Money & sex are the two things couples argue most about. Most couples don’t want to talk about it because they fight. Budgets are like diets, they don’t work. Learn here how to think about a spending plan. Instead of beating yourselves up for your past attempts at trying to talk about money, try acknowledging where each of you come from in terms of your family histories without judgment.   

Money Harmony In Relationships

Money & sex are the two things couples argue most about. Most couples don’t want to talk about it because they fight. Budgets are like diets, they don’t work. Learn here how to think about a spending plan.

BRIDES magazine updated 2/26/2020 says “Couples have argued about sex and money since forever, the #1 and #2 things couples say they fight about.”  In almost 6 years of podcasting I’ve covered sex several times but never money until today.

My guest today is Lindsay Bryan-Podvin. She is biracial (Filipina-white). She is a social worker-turned-financial therapist, author, and speaker. She was the first financial therapist in Michigan, & she talks about money in a way that won’t make you feel gross. She is the author of The Financial Anxiety Solution. Her website is mindmoneybalance.com & her podcast has the same name Mind Money Balance. Lindsay is a fellow podcaster & I’m so excited to share her knowledge & wisdom about coping with money. Thanks so much for joining me today. 

Rhoda: My first question is; because I was thinking about how couples grow up with very different financial childhoods. One partner may have had parents who never talked about money, while the other partner may have grown up with constant money worries. So how can they reconcile their very different family histories?

Lindsay: Yeah, this is such a great question, because you’re so right that most of us do not come from similar financial backgrounds to our partners. Even if we both let’s say grew up in middle-class incomes or households, or both grew up in upper middle class incomes or households, the reality is our relationship with money is shaped by what happened in our families. What happened in our neighborhoods? 

What happened in any of our religious studies, what happens in our communities? So even if you came from the same socioeconomic background, odds are, you’re going to have a different approach to money based on the way it was talked about in your family. 

And I think this is one of the biggest issues when it comes to talking about money is, is people get into this vicious cycle with money. Most couples are like, I don’t want to talk about it, because if I talk about it, we’ll fight.

If we fight, it’s going to be stressful, then we’ll be angry at each other, so it’s better to just not talk about it. So most people push money to the side and don’t talk about it, until they have to talk about it. And that’s usually a time in the relationship that is already tense. 

Think of times when you have to talk about money, it’s things like accepting a new job or losing a job or maybe needing to move, or maybe getting ready to paying off your student loans or deciding whether or not you’re going to pay for your kids to go to college. 

These are all pretty heated topics, and if you never talk about it, and then you talk about a heated topic, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, where you’re like, Oh, see, we tried to talk about money. It didn’t go well; I guess we’ll never talk about money again.

So I like to say to couples, you know, don’t beat yourselves up for your past attempts at trying to talk about money, acknowledge where each of you came from in terms of your family histories without judgment and that is the hardest part. 

You know, when we’re kids and your parents make a grilled cheese, the exact same way, and then you go over to friend’s house and their parents make a grilled cheese differently, and you’re like, Whoa, what happened? Why did they do it this way? They cut it in squares instead of a diagonal. 

And it’s so disconcerning, it’s kind of that same thing when it comes to family histories, is if you grew up in a household where the family didn’t talk about money, that is going to be soaked into your psyche, as that is the only way to navigate a relationship, is to not talk about money. And if you have another partner, who’s like, my parents told me what they made, and they told us how much interest they had to pay on their mortgage. 

That’s going to be very different. So trying to be nonjudgmental and saying, yes, our family history shaped us, but we are not our parents. We are our own unique unit and we can decide how we want to cultivate a relationship with money.

Rhoda: That’s great. I really liked that idea. I think that makes a lot of sense. I see money personally, as a source of power, which can make it more complicated for couples to manage well. So what is your advice about how to think about power and money?

