Whether we were brought up to avoid the topic of money in social situations or had parents who talked openly about their finances with anyone who would listen, I think it’s fair to say that most of us have been exposed to the stress that finances can have on our lives. According to the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts, financial stress is listed in the top three reasons why couples choose to divorce. Many of my friends have confided in me about the sleepless nights that they spend worrying about money and all of the things they need but cannot afford. While their concerns are certainly valid, there are a few tips I’d like to share that we can all use to help alleviate some of the pressure that financial stress can have on a relationship.
Get straight to the point.
Don’t be afraid to talk to your partner about your finances. I recently met a newly married woman who had no idea how much her husband had in his savings account. Feeling out of the loop on their financial situation made her feel afraid and unsure about the future. My advice to her was simple: Ask him; talk about it. For various reasons talking about money is a sort of taboo, even between husband and wife, but the truth is there is absolutely nothing wrong with talking openly and honestly about money in a marriage, and furthermore I think that such conversations should be a priority as relationships evolve. These exchanges should be ongoing because the nature of financial status and need is always changing. The conversation may not be as threatening or frightening as you’d imagined, and you’ll probably learn that you have more in common financially than you might have thought. Connecting on this issue will help bring you closer together on a different level and can give you the reassurance you need about the future.
Set both individual and shared goals.
Setting goals for the future can help you and your partner live more meaningful and productive lives. This includes both individual goals as well as shared ones. For example, a goal that many couples share with me is their desire to buy a house. Talking as a couple about the steps needed to achieve this goal can help make it less daunting and can solidify the fact that you are a team in this effort. Talk about what you’ll each need to do differently in order to be able to afford the house of your dreams. This may include Mom agreeing to start working a few more hours each week to bring in some more income and Dad agreeing to spend more time with the kids on the weekend so they don’t have to pay for a babysitter, as well as both parents agreeing to start packing their lunches instead of purchasing them every day. Each party should be an active participant in goal-setting and in the steps required to get there. Checking in on the progress of the goals is important in order to help support each other as inevitable bumps in the road arise and to help keep each other on track. It’s also okay to modify your goals as you move forward if either or both of you decide that a change is needed.
Find affordable ways to enjoy your life.
All the money in the world won’t mean anything if you can never enjoy it. No matter what your financial situation, try to find a few nice ways to enjoy your time. Whether it be taking advantage of free-admission days at the museum or splurging on a date night every now and then, be sure to make your happiness and time as a couple or family a priority. This can look different for everyone and what you choose to do is not important, as long as it is something that makes you feel good.
Don’t compare yourself to other people.
Last but certainly not least, don’t compare yourself to other people. The most important thing is the health of your relationship and your ability to achieve your individual and shared goals. As long as you can both feel satisfied in those areas, there is no reason to compare yourself to your neighbors or friends. Sure, it can be tough to watch a friend spoil their kids while you’re forced to say no when yours ask you for the same toys. Feel good about the fact that you’re working towards a goal and that you have your partner’s support in that effort. Reminding yourself that everyone’s goals and dreams are different, and that you are working towards yours should help you avoid comparing yourself to others, even though it can be hard at times not to.
Like most other sources of stress in a relationship, anxieties related to finances must be addressed with communication. You will notice that all four of my tips touch on this key element. Every relationship is unique, but utilizing these tools can help lower the anxiety level and keep you both feeling positive about your relationship. Knowing that you have each other and that you will address financial goals together can only enhance and deepen your relationship and strengthen your partnership.
By Kira Batist-Wigod, LCSW, MPS-H
Kira Batist-Wigod is a social worker with a wide range of experience and training in cognitive behavioral therapy, trauma work and stress management. Kira specializes in treating people with chronic illnesses, depression and anxiety. She sees clients in her private practice on the Upper West Side and in New Jersey, where she also holds workshops on various topics. Kira also works at a medical center in the Bronx. Contact Kira by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling 917-765-4743. You can also visit her website at www.batistpsychotherapy.com.