How Does a Marriage Counselor Help Couples Navigate Financial Stress?


    How Does a Marriage Counselor Help Couples Navigate Financial Stress?

    Financial stress can strain a couple's relationship, but with the right guidance, it's a challenge that can be overcome. A Certified Financial Therapist begins our exploration by emphasizing the importance of open communication, while we also present additional answers that offer a broader perspective on the topic. From establishing financial unity through team budgeting to the equitable division of financial responsibilities, here's how experts and additional voices guide couples in managing monetary pressures.

    • Navigating Financial Stress with Open Communication
    • Finding a Balance in Giving and Spending
    • Understanding Each Other's Money Personalities
    • Budgeting as a Team for Financial Unity
    • Fostering Transparency in Financial Discussions
    • Setting Common Financial Goals Together
    • Implementing Tools for Joint Financial Management
    • Equitable Division of Financial Responsibilities

    Navigating Financial Stress with Open Communication

    The topic of marriage and financial stress tends to go together, as we all come from different backgrounds, sometimes religions, and personal experiences around money. Yet, it was one of the topics growing up we were told not to talk about to others, including family members and potential partners.

    You fall in love, get married, and now finances are coming up more often as you may be looking to buy a new car or home together, or expand your family. Without understanding each other's backgrounds, religions, and experiences with money, oftentimes the partner doesn't understand why you are spending, saving, and investing in certain places, which can lead to conflict.

    An example of a client I had was first-generation Americans; one was an attorney and the other an artist, married for 15 years with three kids and three aging parents. The stress of 'not having enough' and demands from both their parents and kids were mounting, adding pressure to their marriage.

    Over the course of four sessions, we openly reviewed past financial patterns and trauma, created financial boundaries for themselves, their kids, and parents, along with practicing the skill of how to have productive financial conversations together where both parties are seen and heard.

    A few key takeaways:

    Always keep talking. Shutting down does not solve the problem.

    Stick to one topic/problem at a time (tip: write it down on a sticky note in front of you to stay focused).

    Ask, 'Why is this important to you?' (and listen).

    Create a password for when the conversation gets too heated, and you need to take a break (like 'palm tree' or something silly like 'Smurf').

    Financial conversations are not a one-and-done event; life is consistently changing. Schedule recurring meetings on your calendar to check in.

    *Please let me know if you would like any additional information or stories. I am currently working with a potential second marriage, both with different experiences with partners and finances - one felt stressed all the time and alone doing it, and the other jointly paid bills and had a safety net. Moving in together, they want to understand each other better to build a future together because right now they don't see eye to eye on finances, spending, saving, and investing.*

    Erika Wasserman
    Erika WassermanCertified Financial Therapist, Your Financial Therapist

    Finding a Balance in Giving and Spending

    Financial stress in couples is often the result of a type of disconnect. Either the couple is disconnected from how much they spend, earn, save, or from each other's goals. In one couple, I'll use the pseudonyms Shawn and Robin; they were disconnected from each other regarding their definition of 'giving.' Shawn believed that giving meant helping those in his family, whether they were second cousins or siblings. Anytime someone needed help with groceries, gas money, or a place to stay, Shawn answered, 'Yes, of course,' regardless of how Robin felt or whether they discussed if they could afford it. Robin, on the other hand, believed that 'giving' meant donating to a charity or non-profit. To help them navigate through their differences, we were able to find a happy medium. Rather than saying 'yes' every time a family member asked Shawn and Robin for help or only donating to 501(c)(3)s, the couple agreed to set aside $150 each month for giving. If someone in their family needed help, they would give up to that amount. If the family didn't need help, they donated to an agreed-upon charity. It took a bit of strengthening Shawn's boundaries to say, 'I'm sorry, I can't help you out this time.' Eventually, he got to a place where he felt good about giving, and the tension between him and Robin decreased significantly.

    Lindsay Bryan-Podvin
    Lindsay Bryan-PodvinFinancial Therapist, LMSW, Mind Money Balance

    Understanding Each Other's Money Personalities

    Often, couples experience stress in their marriage due to disagreements about money. Our practice helps them understand that everyone has a unique money personality that affects the way they view, earn, save, and spend money. I recently had a couple fighting about purchasing a first home. One said they couldn't afford it; the other insisted on needing it. In our session, we discovered that to the 'need it' spouse, a house meant a two-bedroom ranch, while to the other, it meant a five-bedroom McMansion. Big difference in affordability.

    Simi Mandelbaum Cft-I, Afc, Fbs
    Simi Mandelbaum Cft-I, Afc, FbsCEO and Founder, PROSPR Financial Wellness LLC

    Budgeting as a Team for Financial Unity

    A marriage counselor can be instrumental in guiding couples to work together when crafting their budget. They reinforce the importance of handling finances as a team, which helps partners see the value in each other's input and strengthens their financial unity. In sessions, the counselor may present the task of budgeting as an opportunity for the couple to learn more about shared priorities and reconcile differences in spending habits.

    By emphasizing collaboration, the counselor ensures that both parties are involved in the decision-making process, fostering the idea that they are co-authors of their financial story. Couples are encouraged to start using their newfound budgeting skills together to plan a more secure and harmonious financial future.

    Fostering Transparency in Financial Discussions

    Marriage counseling provides a safe platform for couples to discuss money matters openly and without fear of being judged. A counselor urges partners to convey their financial concerns and aspirations candidly, paving the way for transparency. This kind of dialogue demystifies personal finances and can dispel any underlying tensions that may exist.

    The aim is to create a space where both individuals feel comfortable expressing their viewpoints, leading to a deeper understanding and respect for one another's perspectives on money. Partners are prompted to put this approach into practice and begin a judgement-free financial conversation at home.

    Setting Common Financial Goals Together

    In the journey to financial stability, a marriage counselor helps couples set common economic targets. Recognizing that money can be a source of conflict, the counselor encourages the couple to identify and agree on financial objectives that are significant to both parties. This process includes understanding the needs and dreams each person has and finding a middle ground.

    When a mutual goal is established, it often yields a more concerted effort towards achieving it, thereby strengthening the partnership. Couples are urged to take time to jointly reflect on their financial future and set at least one shared financial goal as their next step.

    Implementing Tools for Joint Financial Management

    To navigate money matters as a couple, the introduction of practical tools and resources by a marriage counselor can be invaluable. Involving applications and mechanisms for tracking expenses and investments, the counselor denotes how such tools can facilitate the handling of joint finances in a logical, straightforward manner. This aids in transforming what can be a source of stress into a more manageable aspect of the relationship.

    It also helps to maintain a clear and organized view of their financial landscape. Couples can benefit from exploring and implementing a financial management tool to see its positive impact on their money management habits.

    Equitable Division of Financial Responsibilities

    When it comes to dividing financial duties in a fair and balanced way, a marriage counselor serves as a mediator. The counselor helps each partner to articulate their preferences and capabilities regarding money management, helping them assign responsibilities in a more equitable fashion. This division of labor, consented by both parties, ensures that no one feels overburdened, and both feel equally invested in their fiscal well-being.

    An equitable division fosters a sense of teamwork and can significantly reduce stress associated with financial management in the marriage. Couples are invited to discuss and allocate financial tasks with fairness and understanding to create a smoother functioning household.