Lindsay: Yeah, it’s another really good question, because I think this comes from old systemic and societal beliefs, that money equals power. And in partnerships, we don’t want to get into a situation where the person who’s earning more, gets to make more of the decisions, because that immediately takes you from being equal partners into a type of relationship, where one person has rank or has a hierarchy over the other person, and then that shifts that relationship dynamic, instead of partnership into a parent child dynamic, which we don’t want to be in with our romantic partner. 

So I like to think about money in terms of a couple’s collective money, rather than, where you earn 70% of the income, so you get to make 70% of the financial decisions, and I earn 30% of the income, so I get to make 30% of the financial decisions, that just sets it up to be a really unhealthy dynamic versus saying our money collectively is our money. 

Now, the asterisk there, because I know people are going well, what if I’ve been married before? And I was in a relationship where there was financial abuse or financial secrecy, I would say then a nice kind of blend is to say, have three different bank accounts. 

One is your partners. One is yours. And then one is the collective units. And that way you can still have this sense of unity and community, while remaining a little bit of your own autonomy.

Rhoda: Yes, you know, I still get surprised when I would have women my age, in their sixties, seventies, and have no clue what their financial situation is, and whether they’re in danger, because they retired too early or their spouse did, whatever. 

And it’s amazing to me that there is absolutely no information. And when I really encourage them to discuss it, they are very reluctant, because this is the way it’s always been. 

And it fascinates me, because it’s so different than my own experience. Where do you even begin if you… well, that leads right into this. Where do you begin to get your partner on board, to even begin to start talking about that dreaded subject of money?

Lindsay: Yeah. And this is one of my favorite things to talk about, right, is money, but you can’t have a relationship with your partner and money, if you are avoiding it. So I think it certainly depends on the couple, which is such a therapist response, but it depends on the couple, what a good starting point is. I would say let’s start first with the don’ts, which will help you to set the stage for a healthy discussion with money. 

So don’t do it when you’re already in a heated position. If you’re already in an argument, things are getting wrong or they’re starting to kind of go off the rails and then you throw in, well, you overspent last month and you didn’t make as much money, as you told me you would, let’s not do it when we’re already heated. Another time to not do it, is when you’re experiencing any biological needs.

You’re hungry, you’re tired, you’re exhausted, right? Those are some good times to not have the money talk, and another time not to have the money talk, is to do what I call a drive by. 

So don’t, as you grab your keys and walk out the door, say, Hey, hon, by the way, I maxed out our credit card, talk to you later. Right, we don’t want to do those drive-bys, which us to, how do you bring up the money talk? And I like to give the person who you want to bring up the money talk with, a little bit of space to sit with it. 

So let’s say you’re sitting down to dinner. Everything’s good, as you’re getting ready to wrap up dinner, just say, Hey, babe, you know, sometime this weekend, can we take a look at our numbers? I know, you know, since COVID started, our spending has changed a little bit.

And I just want to make sure we’re on the same page, because what that does, is it primes your partner for what you want to talk about. It also sets the stage for a we, and an us discussion, instead of a me versus you. And it gives your partner a second to go. 

Yeah, I definitely want to talk about that or, you know, I’m happy to talk about money, but really right now I’m most focused on retirement. So you want to give them a little bit of space and carve out the time to talk about money. I also think it’s really helpful when you’re having the money talk, to set a little limit on it. 

Oftentimes when people want to talk about money, they want to get everything out, which is great, except that then you have a lot of cleanup to do. So I tell people, try to limit it to 45 minutes to an hour when you’re talking about money, knowing that you can always revisit it. When I’m working with my couples.

I like to say, talk about money weekly at first. And then once you get into a rhythm and things are starting to feel more comfortable, then you can back up to talking about money monthly. But at first, you want to get into that rhythm of just getting comfortable, having those words come out of your mind.

Rhoda: Yes, absolutely. That is great advice. Couples need to sort out their shared financial values, but how can they go about that when they have values collisions? And I’m always saying that the biggest source of conflicts for couples; are values collisions

Lindsay: And I think it’s interesting, because I think it’s more of a behavior or an action collision rather than a values collision. At least anecdotally with my couples, by that Rhoda, what I mean is, let’s say, you’ve got this partnership and one person is really into having a lot of money in checking. That is what feels good to them. 

