More Than Money
Issue #5

Money and Couples

Table of Contents

“Through the Years - One Couple's Journey”

A couple's relationship to money often changes over time. To illustrate, we offer a bit of our own saga:

Layla: When I first became involved with James, I felt passionately about earning my own living and wanted nothing to do with his inherited money. But as our relationship grew more committed over the next few years, I realized I was kidding myself. Did I really plan to scrimp to save a few thousand dollars a year, when hundreds of thousands were in my partner's account?! No, that felt absurd.

James: Meanwhile, I felt uncomfortable spending this money on myself and confused about how to respond to friends' and coworkers' frequent requests for loans. Although I had formed an inherited wealth support group and was receiving some useful help from it, I still longed to share financial decisions with someone who had more stake in the outcomes--namely Layla.

So I launched a gradual campaign to bring her into partnership with the money: "Let's just pretend we're making this funding decision together, OK?" "Would you help me think about which stereo system makes sense to buy?" "Could I think with you about this loan request?"

I saw she felt upset trying to understand financial terms and figures. It seemed to me that she was avoiding money management because she felt stupid and embarrassed. I reassured her that it wasn't her fault she didn't know financial language, and that I was confident it could become easy for her.

Each time a portfolio statement came in the mail we looked at it together. I asked her first to say what she did understand, and applauded her progress. Then I had her ask me one or two questions, which we talked about until she was clear. I kept the "lessons" short. When she looked obviously confused and upset, I encouraged her to express her feelings for a few minutes before continuing.

Layla: I had absorbed from my parents the attitude "freedom means never having to think about money" so I never kept track of my spending, never balanced a checkbook. As James supported me in learning about finances, sometimes I needed to cry during or after, or say loudly, "This is stupid! I hate money! I hate thinking about money!"

To my surprise, as I became more comfortable with the figures and financial concepts, I actually enjoyed thinking about money. Gradually, I discovered that knowing exactly where my money went felt not restrictive, but powerful.

James: I wooed Layla to come with me to conferences for people with inherited wealth. It helped for her to hear (from others besides me) about the challenges of inheritance and to meet other partners of inheritors who shared some of her feelings weren't so unusual. I told her abundantly how much her presence meant to me, and encouraged her to skip out on sessions to go for walks, read, write in her journal, etc.

Layla: By the time our tenth anniversary rolled around, James and I decided together to put half his assets in my name. We did this not only to protect me in case we ever separated, but also to acknowledge the internal changes we each had gone through over the course of a decade: it was indeed now "our" money. Even though the assets are legally separate and we keep individual checking accounts, we treat both our income and assets as one pot of money we both control. We discuss together all investments and most expenses over $100--not to "ask permission," but to have the benefit of the other's good thinking. To me this arrangement combines the best of both autonomy and interdependence.

James: I felt a little anxious putting the assets in her name, a sense of loss that "I" wasn't as wealthy as before. But by then I knew our spending habits were quite compatible (despite small areas of conflict), and that she was as committed as I to the life we were building together. Overall, I have been thrilled to have a thoughtful partner in this area of my life; the time spent helping Layla with money has been one of my best investments. Of course, as I influenced her, she also influenced me: I am now much more relaxed about spending, more open to helping out our friends financially, and especially more compassionate towards my own areas of ignorance and embarrassment. .

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