Tag Archives: relationships

Finding our financial footing (again)

Money and relationships

If there’s one thing I wish my parents had taught me about relationships, it’s the importance of financial compatibility.

Instead, the one lesson they imparted was the importance of genetic testing early on – you know, to ensure we didn’t have any horrible nasties lurking in our cells that might pass on to our kids, when combined with the other person’s DNA.

(I didn’t really take that one on board – not when I was 16, and not when I was older, either.)

High up among the criteria for a suitable prospective partner, according to How To Be An Adult In Relationships author David Richo, is this:

Has no disability with respect to money (e.g., cannot earn, spend, share, save, lend, contribute, receive)

Isn’t this just the most perfect phrase? I’ve never seen it articulated quite so well.

I still think there’s value in different styles. Here’s a really nice way to look at it.

When you think about it, a spender in a relationship is really working on improving your quality of life right now. Savers, on the other hand, are improving your quality of life in the future.

I’ve got a lot of priceless memories; fun experiences I would have missed out on otherwise for sure.

Savers can complement spenders, but it’s certainly not always easy.

I honestly believe we would have well and truly found our groove a long time ago, had multiple bouts of unemployment not derailed things so badly.

Lately we’ve been finding our way again, working toward a workable financial equilibrium.

As it stands now, what I see happening is a rebuilding of trust. Proving that we are both pulling our weight, adequately protecting our income through insurance, so we can work together towards a shared future.

I wish it were the kind of thing that could be done with the flick of a switch, in the blink of an eye, but it’s a process.

5 things I’ve learned from surviving a marriage crisis

The best relationship advice I can give

After more than 10 years in a generally happy union, I recently realised that – like Jon Snow – I knew nothing.

Nothing at all.

I once read that good marriages begin after the first gigantic crisis. When you begin again, in spite of everything, and work to make it through the anger and fear and sadness.

Separately, the wise and inimitable Alain de Botton has said that pessimism offers a solution to a lot of the pressures around relationships. Romanticism is unhelpful, and makes a lot of what we go through in marriage seem exceptional and appalling.

Depressing as those two paragraphs may sound, I think they ring with truth.

There are five main things this crisis taught me. Here is what I’ve learned.

Love is a verb

Don’t just tell me you love me; show me through your actions.

So many of our habits and behaviours towards our partners are manipulative

Whether we realise it or not. Awareness is the first step.

Do not tolerate sustained unhappiness in a relationship

Don’t put up with it now, hoping that it will improve eventually, if you have no inkling at all for when that might be. Think about how long you could stick it out if nothing changed – a month? Six months? A year?

Never set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm

There is no glory in martyrdom. This isn’t a social movement; this is your life. Your happiness is what’s at stake.

We are flawed

All of us. So very deeply. This is something we must accept if we are to move forward.

There it is – the best relationship advice I have to give. Have you been through a relationship crisis, and has it taught you anything new?

Money is no substitute for love, but love is no substitute for money either

Love vs money - NZ Muse

You can’t buy love. Spend your way to affection. Substitute stuff for time and attention. Paper over the cracks with lavish offerings.

You can’t live on love. All the love in the world won’t keep you out of debt, secure a stable home, put food on the table.

You need both. Love AND money.

I used to think love was the most important thing ever. The real world has taught me otherwise. Love is not all you need. Love does not conquer all. Love alone, unfortunately, is a poor substitute for the basic necessities in life.

The partners we choose for ourselves play such an integral role in our financial situation. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about where I am today and the choices that got me here.

Where I am today has been shaped by a lot of things beyond my control. But I made choices that set these things in motion. I may not have thought about it or realised it back then but now I have a much better understanding of why I made them.

Even if it’s a bit of a hard pill to swallow, these are the facts. My relationship and circumstances now are a strong reflection of the choices that I’ve made to date.  In trying to escape the shortcomings of my childhood, I gravitated towards certain traits, not realising what the trade-off would be or appreciating the value of what I did have.

I’ve come to terms with my tendencies as an enabler and the impact of this. I’m cognisant of how this has informed my decisions in the past and I know I need to be alert going forward to ensure I don’t make the same mistakes again.

