Money Talk For Couples Part 2: The Conversation

A model, that brings both safety and respect for both partners in communicating about money, is the Couple’s Dialogue from Imago Relationship Therapy (see Blog entitled Couples’ Difficulties in Communication).

You are not solving problems about finances at this point. The purpose is for both of you to listen to each other without judgment or blame. The most important thing is having empathy for your partner (putting yourself in your partner’s place). Later on, once both are heard and understood, solutions can be proposed.

Some topics to talk about:

  1. When I think about money, what comes up for me is . . .
  2. My greatest concern about money is . . .
  3. The messages I received about money growing up (you can use your     multigenerational family tree from Part 1) are . . . How I think these have affected my view about money personally and in our relationship is . . .
  4. I mainly identify with the ‘money personality type’ (see Part 1) . . . How I think this affects you and our relationship is . . .
  5. What I like about myself in handling money is . . . What I would like to change is . . .
  6. What I admire in the way you, my partner, handles money is . . .
  7. One thing that bothers me about how you handle money is . . . What this says about me is . . . My greatest fear about this is . . .
  8. One thing that I think bothers you about how I handle money is . . . What I say to myself about your fears or concerns around this are . . .

Notice how important it is to stay as the ‘compassionate visitor’ as you give your partner the ‘gift’ of expressing her/himself fully, being listened to even if you disagree. Money is a very delicate, highly charged issue. Please do not think your partner does not ‘love’ you because it is hard to change. This is more about your partner than about you. You are learning about each other’s views and struggles around money.

In my next Blog, I will share with you some practical tips for handling money as a couple. Please let me know what other couple’s issues you would like me to write about.

Ann Klein – Columbia Marriage and Relationship Counseling teaching couples effective communication skills to resolve conflicts, reestablish intimacy, and restore caring and connection in their relationships.

Relationship stories from one tradition

Here are some stories of wisdom I share with my couples. They are universal tales, passed down from one generation to the next, which demonstrate giving each other ‘gifts’ by stretching emotionally.

The Spoon Story
One day a couple went to God (or spiritual leader) and asked God what was the difference between heaven and hell. God brought them up to a room and they saw a couple trying to feed themselves from a big cauldron of soup with large ladles. They were starving because the spoons could not reach their mouths.  God said, “This is hell.” Then God took them up stairs to another room. In this room, they saw another couple with a large cauldron and long ladles; but this time they were feeding each other and were well nourished.

This story deomstrates that when one partner ‘visits’ with the other, listening and keeping the space between them safe is imperitive, so their partner can take a risk and share difficult issues.

The Bird Story
One day a student (could be male or female) was very envious of his teacher because the teacher (could be male or female) was so wise and seemed to know all the answers. So the student devised a plan to fool this teacher and make her look like a fool in front of the other students. He found a bird and covered the bird in his hands.

Then he went to his teacher and asked her if the bird was dead or alive. If the teacher said the bird was alive, the student would crush and kill the bird. If the teacher said the bird was dead, he would open up his hands and let the bird fly away. So, he went to his teacher and said, “Oh wise one, is the bird I hold in my hands dead or alive?” The teacher said, “My child you are holding life in your hands, choose well.”

The following story demonstrates the concept of validating each other’s truths and perceptions instead of finding the ‘truth’.

The Angel Story
One day in heaven the angel of truth and the angel of peace were fighting to come down to earth. God could only pick one. So God threw down the angel of peace. The angel of truth said, “Why did you chose peace over truth?”  God said, “If I sent truth, there would never be any peace.”

This story helps couples understand the concept of ‘healing’.

Healing or Cure
There is a folktale in which the king was given a beautiful diamond. The shine, size and glow were magnificent. As he turned it from side to side, he could not believe how stunning it was until he turned it to the last side where he discovered a huge, deep, ugly scratch right down the middle. The king demanded that the royal jeweler fix the diamond. No matter how hard the jeweler tried; he was not able to fix it. The king then sent his messengers out into the kingdom to gather the best jewelers there were and to promise each a wonderful reward for eliminating the scratch from the diamond. However, none could ‘cure’ the diamond; none could return it to its original state. Finally, a straggly no-name man came into the courtroom claiming to be able to fix the diamond. The king was desperate; and though no one really believed this ruffian, the king gave the man the diamond and made the same promise he had made to all the others. Days later the stranger returned and handed the diamond to the king. As the king turned the diamond, he was again impressed by the beauty of the unblemished sides. Then he slowly turned to the final side and stopped in amazement. Instead of erasing the scratch, the jeweler had carved into the stone a beautiful rose using the scratch as the stem. The rose shone brightly on the diamond. No one had ever seen such a beautiful specimen before or since. That is the difference between being ‘cured’ and being ‘healed.’ All the previous jewelers were trying to ‘cure’ the stone. The stranger ‘healed’ it.