And the other person really likes to invest heavily and really wants to buy up real estate and have rental properties, on the surface, those are a values collision, but once I get into it with the couple, what I start to elicit is actually they have pretty similar values. 

They just have different ways of executing on them, for the person who likes to have a lot of money in checking. What ends up happening is they’re like, well, that is what makes me feel secure and safe, and I like knowing it’s easily accessible. And for their partner who seemingly on the surface likes to take more risks. 

They say, you know, for me to feel secure and safe, I need to have my money diversified. So I like say, okay, the behaviors might be different, but where can we actually find the values alignment?

Rhoda: Oh, that’s wonderful. Yeah. That’s a great idea. How can couples recognize whether or not their values align with how they spend money or build their savings?

Lindsay: Yeah. So I love doing a little values exercise, where we first take money out of the equation and we go, what’s important to you in these various life domains. What’s important to you when it comes to relationships, to personal growth and development, to family? 

What are some of those big values and what tends to happen, Rhoda? Is a pattern will start to emerge over time and we’ll go, Oh, something that keeps coming up is the importance of joy or sustainability or nurturing. And then we go, okay, how can we make sure that when we are spending, we are spending in alignment with those specific values. 

So if I really value sustainability and community, it behooves me to make sure that I’m spending my money on farmer’s market food, on, you know, take out locally, on buying and shopping from local mom and pop stores, instead of, you know, Jeff Bezos’s, you know, warehouse, right? So that is a great way to go. What are my values in life and how can I align those with money? 

And I think the same thing goes for savings and for investing, if it’s really important for the partnership to travel, because the values there are connectivity and culture and arts and leisure, then bingo. We want to save some money up for travel, so that they can save for that specific set of values, and then they can also spend with those specific set of values.

Rhoda: There was a book, probably back in the early eighties called; die broke, and what… my husband and I read it. And it talked about how they felt, the two most important things were education and experiences. And the reason I bring it up is that, that was probably the first moment we actually talked about values with money. 

And we really liked that idea about education and experiences, but I don’t think we’d ever had a conversation, and by then, we’d already been married 20 years. So I love this idea of thinking about money and talking about money, that it just seems so important to me. 

Lindsay: Yeah, it definitely is. What does financial healthy wellness look like? On your blog? You described three tiers, sufficient, leisurely, and abundant. Could you describe what each of these would look like for my audience?

Lindsay: Absolutely. So I like to think about financial wellness, is not only knowing what’s going on with your money and making sure that you’re saving and investing appropriately, but also feeling good about the way that you are using your money. 

So based off of our last few kind of discussion points about values, we first want to get to that sufficient tier of financial wellness. And to me, having a sufficient relationship with money, looks like being able to afford the bare bones essentials in your life. 

So making sure that we kind of have Maslow’s hierarchy of needs covered, we’ve got clothing, we’ve got food, we’ve got shelter, you know, nowadays transportation and Wi-Fi is also on there as something that you need. 

So what are the things that you need in order to survive? And what number does it take to get there? That is your sufficient number? Leisurely is like, wouldn’t it be nice if I could get a monthly massage, wouldn’t it be nice if I could get takeout more than once a month? 

And from there we go, okay, we take that sufficient number, and then we add on different expenses that are in alignment with our values, that will enhance our wellbeing. So it might be travel. 

It might be education. It might be a massage or a facial, but it’s the ability to meet all your needs. Like you would insufficient and have a little bit of extra leftover to spend on leisurely things. So that’s the second tier. And then that third tier is abundant. This is like, okay, if I could have my monthly massage and something else, what would that be? 

Would that something else be saving up a down payment for a vacation home, maybe abundant two is actually getting rid of your home and retiring to Costa Rica, who knows, but figuring out if you didn’t have the constraints of daily life, what would it look like and how much money would you need in order to support that lifestyle?