I now know what I need, what I cannot stand for, and have a clear picture of what the balance between love and money should look like in my life.

“The goal of a relationship,” writes John Armstrong, in How To Worry Less About Money, “is that both people flourish together. And because money is a crucial ingredient in flourishing, it is a crucial ingredient in marriage.”

Disease Called Debt

How To Worry Less About Money: 3 things I took away

The most refreshing thing about How to Worry Less About Money is the author’s unflinching observation of how money affects relationships. In this book, John Armstrong relates this back to his own marriage.

“My own experience is that money worries can cause terrible conflicts in relationships. I fear I have damaged Helen’s life by not making more money. And there are stylistic clashes: I like being lavish; she’s much more restrained. For instance, I like the idea of going to fancy restaurants; she prefers the modest family-run place round the corner, or chicken soup at home. (And this is all the harder to deal with because our earnings point in the opposite directions to these personal tastes).”
Well, I’m the Helen in my life, and I can vouch for the fact that I have felt resentful many a time. I wish that weren’t true, but I am human, and perhaps not always a very good one. This is us, down to a T, especially the incongruence between tastes and earnings.  I would be curious to hear Helen’s viewpoint.

Money and marriage

Armstrong points out that in the world of Jane Austen, having enough money is taken very seriously (and rightly so!) as a necessary condition of happy marriage. Money reduces the fragility of a relationship, and makes people more relaxed. Money buys luxury, privacy and  stimulation. Money is for some people an aphrodisiac.

All of these things resonate so hard (perhaps not exactly the last one, but financial stress is a huge turn off and therefore lack of money is definitely a turn off).

Alas, there are no true solutions offered up, despite the practical promise offered in the title. This is a philosophical read about how we think about money, relate to it, the space it occupies in our minds and lives.

It’s a book about money worries, as opposed to money troubles.

Money troubles vs money worries

Money troubles, Armstrong contends, are urgent. They call for direct action and can only be resolved in one of two ways: either you gain access to more money or you go without something else.

Money worries, conversely, are about imagination and motions, not just what is happening now. Money worries often say more about the worrier than the world. They’re about what’s going on in your head not just in your bank account.

The meaning of money

When you strip money right back to the fundamentals, it is just a resource – a means of exchange.

“In other words money is an instrument … Ultimately the task in life is to translate efforts and activities that are inherently worthwhile into possessions and experiences that are themselves of lasting and true value.

“That is the ideal money cycle. Our relationship with money becomes unhealthy when we remove it from this cycle. That happens when we stop seeing money as potential possessions and experiences – but rather see possessions and experiences as potential money.”

We’re all bombarded these days with the reminder to DO WHAT YOU LOVE. Armstrong acknowledges that we need to make enough money to meet our needs and we also need to do things that help us make sense of who we are and contribute to collective good.

You can escape by not caring about meaning. And you can escape by not caring about having much money.  But a lot of people care about both.”

* * *

If you know roughly what to expect going in, this is a great read. I related to so much of it, I was constantly nodding along and found myself bookmarking what seemed like every other page.

If you’ve read it, what did you think?

Share the Wealth Sunday

Compromise where you can – and where you can’t, don’t

Compromise where you can - and where you can't, don't

Who would’ve thought that the latest Captain America movie could spawn such wisdom?

To live in this world is to compromise. And to be in a relationship is to compromise.

I kept reaching my limit … or so I thought.

And then I would push through. Just a little longer, I would think. Surely things will change. This can’t continue indefinitely.

For better and for worse, right?

But when something or someone is the sole source of your stress and there is no sign of it changing – it’s time to reevaluate. Be kind to yourself, first and foremost.

You may not know where your true limits lie. I know I didn’t. And that epiphany may wind up coming from elsewhere.

In my case, I was physically falling apart – in rather obvious ways. That’s when I knew I had to draw a line. That was something I could not compromise on.

Listen to your body, because it doesn’t lie.

I may have had to learn the hard way, but now I know where I can and cannot compromise.

Link love (the looking back edition)

I’ve just finished reading How To Be An Adult In Relationships, which a couple of people have recommended.