I invite you to share stories and metaphors about relationships from different traditions.

Ann Klein – Columbia Marriage and Relationship Counseling teaching couples effective communication skills to resolve conflicts, reestablish intimacy, and restore caring and connection in their relationships.

Update on Emotional Affairs

In my previous article (located on my website) on Why Men and Women Cheat, marital researcher Dr. Shirley Glass, author of Not Just Friends, wrote there has been a ‘crisis of infidelity’ in the workplace where both men and women work as peers. This can even occur when the coworkers are in good marriages. She further states that “this infidelity is between people who unwittingly form deep, passionate connections before realizing they’ve crossed the line from platonic friendships into romantic love.” This continues to happen. However, this phenomenon is also going on through the Internet; especially on Facebook. What does this mean?

Couples ask, “Well it’s on the Internet, how can it be an affair?” Even the partner on Facebook claims they have no intention of having an affair. They may say, “I’m just curious what happened to an old ‘love,’ especially my first one.” Do you need to worry?  In many cases, yes.

What is an ‘emotional affair?’ It involves secrecy from your spouse about another relationship; deception-being told ‘nothing is going on;’ when it is; and sharing personal, intimate information with another person instead of with your spouse or significant other. According to Peggy Vaughn, author of The Monogamy Myth and website, most people who get involved in an ’emotional affair’ were not looking for one and didn’t intend to have one. According to her research, an‘emotional affair’ between friends and in the workplace can move from emotional connection to a sexual one from six months to a year. Online, the intensity can escalate quickly in less than a week. Why is that?

Dr. Sherry Turkle, author of Life on the Screen: Identity In the Age of the Internet, wrote “It’s what’s withheld that makes these relationships so fantasy-rich and intense.” People are connecting in this fantasy world without really knowing each other. This can become even more intensified when you reconnect with a former love, who may have changed over the years and may not be the same person you met when you were younger. This fantasy can quickly turn to feelings of ‘romantic love,’ whereby each person can experience the ‘chemical high’ of falling in love. In Peggy Vaughn’s research, 79% of people she surveyed who had online affairs claimed they were not seeking an affair and 49% eventually developed into a physical sexual relationship. Dr. Janis Abrahms Spring, the author of After The Affair, wrote that some people compartmentalize the two relationships – they may not want to replace their partner, but may want the ‘extra high.’

So what should you do? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Be aware that many of us can be susceptible to ‘crossing the line’ from friendship to an emotional affair with no intentions of doing so. This is especially true in the workplace where colleagues are working closely.
  2. Be honest with your spouse. For example, if you are having coffee with a colleague every morning (which is not business) or if you bump into an old flame, share that information with your partner.
  3. Dr. Shirley Glass uses images of ‘windows and doors’ as boundaries to safe guard the relationship. Keep the ‘window’ open to your partner, sharing intimate details of your life and keep the ‘door’ closed about your personal life to colleagues or friends, especially those you find attractive.
  4. If you are curious about what happened to your friends from the past, find out together as a couple on Facebook without being secretive or deceptive.
  5. If there are problems in your relationship, find ways to sort them out. If you can’t do this by yourself, you may contact a specialist in couples counseling who can also guide you in bringing more ‘spice and aliveness’ into your sexual life.

Some Website Links for Your Convenience
Shirley Glass
Peggy Vaughn
Sherry Turtle
Janis Abrahms Spring

Ann Klein – Columbia Marriage and Relationship Counseling teaching couples effective communication skills to resolve conflicts, reestablish intimacy, and restore caring and connection in their relationships.

Practical Tips in Choosing A Mate

June is the month when many couples plan their weddings. What about their marriages? It’s hard to know what to expect unless you’ve been through it before. Hopefully, couples with ‘successful marriages’ can bring wisdom from their experiences. I will share with you their thoughts of how to choose the ‘right’ person for marriage.

