As a financial therapist, I help couples go from financial frustration, resentment, anger, and shame to financial freedom, intimacy, and connection.
Recently, I wrote a letter to an imaginary couple that represents what so many of the couples I have worked with go through.
I trust you will see yourself in some parts of this letter.
What is The Meaning of Marriage and Money In Your Life?
Dear Nathan and Samantha,
What is the meaning of marriage and money in your life?
I realize you have three children in your life and Nathan’s son comes to stay with you every other weekend.
You feel busy, overwhelmed and like you hardly have the time to consider such an audacious question.
This is a question with no simple answers. Yet, by taking the time to read this letter I trust that you will be multiple steps down the road to answering this question between the two of you.
The Second Mountain
Nathan and Samantha, I am so excited to share with you David Brooks’s new book The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life. David shares powerful insights into the very nature and purpose of marriage.
His first chapter on marriage is titled the maximum marriage. In this chapter, he challenges readers to consider what type of marriage they have and what type of marriage will serve them best.
Samantha, I know you grew up in a family where your father worked long hard hours as a corporate attorney and was seldom home. Your mother often complained bitterly about your father’s long hours. Eventually, your father had an affair with another attorney in the office that led to a bitter divorce. You now share similar concerns that Nathan will do the same things your father did.
Nathan, you have shared how your mother was often distant and unavailable to you. You’ve shared that your father struggled in his job at the local plant and lost his job multiple times. You have shared how you took responsibility for your siblings during your childhood and this left you feeling lonely and uncared for.
The Challenges To A Maximum Marriage
In his book, David shares that there are three challenges to the “maximal marriage”.
First is the reality that divorce is common. As an outcome of this, people adopt a safety-first attitude towards marriage. I have seen this to be true in my counseling practice many times over. I imagine this is true for you Nathan and Samantha as divorce has been part of your experience.
The second is the safe marriage where the marriage partnership becomes a friendship and companionship focused on kids and work, losing touch with connection and passion.
The third has to do with our individualist culture that prizes the self above all else. Leading couples to miss out on the gifts of how he defines the Maximal Marriage, which is “the maximum definition of marriage is to be flesh of my flesh.” This is when a couple forms and maintains attachment, vulnerability, and interdependence, which flies in the face of the cultural dictums of individualism.
I have loved learning how important attachment is through the psychology of attachment theory.
I dive deep into attachment to help couples just like you in my book The Healthy Love and Money Way: How The Four Attachment Styles Impact Your Financial Well-Being.
The Healthy Love and Money Way
Nathan and Samantha, I imagine by now you are starting to feel a bit uneasy. It takes a lot of courage to stop and reflect on what is happening in your marriage. Yet it is necessary to move towards a maximum marriage, as David calls it, or a secure marriage, as I would say.
I know we have been working together for the last six months week in and week out, slowly unpacking each of your family stories. There have been times of hurt, resentment, and renewed and deepened connection. It is not a linear path forward to the marriage of your dreams, but you are on the path.
We have been exploring your attachment styles all the way along.
Nathan, for you the avoidant attachment patterns leave you working long hours and pulling away from Samantha.
Samantha the anxious attachment patterns lead you to ruminate and worry constantly whether Nathan loves you, even when he does show you how much he loves you.
As we work together and I ask you questions about your experiences with each other and I encourage you to look into each other's eyes I can see you moving closer to each other. Your bodies relaxing the tension and slowly but surely opening up to each other.
Securing Your Financial Future Together
Building a marriage centered on secure attachment is the foundation you need to address your financial life together. Being in a secure marriage where you feel deeply and safely interconnected with each other will make you able to address each other's financial anxieties and insecurities.
Nathan, I know you have been saving for years in your company's 401(k). You feel a great sense of pride in being able to create wealth for your family. I know that finances were so tight for your family growing up. Having created this financial security for your family is so important to you. At the same time, there is a layer of resentment as Samantha questions your fidelity to the family when you are putting in long hours at work. This leaves you questioning if it is all worth it.
Samantha, you watched your parents' marriage end bitterly. You saw your father go on to create a second family in which your half-siblings lived affluently while you and your siblings struggled. Your mother took on three jobs to survive and support you and your siblings.
Nathan and Samantha you are slowly starting to open up to see how each of your experiences in your families with love and money has shaped your own attitudes, beliefs, and emotional reactions to money and each other.
This is not a one-step process or magic cure-all. Yet, I have seen time and again as I work with couples that the more that they can open to their own story, its complexities, contradictions, and pain, the more compassion, and empathy each person can feel towards each other and themselves through time.
This process, in time, will help Samantha to trust Nathan’s intention to create financial security for the family in a way his father never was able to.
This process will help Nathan understand that your wife is not just being irrational and emotional, but rather that her reactions make sense and are logical in the context of her story. This will help you bond with her and feel more secure in her relationship with you.
The Ultimate Goal
David Brooks reminds me at the end of his chapter on the maximum marriage, that marriage follows the similar path laid out by mythology scholar Joseph Campbell of a hero’s journey in which marriage is a “heroic quest in which the ego is sacrificed for the sake of a relationship.” We can sacrifice our ego when we know we will be taken care of and not taken advantage of.
Nathan and Samantha, you inspire me in your commitment to breaking the patterns of the past from your families and finding a new way forward.
Each session we work together is not always easy, but it is worth it. I look forward to watching your marriage continue to grow, mature, and flourish.
What’s Your Next Step?
If any part of what you read about Nathan and Samantha’s story resonates for you, I invite you to check out my new course A Couples Guide To Financial Intimacy that is launching in January.
I am taking all that I do and offer in my therapy office and extending it to your living room.
You too can take the hero’s journey to the marriage of your dreams.
No, it will not always be easy, no you won’t feel like you have the time to do it, and yet it will be worth it.
Countless couples have thanked me for helping them find their way forward to a renewed and deepened love and money relationship.
I leave you with this quote from David Brooks: “Passion peaks among the young, but marriage is the thing that peaks in old age.”
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