It was probably the wrong time to pick it up, as in months too late; and to be frank it didn’t meet my personal expectations overall. It got off to a slow start and I almost gave up but I’m glad I didn’t, as it improved from there. If it reinforced one thing for me, it’s how much our parents and childhood shape our ability to relate to others as adults…! There were definitely quite a few parts that spoke deeply to me, and I thought I’d share them here.

  • Are you happy together more than half the time? Would you stay in a relationship with someone you loved if you were unhappy?
  • Here are the words of an adult: “Even though ……… I have to let you go because you do not meet me at my soul/adult level.”
  • We need conflict in order to evolve from romantic projection to mature self-affirmation.
  • Am I in a relationship with someone who presses down on my lively energy like an incubus, an invisible yet nonetheless weighty presence? Why do I allow anyone to limit my energy?
  • Ask for what you want 100 percent of the time. Say yes to yourself twice as often as you say no, but be willing to compromise.
  • Sometimes it is necessary to let my feelings happen without acting on them. Sometimes holding is more important to my growth than releasing. This means surrendering control over my feelings and riding them where they may go or stay.
  • Being compassionate does not mean becoming a caretaker. (And there’s an excellent chart contrasting the two)
  • “How shall I proceed? Do I wait for her to change, or do I find a way to take care of myself and attend to my concerns using my own resources?”

This week’s links

Stop telling me to quit my job!

“One of the many things I was tired of was the constant judgment of women …the constant message that being sexy means being naked.” Preach, Alicia Keys!

On keeping creativity and money separate

Calling out a racist

On balancing saving and life (I can’t handle multiple goals at once either!)

Letting go of stress

All the ways we get ripped off just by living in NZ

Spending no more than $150 on food for five days ‘do-able but pretty miserable’ for family of six (we spend about this much for 2 people for a week and are reasonably frugal -we would struggle to pull this off even if we cut right back!)

Leaving saved my marriage

How an ultimatum saved my marriage

I have never really believed in ultimatums.

But there were no other options left.

If the price of stability and a home was being alone, I realised I would take that deal in a heartbeat. See also: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

You need to set your own boundaries; decide:

what you want and need

what you can and cannot accept

what you expect and deserve

It isn’t selfish to put your own oxygen mask on first. To stay true to your own goals. To refuse to  allow someone else to derail your dreams and hold you back.

The end of 2015 was a low, low point for us. I think we both found ourselves disappointed in one another, to varying degrees.

It was an opportunity to reevaluate our priorities (or, for me at least, to reinforce mine and validate my decision), and have the space to take a step back and reflect.

Sometimes, you gotta burn things down if there’s going to be any hope of rebuilding them again.

Should you leave your unemployed partner?

Should you leave a chronically unemployed partner?

You are not a terrible person if you’re thinking of leaving a chronically underemployed/unemployed partner. We only get one life, and you’re allowed to put your own interests first. Love is lovely … but so is peace of mind and financial security. In some circumstances it might be blindingly obvious whether to stay or go. But in others it’s not – this one’s for you. (For the record: While things seem to be back on track, I’m keeping things separate so that they’re easy to untangle again if needed.)

How did I know I couldn’t keep going?

When I asked myself, is this relationship adding net value to my life? I could no longer say yes.

For all the good, the bad outweighed it, and had been for a long time.

Nobody knows all the gory details. They don’t need to. Honestly, I could have coped with it all – as long as he had a full time job. But all those things, combined with zero income … different story. Especially given the fact that going separate ways would render him eligible for unemployment benefits.

It is damn hard to tell where supporting becomes enabling, and being taken advantage of.

I am far from blameless. I made mistakes. There are many things I could have done better. And I’m much wiser for it.

I held on too long. Then I came to a crossroads.

I could keep being passive. And I would almost certainly wind up bitter and drained. Probably having a breakdown and having to take time off work – ironically, the only thing keeping us afloat financially, not to mention the only good thing in my life.

Or I could cut my losses. Put myself first for once. Heal from the toll of two years of uncertainty and stress.

Life was exhausting. Going from carrying the weight of two people to just me – it was infinitely lighter. I can’t quantify the relief I felt; I slept like a baby those first few nights after leaving.