So that’s the abundant tier. So often, what I see is people trying to jump from sufficient to abundant, or they’re trying to make their lifestyle fit into a sufficient category based on somebody else’s guidelines. 

So for example, a lot of people say, don’t buy the latte, you know, you’re peeing away money. And it’s like, if for me in that sufficient tier, I need a latte once a week, so that I can safely outdoors visit with my friends. 

That’s worth it to my mental health and wellbeing, and I actually do need that in the sufficient category. So it just gives you a little bit more room to play and there’s less rigidity.

Rhoda: Wonderful. I really liked that idea of leaping from sufficient to abundant. And I think you’re absolutely right. I tease my clients that I’m going to bring the dreaded B word, budget gets more resistance from my clients than discussing their sex life. I am not kidding. 

I loved finding why this may be so on your website and I’m quoting you, many budgets rely on shame restriction and cutting back. Could you share more about that negative context and what to do about it?

Lindsay: Absolutely. So I agree. I think budget sounds restrictive. It sounds limiting, right? I don’t want to do that. So the first thing I do is I reframe the word budget to spending plan with my client. 

Rhoda: Oh, that’s good.

Lindsay: Right. It’s a total subtle shift. But as we know, as psychotherapists, sometimes these subtle shifts help us to make huge changes. So instead of budgeting where you’re calculating every single penny, let’s make a spending plan, which is proactive, which means that you’re engaged in it. Are they the same in the Excel sheet? Sure. 

But do they sound radically different? Yes. And when it comes to budgeting, so many personal finance experts, they put their values on how you should be spending your money. You shouldn’t have debt; you shouldn’t buy the latte. You shouldn’t, you know, buy a fancy car. Right. They tell you all the things you can’t do.

And to me, we know as humans, when somebody tells us, you can’t do that, but what are we going to do? We’re going to be like, yeah, I’m definitely going to do that. So what I like to say is cut down on the things that you don’t need, that don’t align with your values, but spend on the things that bring you joy. 

And that’s why things like a spending plan can take away the shame of feeling like you’re not good, quote, unquote, with money, which is also absurd. Nobody is born being good or bad at money. It’s something that we learn over time. And as you said, our culture doesn’t talk about it. 

You’re not alone Rhoda, that couples would rather discuss sex than money, research shows that people would rather discuss sex or politics than money. So it’s so much more taboo and there’s so much more nuance in it. And again, we simply don’t talk about it. And so we are all kind of operating in the dark when it comes to money.

Rhoda: That’s great. It really is, and I hope therapists will listen to this episode as well. It’s helping me, on your blog, you quote, marriage.com. The number one reason for divorce is infidelity, followed by money disagreements. And you said, in my opinion, it’s really financial infidelity that’s causing divorces. 

I love that term financial infidelity. I’ve had so many people tell me when they get married, they had no clue their future partner brought a hundred thousand dollars’ worth of debt into the marriage. Would you share your thoughts about the secrecy of financial infidelity?

Lindsay: Absolutely. So financial infidelity is simply hiding a large expense or a large asset from your partner. And the reason that I think that this is really a bigger cost of divorces, is because first, let’s just think about infidelity, how many people do you know, have cheated on their partner and haven’t spent a dollar on the person they’re cheating with, right? 

Like zero, so money is always intertwined in infidelity. But to me, it’s such a huge pillar of intimacy that we don’t talk about money is. And so when we hide things from our partner, it feels like such a big betrayal. And it’s not about saying, let me see if I can express this clearly. 

So with traditional infidelity, it is all about the sneaking and the hiding. And there is a level of manipulation in line, but in financial infidelity, it’s not always that malicious, because we don’t talk about money in our culture, because we often don’t teach couples how to include money in their relationship.

Oftentimes, when I see clients who have committed financial infidelity, which by the way, 50% of Americans have admitted to it, which tells me that much more of us have. Right, so to me, it’s less about being manipulative and secretive and more about, I am so overwhelmed. 

