Archive Story Three

Each month, I will provide a new example of how my approach is helping people overcome their financial anxieties and resolve their money issues. As the stories accumulate, I will offer an archive of past stories, so that you may review them as they become relevant to your situation.

In managing our money there are times when we get so lost in our frustrations and self-worth issues that we lose focus on what is really important in our lives. I saw this happen to a couple that I had been counseling, and by sharing this case with you, I thought I might give you some insights into this knotty problem.

“I think that Edna and I may be divorcing”, were the first words that Guy said to me as we began our telephone consultation. I was taken by surprise as I had felt that the couple seemed very compatible. Moreover, they were making real progress in getting their financial act together, and I knew that their finances had been one of the major stresses in their marriage.

“That’s too bad,” I said as I tried to switch gears. I had set up this phone consultation with Guy to discuss his starting up a therapy business in their home.  Now I realized this wouldn’t work if the couple separated.

“I need to know where I stand if we do go through with this divorce,” Guy said, and we agreed to forgo discussing his business plan to look at his financial situation.

Guy had little in savings, and only his professional skills to provide him with income. Although he felt that he could earn about $40,000 a year, he didn’t think that was not enough to cover his share of child support as well as his living expenses. We speculated on how much money Guy would need to establish himself in an apartment, and realized that he would need help from Edna to make the transition.

I suggested that in our next joint session we go over both of the couples’ finances to see what could be worked out if they did decide to separate.

Several weeks later Guy and Edna came in. “We’ve decided not to go the route of divorce,” Guy said.

“Good,” I said. I paused, and then asked, “What should we work on today?”

“I think we need to talk about how much money I need to contribute to the family finances.” Guy said.

I looked at both of them. “Was this the issue that prompted you both to consider divorcing?” I asked

I knew from our past sessions that there  had been an issue about Guy’s earning more money to support the family. The couple had two young children. They had made an agreement that Edna would use the money that she had received from her parents to support most of the family’s expenses. In return Guy would take full care of the children while Edna went back to school to get her master’s degree in special education. The agreement had worked reasonably well except that they had had trouble controlling their expenses, and Edna had spent more money than she had expected. I had put them on a monthly spending goal from which they subtracted their daily expenses. Using this system they had gotten closer to living within their means and had developed much better communications regarding their money.

However, there still was not enough income to fully cover their costs, and Edna had periodically talked about Guy’s having to earn more money. Each time the subject was discussed Edna seemed to have accepted Guy’s reasoning that he couldn’t take care of the children and the house and work more hours. Knowing that this issue was a concern between them, it seemed logical to ask if the issue had spawned their idea of separating.

“I got in a bad space,” Edna said, “I went home to visit my family, and they got talking about the family business and it brought up a lot of money issues for me. I could see how little they thought of how I had spent the money they had given me, and how little they respected me. I realized how much money meant to them, and I found myself getting angry and frustrated with my life.

“You took on their energy,” I interjected.

“Yes,” Edna replied, “They made me feel so miserable. I thought about how I had lost the security I had had by the choices I’d made. Now I had no savings, a family to support, and I was starting a career that wouldn’t make me much money,” Edna shook her head despondently. “I came home and had a big argument with Guy about how much money he was bringing in and that’s when we were considering getting a divorce.

“I can understand how you felt,” I said.

“We talked it through and realized it wasn’t the answer,” Guy said, “I’m going to try to bring in more money.”

“I’m not sure that is the answer,” I said. “I think you both may have lost sight of your true purpose in creating your lives together. You both chose to live a less material life. Edna you rejected your family’s values by opting not to go into the family business for a higher ideal of teaching others, Guy, you chose to focus on taking care of your children ahead of earning a large salary.” They nodded their heads in agreement. I continued. “I think you both have to ask yourselves why you chose a less conventional way of living. It couldn’t be for money.” I paused after these words and thought for a moment. “I think you did it for love.”

The couple listened in silence. I went on. “Over the years I’ve seen many couples get so caught up in their money struggles that they loose track of the essence of their relationship. I watched you both get closer together in managing your finances. But I think you may not have taken enough time to just be with each other and share that special feeling that brought you together.

If I were you, I’d take the next few months and focus on sharing the love you have and not immerse yourselves in your financial struggles. Take lots of walks together. Find more time to be intimate. Laugh more together. Acknowledge the choices you have made and be proud of them.

You know in your hearts that you have made the right choices not to chase after money, liberate yourselves from any guilt you have. Then, when you feel that you’ve gotten the right perspective you can start in again working on your financial issues, knowing that they are truly only a secondary part of your lives.”

The couple left, and I thought to myself. “That was the first time that I advised a couple not to try to deal with their money issues.” And I was glad I did it.

Tags: money stress case studies | money issues | emotion-based financial instruction | financial self help lesson plans