by Molly Stranahan
How have you been able to successfully work out money issues
in your relationship?
The key to handling money challenges in our marriage is
our commitment to working out conflicts and power struggles
in our relationship. We've found that money in itself is
not usually the problem. Rather, money often acts as an
amplifier of underlying issues, like wanting control or
Both of us have been married before, and we've learned from
our previous marriages. We have also deliberately looked
at other couples' relationships to see what doesn't seem
to work and what seems to cause struggles. We have noticed,
in particular, the destructive nature of feelings of entitlement
and the need to control. These attitudes are breeding grounds
for fear and resentment. I don't feel a sense of entitlement
to Diane's money, so it is easy for me to leave the decision-making
power for her money with her.
Since Joe feels appreciative of my money, rather than entitled
to it, I usually feel relaxed and generous. We acknowledge
that, ultimately, I have veto power when it comes to spending
from my trust, but we set goals and make decisions together.
Even though the money comes through my side of the family,
I wouldn't consider buying a big item or making a major
financial decision without consulting Joe.
important lesson I've learned is to take responsibility
for my finances. In the past, I wasn't much interested in
managing my money and dealing with financial decisions.
Since my ex-husband was interested, I willingly abdicated
the decision-making to him. Now, I feel empowered by actively
taking an interest in financial matters and educating myself-out
of respect for the gift of inheritance I have received.
How does Diane's money benefit your relationship?
We can do what we love without financial pressures. We have
freedom to travel and time flexibility. This flexibility
allows us to be more available to help others and to support
the causes that are important to us. It also gives us a
certain level of security.
of security. I experience financial security
differently than Diane does. She never had the experience
I had as a self-employed contractor waking up at 4:00 a.m.
and worrying about how I would pay the mortgage, insurance,
and grocery bills. A person who comes from less has a whole
different experience than a person who hasn't had to worry
about money in the same way. It has been important for us
to respect the differences in perspective that come from
our different experiences.
What about challenges?
One situation that can be uncomfortable is gift-giving to
my family. We often struggle with knowing what is an appropriate
gift. Our concern is that we don't want to diminish my family's
gifts by being too lavish with ours, and we don't want to
appear stingy by more closely matching the type of gifts
they are able to give. What often works for us is when I
am able to create a gift for a family member in my woodshop.
Spending time to make a gift is a luxury that I can now
ramification of the choices I've made because of Diane's
financial situation is that if our relationship were to
dissolve, I would be further behind in my career. If I had
stayed active as a builder I couldn't have taken time off
to do the things we have done together, but that choice
has put me in a more vulnerable position should our relationship
end. Regardless of any financial settlement we might arrange,
the years lost in terms of building a career-for example,
in developing contacts, reputation, and following -are simply
not replaceable. That is just a reality I have chosen to
What advice would you give others?
When a conflict about money comes up, deal with the underlying
relationship issue. Money may just be a symptom. Look at
what is making you feel afraid or powerless or unappreciated.
If you don't get to the real issue, it will keep coming
up. Get outside help when needed, and acquire the skills
that can help you to work through issues successfully. I
think that when your relationship is strong, you can focus
on appreciating the benefits that come from having abundant
financial resources, and you can more easily handle challenges.
This couple has been married for six years.
Joe is a general contractor and a furniture builder. Diane
is a third-generation heir of her
fortune, a mother of three adult children, and works on
projects with Joe as an interior designer and space planner.
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