I don’t even know how to bring it up, or, you know, I took out this loan, but I was certain I would get that bonus at work and I’d be able to pay it off before you knew. Right. So there is a lot of this kind of magical thinking coupled with shame that makes it a breeding ground to cheat, so to speak on your partner financially.

Rhoda: Wow. That’s absolutely true. I also loved another idea on your blog, to stop treating your money like a diet. Could you say more about that? The intuitive truth of it felt so right to me and made me laugh.

Lindsay: Yeah. So the diet industry is a multibillion dollar industry, and yet it still exists, which tells me, it’s not really working, right. If really the Atkins would have solved our problems, then you know, in 2000 the world would be very different, right. But the Atkins just gets rebranded every year, you know, they add broccoli or takeaway kale and it becomes, you know, the Quito or the whole 30 or whatever. 

To me, diets are like budgeting and that they’re about cutting, about restricting, about shame. And they also cause that same spiral cycle that happens when I see people engage in budgets, the way that they do a diet, by that, they’ll say, I’m never spending money again on takeout. 

And they stick with it for seven days, ten days, a few weeks. And then inevitably they buy takeout. And if they are treating their money like a diet, they treat that takeout like the piece of chocolate cake.

And they’re like, Oh my gosh, I’m so stupid. I can’t adhere to a budget. I might as well give up, and they get into that cycle of, I’m bad at money. I can’t stick with it. So I’m just going to give up and be okay with my inability to manage money. And to me again, this kind of goes along with that small reframe of taking a budget and making it a spending plan, it’s about checking in with yourself. 

It’s about giving yourself flexibility, whether that means the flexibility to buy the latte a few times a month, whether that’s the flexibility to say, Hey, I set this particular limit for groceries this month. 

And I overspent. Instead of that, being the kickoff to a shame spiral saying, you know what, actually, I do enjoy spending more money on groceries. It is important for me to buy organically, let me increase my grocery limit and maybe decrease something else. So to me, that is why I don’t think we should be treating our money like diets.

Rhoda: And it is about ultimately being more choice-full, and I’m always saying to people, what makes you more mentally healthy is being choice-full. It’s not that you have to do it a certain way. You have to decide what’s important to you, that’s right. 

Lindsay: Yes, exactly. 

Rhoda: So my final question for you, is to share your advice on how to handle financial anxiety?

Lindsay: So financial anxiety is to me, any thoughts or feelings that sound or look like being worried, nervous or on edge, when it comes to our money and anybody can experience financial anxiety, regardless of how much money they earn or how much money they have in the bank. 

So to me, it’s similar in the way that we treat traditional anxiety. So first just labeling it. Oh, I’m feeling really worried. My bills are due today, in the past, sometimes I haven’t been able to pay them all on time. I’m feeling worried that I won’t be able to do it. 

So first just labeling it and then taking those steps towards what actions can I take to prevent this scenario from happening again? Oh, well, I pay my bills on the last day of the month, turns out by the time the 30th rolls around, I’ve spent a lot of money.

Maybe I can call my utilities companies and see if we can move my due date up to the 15th or up to the first, so that I can pay my bills first. So to me, it’s about kind of checking in with which part of the financial anxiety is showing up most. Is it your thoughts? 

Is it your feelings, how they feel physically in your body or the emotions that are happening, or is it the behaviors, like procrastinating on starting a 41k plan or, you know, being so anxious that you’re constantly checking your bank. 

Decide which of those three is the most invasive and start your journey with dialing down financial anxiety there, knowing that anxiety is normal, it’s a normal emotion to experience, and the goal is not to eliminate anxiety, the goal is to dial it down enough so that you can engage with your money in a healthy way.

Rhoda: So everybody, check out her book, the financial anxiety solution, visit her website and blog or podcast, mindmoneybalance.com. Her podcast is the same name, mind money balance. Also feel free to visit my website therapyideas.net with over 450 pages of free information. Thank you so much for coming today, Lindsay. I really appreciate it.

Lindsay: Well, this was such a great conversation to have with you. Thank you so much for letting me share this information with your audience.

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