Finances, Feelings, & Relationships

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The holidays are over, the euphoria of gift-giving has waned, and the arguments over money matters have begun. Arguments over finances occur most often because of the feelings associated with finances. In order to successfully manage interpersonal finances, a couple needs to thoughtfully consider three essential components: finances, feelings, and relationships.
Financial considerations begin with how much income each partner is expected to contribute along with how much each partner is expected to spend. While the dollar amounts may be agreed upon, and even look reasonable on paper, a mutually satisfying financial management plan must also include the feelings associated with those dollar amounts.
We seldom spend money just to obtain things. Rather, we spend in order to experience the feelings that are associated with those things. Most money is exchanged in an attempt to experience feelings like happiness, love, security, power, pride, and so on. Feelings are the emotional overtones associated with what something represents. For instance, the dollar amount you owe to a friend may be the smallest of your debts, but the feelings associated with that particular debt may far outweigh the practicality of paying off the larger, higher-interest loans before paying off your friend. Conversely, the actual cost of a single rose may not be all that great, but what the rose represents and the feelings associated with it can be priceless.
As a consequence, when dealing with interpersonal finances, it is far more critical to ask how your partner feels about a purchase than how much something costs. The question “How would you feel if I were to spend on whatever” places the top priority on your partner’s feelings whereas asking “How much will it cost” or “Can we afford it?” places the emphasis on the object. When the partner’s feelings are not considered, the true cost of an item may go far beyond the purchase price. Whenever a purchase creates emotional distance or feelings of resentment, you may find it difficult, if not impossible, to derive any lasting happiness from having made the purchase.
As an equal partner in a relationship, you have the right to expect your feelings to be considered when financial decisions are made. The final decision may not always be the one you hoped for, but if you believe that your feelings were truly taken into consideration, then the outcome of the decision is more supportable and the relationship more easily preserved.
Financial decisions can often reflect the degree of commitment each partner has toward the other, the degree of understanding each has with regard to the other’s needs, the amount of cooperation one is willing to put forth to satisfy those needs, and the relative importance, or priority, that the welfare of the other person has in your life.
To many, the interdependency between finances, feelings and relationships is self-evident – confirmed in countless incidents of caring, thoughtfulness, giving and taking, along with some misunderstandings and hurt feelings. It can show up in something as simple as buying Christmas gifts. “How come we only spent $23 on my mother’s gift and over $120 on your mother’s gift?” Or perhaps when paying bills, “Didn’t we agree to use the credit cards only for emergencies? So what’s this Visa charge for an $89 electric drill?” Whether through the purchase of a gift, or some tempting item in a store, what the purchase represents can create emotional distance within the relationship – making the “price” of the item too high.
When it comes to finances, feelings and relationships, nothing (no-thing) is ever worth the relationship. Consideration of the feelings and welfare of those you care for must take precedence over any momentary urge for self-gratification. We do not love things, we value things; love is the value we place on people.
One definition of a prenuptial agreement is, “A contract between two people who love things more than they love each other.” This is not to say that no thought should be given to financial considerations before marriage, nor that prenuptial agreements are never warranted, but hopefully these considerations are motivated from a more practical, financial-management standpoint than from a lack of trust.
The word trust, which comes from the Scandinavian language, means “the ability to be comfortable while being vulnerable,” and it is an essential element in any successful interpersonal relationship.
When there is a lack of trust between the partners, they may decide it is a lot safer to become emotionally involved with things rather than with each other. However, allowing things to become a higher priority than a loved one is one of the quickest ways to destroy a marriage, or any relationship. In the beginning of a relationship, merely being in each other’s presence seems to be enough – listening to each other’s voices, looking into each other’s eyes, or walking together for hours. Unfortunately, as time passes, being together may no longer be enough, and complaints and accusations begin to creep into the conversations: “I can’t live like this anymore. I’m tired of doing without the things I want. We always seem to have enough money for the things you want, but never for the things that I want.” With enough complaining, a spouse may eventually obtain the things that are wanted, but far too often they are acquired at the cost of the relationship.
As an example of placing a higher priority on things rather than on each other, a few years ago a young couple decided to seek some marriage counseling. They had been married for three years, but complained of feeling distant to each other. “We can be in the same room but we never feel like we’re together,” the wife lamented. Her husband added, “It feels more like we’re roommates than husband and wife.”
During the course of the counseling, the couple revealed that even after three years of marriage, the wife still had her car in her name, and the husband still had his savings account in his name. When I asked why they had handled their resources this way, the wife answered, “I wasn’t sure the marriage would last, and if it didn’t, I didn’t want to risk losing my car.” The husband explained how his first wife had cleaned out their bank accounts before telling him that she had filed for a divorce. Then he shrugged his shoulders and said, “If things didn’t work out in this marriage, I didn’t want the same thing to happen again.”
“If you can’t trust each other with your car or money,” the counselor asked, “How can you possibly trust each other with your hearts?”
In their obsessive attempts to safeguard their possessions, this couple had sacrificed their relationship.
In our attempts to play it safe, far too often we end up living our lives by default – merely reacting to whatever comes our way in life, which leads to statements such as, “The car broke down just out of town fifteen years ago and we’ve been here ever since.” In contrast, a life led by design is one in which the consequences of our actions reflect thoughtful planning, and the confidence to deal with what does happen rather than what might happen. A life by design displays what is truly valued.
Our values are reflected in how well we are able to distinguish between what is replaceable and that which is irreplaceable. For many, it has become more and more difficult to make this distinction, creating a tendency to devote more resources toward obtaining things that are replaceable rather than toward preserving that which is irreplaceable.
Replaceable things are usually seen as having a utilitarian value only. They are prized only as long as they serve some purpose; once that purpose is achieved, they are discarded. Ford fenders, screen doors, most jobs, and money are replaceable.
Something that is one of a kind or has deep personal value is usually considered irreplaceable. Great pieces of art are irreplaceable. Most toys are replaceable; favorite blankets, dolls or teddy bears are irreplaceable. Most jewelry is replaceable, but great-grandmother’s wedding locket is irreplaceable. Things built by others are likely to be replaceable, while that which is built, or created, by one’s own hands, or the hands of a loved one, can often become irreplaceable. People are irreplaceable. Each individual is unique and therefore irreplaceable. Caring relationships that have evolved over time are irreplaceable.
Irreplaceables – whether things or relationships – represent something you value, something that helps justify your hard work and sacrifice, something that provides you with feelings of gratification, a sense of purpose, and a meaning to life. So it doesn’t make much sense to argue over the price of replaceables; they are things that may have cost a lot, but have little true value, when you consider the priceless feelings that can come from a caring, loving relationship.

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About Author

Although Bernard “Bud” Poduska was declared “functionally illiterate” in high school, he managed to go on to earn a BS and a MS in psychology and a PhD in marriage and family therapy. He taught at colleges and universities for over thirty-five years, twenty-one of which were spent at Brigham Young University. He has also written a textbook on personality adjustment, a self-help book on managing stress, and two books on finances and relationships. His most recent book Hitchhikers is a true story that shares of his incredible and amazing personal journey from a homeless and hopeless childhood to a life of conversion and faith.

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