Couples Counseling: You and Your Money

Sometimes in my financial counseling practice I feel like a couple's counselor, rehabilitating the relationship between people and their money. (This is, of course, notwithstanding the many actual couples that I treat around money issues. That's a whole other can of worms.)

Sessions can go something like this:

Client: "Make my money stop disappointing me!"

Money: "Make her pay attention to me!"

Client: "Every time I try to spend time with my money, it's never enough. My money is all complicated and needy and it doesn't give back to me. It doesn't take care of my needs. It's all, 'Hey, why don't you keep better records? Didn't you notice that this bill was late and you got slapped with a fee?' I work all day long, and when I get home I just want my money to be waiting for me with orderly accounts and a fat balance! Is that too much to ask?"

Money: "You are acting like a crazy person. No, I cannot organize myself. I can't do anything you don't instruct me to do. I am an inanimate object. Quit projecting your relationship with your mother all over me and just hang out with me once a week! I'm not trying to stress you out. I'm just trying to get your attention because there are things that need to get done!"

What I basically do is what any couples counselor would do: try to bring down the emotional intensity and facilitate communication such that both parties can actually hear each other (okay, really it's only one party that needs to do the hearing).

What clients need to "hear" is their own anxiety. Anxiety has a vital function, and that is to bring our attention to something that needs to be addressed. It's designed to be uncomfortable so that we're motivated to remove its cause.

When we yearn for money to take care of us with no responsibility or action on our part, we're enacting an infantile fantasy. In essence, we put money in the role of a parent whose job is to provide unconditional care and support. For many people who struggle with this financial issue the root cause is a parent who did not do that job sufficiently.

The financial counseling process can help clarify and resolve where money gets tangled up with personal struggles such as this. The "dialogue" above seems silly from the perspective of adulthood, and sometimes just pointing out the dynamic can be enough to help people recognize the impossible expectations they have for their financial life, and to begin to build a solid and mature relationship with money.

Amanda Clayman