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Could Money Therapy Help Your Marriage?

Here's how to see eye to eye with your partner.

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Conceptual image of $20 bill on therapy chair
Gregory Reid/Gallery Stock
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Whether you’ve been married a long time or are at the beginning of a new relationship, few issues lead to more fights than money. Enter money therapy. Combine the empathy of a marriage counselor with the money savvy of a financial planner — and voilà — you and your spouse may create a stronger relationship, where you both see eye to eye when it comes to money.

What is couples money therapy?

Money therapy involves a lot of honest conversations. “Money fights and problems are the number one cause of divorce in America,” says Seth Connell, a financial coach in Virginia Beach, Virginia, who provides financial couples counseling. “A significant part of the problem is that couples often can’t communicate about what they want and what they’re struggling with. Working with a financial counselor or financial coach can help them get on the same page and remove the stress from dealing with their finances.”

When you interact with a financial coach, Connell explains, you’ll be working through problems, only the problems exclusively have to do with money.

A money therapist can come in various forms: psychotherapists or licensed mental health counselors who delve into money concerns, or financial advisers or experts who explore personal issues with money.

What happens on the financial couch

Among Connell’s clients was a high-income couple stuck in a cycle of getting into debt, paying it off, then going back into debt repeatedly. “They likely spent about $1 million over 10 years. But they had little to show for it.”

While working with them, Connell asked many questions about what each wanted. The wife was looking for predictability and security; the husband needed to be more in tune with her needs. “Some of the questions I asked included, ‘What do you want your financial life to look like?’ ‘What do you believe you've done over the past 10 years to contribute to the current situation?’ ‘Can you continue making the same decisions you’ve been making and have the kind of life you want?’”

Megan Ford, a financial therapist, relationship therapist and adviser for the financial-wellness app Stackin, says that recognizing your partner’s (and your own) financial habits or beliefs is deeply rooted in how you were raised and your past financial experiences, both good and bad.

“Few things get us more tongue-tied than talking money with our partners, but there are some things couples can do to navigate money issues more successfully.”

Who should give money therapy a try?

Although every case is different, there are some commonalities all couples face regarding money. One is not speaking the same financial language. Without being on the same financial page, couples aren’t likely to be able to communicate effectively, even if they do well when talking about other topics. Since finances are emotionally loaded, addressing them with a professional can create an environment in which both partners can talk things through with a mediator.

You may be ready to give it a go if you have money fights, disagree on saving and spending strategies, have wildly different money habits and beliefs, have dealt with financial infidelity (one partner lying about finances) or want to be proactive and take control of your money together.

An excellent financial counselor or coach has a genuine desire to help a couple succeed with their money.

What can you learn in money therapy?

Connell says once these clients decided to be honest with themselves and each other, admitting they had both contributed to their situation and wanted to change it, they began working together instead of against one another.

“Money is like a stage on which we act out our fears, traumas, hopes and dreams,” Ford points out. So, there’s always a reason for that strange or annoying thing your partner does with the money. “If you look beyond the surface and focus on why they might believe X about money or behave a certain way, this opens us up to more understanding, empathy and ultimately deeper financial intimacy.”

Connell recalls that the high-income couple defined what they wanted to accomplish from their work in financial counseling:

· Permanent debt freedom

· A fully funded emergency fund

· Aggressively investing for retirement

· Paying off their house early

· Leaving a legacy to their children

“Once we defined their vision and got them to take ownership of it, things began to change. They became more disciplined in their spending. Their beliefs about money shifted from stress to peace. Conversations about money led to connection instead of isolation and stress,” Connell says.

Advice from money therapists

“When it comes to money, I recommend that couples talk early and often,” Ford notes. She says it can be tough to break the ice and strike up money conversations with an intimate partner, but the sooner you begin, the more chances you’ll have to learn, and to course correct.

When approaching a money conversation, there’s no need to be super serious. Try asking about your spouse's favorite purchase during the past week and why it was meaningful or brought them happiness. “Money comes up in lots of moments and conversations, so just use those natural times as an opportunity to open things up,” she adds.

Set aside “money time” each week or each month. Be intentional and put it on the calendar. Some couples enjoy “money dates” or pairing money talk with something more enjoyable, like a nice bottle of wine or a relaxing walk.

During money therapy, conversations shift from dealing with the past to planning for the future. Instead of serving as damage control, talking enhances healing and helps build something new. “This process saves marriages and leads to generational impact,” Connell says.

Do you and your partner ever fight about money? What's your most common money fight? Let us know in the comments below.

Follow Article Topics: Money