of reorienting what you see as the source your mental and relational health problems. 

When couples can sit shoulder to shoulder and recognize that their respective histories are theirs to navigate together, not against each other, it moves them to a much more secure future. 

Remember that oh so common part of the marriage vow that says In sickness and health. 

Learning, healing, and growing through your respective traumas is part of the marriage vow.

Making The Financial Connections

What does becoming a trauma-informed couple have to do with your financial life together? 

I am glad you are asking that question. It is a big one with many facets, which I address deeply in my transformational program The Couples Guide to Financial Intimacy. (You can use BLOG30 for 30% off) This is not your ordinary; learn how to budget, invest, and do your taxes program. This is about unlocking the hidden wisdom of our deepest pain. It helps with personal growth as a part of a larger movement, recognizing that the message of Western society that having a lot of money will solve your problems is just not true. 

For now, what I would like you to think about is that trauma often leads people in one of two directions related to their attachment patterns and styles

They either end up more on the avoidant or anxious attachment style continuum. 

Either end of that continuum makes it harder for people to make balanced and fair financial decisions in their relationships.

An Example Of How Trauma Impacts Finances

Ben and Vivian had been married for 20 years. 

Ben was the consummate saver and planner and had a great career in software engineering, while Vivian loved her executive role working for the county they lived in. 

When Vivian wasn’t working, she loved to shop with their only daughter. 

Ben revealed after months of working together that his father would beat him with a belt when he got out of line for even small things like not doing the dishes correctly. He also shared how difficult it was for him to go clothes shopping as a little boy with his mom, as he would see physical pain on her face as she struggled to figure out how to pay for the school clothes for each of her children.  

Vivian shared that she lost her mother at a young age and her grandmother would take her shopping to feel “better” as she got older and asked about her mothers death. 

Both Ben and Vivian knew each others story, but they had never connected how their past traumatic experiences were connected with the way that they approached money. 

Ben had been critical of Vivian’s shopping for a long time. She eventually stopped telling Ben that she was going shopping and would hide her purchases. Eventually, he would find a credit card bill and would blow his lid. Vivian would promise to stop and she would for months. But then in time, she would go back to her old shopping patterns. 

The cycle repeated many times. 

They were at a loss about what to do. They still loved each other, but no longer knew what to do to change this destructive pattern in their lives. 

By helping Ben and Vivian over time to recognize and work with their old feelings of fear, anger, anxiety, and shame around money and their childhood, they could each develop far deeper empathy and compassion for each other. They recovered an open heart for each other and sought to deeply understand each other's personal experiences. 

No longer did they see each other as the problem but rather as partners who were in pain and needed help working through old, unresolved, painful feelings. 

You Are Not Alone

Stop and take a moment for a deep breath. I know this article is heavy, and it likely has left you with a heaviness in your chest or a bit cloudy in your head. Take a moment to know this is real life and you are in the present moment. Your personal experience is important and you can experience individual healing and relational healing.

Perhaps for some, it has created a new sense of hope for getting to a healthier place in your relationship and money in the future. 

Becoming a trauma informed couple is a journey, it will have it’s dark moments, and on the other side of these times will be a deeper sense of intimacy, connection and understanding of each other. An ability to navigate your life together, and in time start setting and collaborating on shared goals together. 

Join a program about healing trauma and being on the journey toward Financial Intimacy in The Couples Guide to Financial Intimacy(Use BLOG30 for 30% off at check out)


Would you like more 1 on 1 support during your journey of learning, healing, and growing? Then Therapy Informed Financial Planning is for the two of you. I invite you to schedule your free 30-minute discovery call today.


Wishing You Healthy Love and Money,

Ed Coambs


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