  1. Beware of the ‘chemical high’ of ‘romantic love.’ Yes, it’s important to be attracted to your partner, but it is not enough for a long-term marriage. You want to find ‘lasting love’ which takes time and hard work (see Blog 5).
  2. You probably already know to find someone with common values and interests. Of course interests can change over the lifetime of the marriage. This can have a positive effect, bringing in new experiences for both of you to share. Yes, before marriage you need to decide how you will handle finances, in-laws, religion, etc.
  3. Pick someone with ‘good character traits.’ Some of the most important ones are being kind (not only to you, but towards others); responsible (follows through on promises, is dependable); respectful (listens to your concerns without putting you down); flexible (willing to compromise); loyal (being there for you, being supportive); and thoughtful (thinking of you and your needs and not always their own).
  4. One of the most overlooked qualities that are so important in living with a person is their temperament. What research has shown, based on the work of Dr. Stella Chase and Dr. Alex Thomas, is that we are born with certain temperaments through our genes or other biological means. What this means is that some of us are easy-going, adapt to new situations without a fuss, and handle frustration with relatively little anxiety. Others of us tend to react to the world negatively and intensely, become easily frustrated, impatient, stubborn, and have difficulty adjusting to new situations. And many of us fall in between. The important thing to remember is that we are born with these temperaments. Yet, they are not set in stone. We can become aware of some of these behaviors that interfere with our relationships and compensate for them. In a relationship, look for someone who is slow to anger and doesn’t carry a grudge and can handle anxious situations with relative calmness (even if they have to do deep breathing or walk around the block to cool down).
  5. Find someone you feel emotionally safe with. This means you can fully be yourself, express your thoughts, feelings, and concerns without being judged or feeling controlled (otherwise, this can lead to an abusive relationship). Make sure you are friends who make each other feel good about who you are individually and as a couple.
  6. Pick someone who puts you first before extended family, work, the Internet, and hobbies. This does not mean giving up your families and there will be times you will be needed to help a sick relative. You want to be connected to your families (especially, if they are supportive) and at the same time establish your own rituals as a couple.
  7. Be cautious of your partner’s use of alcohol as this easily can lead to an addiction and can ruin a relationship.
  8. Certain behaviors of your partner you cannot change, such as, character, personal hygiene, and many habits. So don’t expect to. However, know in ‘good marriages’ you both can help each other reach your ‘full potentials,’ becoming  confident, competent human beings.

Ann Klein – Columbia Marriage and Relationship Counseling teaching couples effective communication skills to resolve conflicts, reestablish intimacy, and restore caring and connection in their relationships.

Couples’ Difficulties in Communicating

Why do so many couples have such difficulty communicating with each other?

Many couples come in both believing ‘You and I are one, and I’m the one.’ Yes, they are in a power struggle and they want me to mediate and tell them who is right. They say, we’re here to learn to communicate. Both are reactive to the other and want the other to change. I plant a new idea for them to consider, “We’re not going for agreement. You are each unique and have different perceptions of the same thing.” Yes, your goal is to understand where your partner is coming from without agreeing. How do we accomplish this?

One successful way for couples to communicate is ‘The Couple’s Dialogue,’ developed by Dr. Harville Hendrix found in his book Getting the Love You Want.

This is a new way of relating to each other – slowing down the process, calming our reactive patterns, and focusing on our partners and how they view the same situation. This is a tall order when we live in this fast paced society and want to solve problems quickly.

  1. First, make an appointment to discuss an issue with your partner when you are both calm.
  2. At the meeting, you may sit across from each other holding hands, looking into each other’s eyes and taking some deep breaths.
  3. Decide who will present an issue and who will visit for the meeting. The visitor will listen without judgment trying to understand where their partner is coming from.
  4. The sender in a low, soft voice will present the issue from their own viewpoint, without blaming their partner or criticizing. For example, the sender may say a complaint: “I get frustrated when you leave the dishes around” (complaint) instead of putting your partner down by saying “You’re a slob,” which is attacking your partner’s character.
  5. When your partner is finished presenting the complaint, the visitor can summarize what they heard and how it makes sense from their partner’s point of view – not their own.
  6. Be sure to schedule another meeting, so the visitor can share how they perceive the situation.

This way of communicating will take much practice and I suggest you start with non-volatile topics first, such as, “What I value about you,” “My frustrations at work.”

The beauty of this is when you can do it, your relationship grows and the ‘relationship space’ is full of warm, loving energy. If you get stuck, you can see an Imago Therapist to take you through the process. One in your area can be found on the Imago Relationship Therapy website (or see my link page for other suggestions).

Ann Klein – Columbia Marriage and Relationship Counseling teaching couples effective communication skills to resolve conflicts, reestablish intimacy, and restore caring and connection in their relationships.