– by Michele James
So glad you are here. Friday Five is all about being intentional about our mental health. 5 ideas, questions, tools, and resources to encourage you to lean in, care for yourself and reset.
Today we are starting a 2 part series called FFF: Financial Friday Five. Why finances? Because there’s a connection between money and mental health.
This series is based on a conversation I had with my friend and colleague, Ralston Evans. Ralston is a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) and a Chartered Financial Divorce Specialist (CFDS). He gets a front-row seat to the relationship people have with their money, and he has a lot of helpful advice to share with us.
It is easy to presume that one won’t have mental health challenges if one has wealth. The reality is that money stress and mental health issues happen regardless of what is in the bank account. The stress just presents differently. Our goal is to help you better understand how your relationship with money might be impacting your mental health, and your relationship with your spouse. Side note: part 2 in this series focuses on money and mental health as a single person.
It’s helpful to start with some self-reflection.
– What did you learn about money growing up?
– What were the messages you internalized?
Here are some examples: debt is bad; it is important to find a job where you can make lots of money so you’ll be happy; having money equals success; money is the root of all evil; purchasing material items will make you feel better; winning the lottery will solve all your problems. The list is infinite. What is important here is that you recognize your own narrative about money. We all have one.
Why is it important to identify your “money messages”? Because you bring these messages into your relationships, especially your marriage/common-law relationship, and so does your partner, which can create friction. For example, if you learned that all debt is bad and to be avoided, and your partner learned that debt is fine and that it’s okay to freely use the credit card, this will likely create conflict. Money conflict that is ignored creates both internal stress and relationship strain.
Ralston and I frequently see the negative impact of financial stress on relationships. It can be a major contributor to marital breakdown. We want to help you avoid that. Here are 5 suggestions on how to address financial issues in your relationship.
- Start with honesty and transparency. Now. There’s often a fear of being honest about money because of the belief that it will negatively impact the relationship. The reality is that secrecy is what harms a relationship more than money problems. If you have been hiding a credit card bill, the truth about the amount of debt you brought into the marriage, or the purchase you didn’t tell your partner about, please choose courage and share this with your partner. Secrecy does not build trust. And the stress you carry holding the secret is impacting your mental health.
- Commit to talking openly with your spouse about your finances on a regular basis moving forward. You might think you are protecting your partner by not sharing, but your spouse will likely feel betrayed when you aren’t honest. If you are stressed about inflation, lending rates, or paying the next bill, don’t keep that to yourself. You have a partner to help carry the financial and mental load. Our mental health suffers when we internalize things.
- Consider a perspective shift. The money you contribute to the family is the family unit’s money, not yours. This is a big OUCH for many people. Maintaining separate bank accounts doesn’t make this less true, just ask a family lawyer. Family money is to be shared. This isn’t easy but it can be a game-changer. When I know my money is actually my family’s money, my relationship with it changes. I am more giving and generous which is freeing. And sharing feels good.
- There’s strength in shared decision-making when it comes to money. Financial decisions are to be made jointly. This is a good thing. Two decision-makers can help prevent poor choices. I may want that new shiny object but if my spouse says we can’t afford it, I would be wise to listen. A partnership is an asset.
- Recruit help! As mentioned, we all have our unique stories about money. We also have blinders. Hire a financial professional and meet with them regularly to help you with your financial plan. Financial professionals like Ralston have years of training and expertise that we can all benefit from, even those who share the same professional training. A neutral professional will help the two of you make wise decisions regarding your family’s finances.
This is not an easy conversation. It is also timely. April is tax season. We are also facing inflation, increased loan rates, and overall financial stress. For some of you, the reaction to today’s FFF will be to deny, avoid, and continue the silence about your finances. This will only lead to more stress, and likely anxiety and depression as well. Please consider what you might do to bring to light what you have been keeping to yourself. Who might you reach out to that you trust to help you?
Given that it is tax season, I think it is time to include something Ralston shared with me in our conversation. He noted that he has met many people who haven’t filed their taxes in years. Money often illicits big fears in people, and one response to fear is to avoid it. Avoidance, however, leads to anxiety and an overall negative impact on our mental health. What stood out for me is Ralston’s comment that when people face the fear associated with the backlog in their tax filing, it usually ends up not being as bad as people have imagined. Interesting. When fear shows up, we can create a false narrative that diminishes our mental health. In contrast, when we face money issues that are causing anxiety, we are often surprised that with the right help, it’s manageable. Please ask for help.
Take away: Is there a money story negatively impacting your mental health, and possibly your relationship too? What steps do you need to take to break the silence and get the support you need?
Want to learn more from Ralston? Contact him here:
Author Michele James is a registered psychotherapist, an Accredited Family Mediator and a Collaborative Financial Professional.