More Than Money
Issue #40
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Money and Relationships

Table of Contents

“Harmonizing Differences: When One Partner Has More than the Other”

Interviewed by Molly Stranahan

Molly: How have you been able to successfully work out money issues in your relationship?

Diane: 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 feeling unappreciated.

Joe: 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.

Diane: 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.

Another 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.

Molly: How does Diane's money benefit your relationship?

Diane: 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.

Joe: A lot 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.

Molly: What about challenges?

Joe: 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 afford.

Another 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 live with.

Molly: What advice would you give others?

Joe: 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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