There was second-guessing, of course. There always is. But after months of internal back-and-forth, I knew it was the right call. I’d done so much soul searching and so much reading, in pursuit of the answer.

What it boils down to, is that the discussions in these three threads hit me like a ton of bricks. Realising that we might never be financially stable  together. And I simply could not live that way.

It’s so important to have a financially responsible partner.

It takes two. You cannot do it all yourself. And nor should you.

Love and trying isn’t enough.

Love is not willingness to live in a cardboard box together.

Love is doing whatever it takes to not get to that point.

Forgiveness is a funny beast

Snowy plants close up in field

Recent events have brought me closer to and further from various people in my life.

It’s gotten me thinking a lot about forgiveness.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve known the power of words. I can barely recall a time before I could read and write.

It’s strange, the things – actions and words alike – that I never thought I’d forgive. But looking over my shoulder, I realise that somewhere along the way, I did. It wasn’t a conscious choice.

And conversely, there’s the words that have actually stuck with me for decades and that I don’t think I’ll ever let go of. The funny thing is, I don’t think the people in question realise what impact those throwaway comments had. That’s why I’m so careful about what I say (and write).

Then there’s the things we say in emotional moments that are actually quite manipulative or malicious. We are all flawed, but it’s deeply disappointing  to see this in those closest to us.

Words matter.

While actions do speak a million louder than words, for me it’s words that actually stick in my memory, that have lasting impact, and will refer back to when the actions start to fade from memory.

There’s a lot of things I need to start to forgive and let go of, before they eat away at me.

Or failing that, in the words of Emily Yoffe, I must accept them and move on.

What is happiness, anyway?

A is for Angst

“Are you happy?”

For someone who professed to be terrible at giving advice, he was a ninja of tact. When in doubt, and pressed for an answer, simply rebut with a question in turn – it’s a fail safe tactic. Particularly when you’ve been put on the spot by someone you don’t know all that well. Oops.

The problem with the ‘are you happy?’ benchmark  is that happiness isn’t static. If we all did what made us happy in the short term, well, the world might be a very different place. It’s called adulting.

“Happiness is fleeting and at times elusive. We won’t always grasp it, and we’ll forgive ourselves if we don’t. Our lives might not always be happy, but they will be full with experience and with one another.”    (via A Practical Wedding)

The struggle

I’ve been finding happiness in the little moments. But I don’t know if those are enough. I don’t know if that makes up for the overall instability of our current existence – because this is my LIFE, and I’m the only one who has to live it and the only one who can take full responsibility for it.

I can’t tell if I’m cold or codependent (that probably changes from moment to moment). I can’t tell if I’m expecting too much and need to learn to roll with the punches or if I’m an idiot for sticking it out so long. I feel like I could paint at least two very different pictures, two very different interpretations, of the past few years, and I honestly don’t know which would be the more accurate. I don’t know where to draw the line, because there is no clear demarcation for these kinds of things.

From a wholly pragmatic perspective, I should have walked months ago. I tried, sort of. But I’m very good at that womanly thing of Putting Others First. Too good.

The question I’ve been asking myself a lot is: How do you know? There are things we’ve been taught are dealbreakers in relationships. But for most of us, it’s not that clear cut. So many times I’ve just wished for someone to tell me what to do, and be done with it.

What is expecting too much? What is expecting too little? Am I settling? Am I being unrealistic?

I ain’t saying she a gold digger, but I do require an equal partner.

Truths to live by

It’s insanity to keep doing the same thing and expect different results.

Do not expect other people to change.

I am the only person responsible for my own happiness.

(Oh, and the sunk cost fallacy – throw that in there too.)

Words of wisdom

I’ve been finding a lot of comfort in a lovely comment left here some months ago:

“I used to go to sleep some nights thinking I was going to wake up the next morning, pack a suitcase and head to my mom’s and start the separation process. … I also would give myself ultimatums like ‘if it’s not better by this date I’m leaving’”

I remember reading somewhere – I suspect in a post about unconventional relationship advice – that you must be willing to walk away. Now, I know it’s commonly thrown around that people just aren’t committed enough today and that they give up too easily or expect perfection. But to be frank, I’ve yet to see a single example of this in the lives of anyone I know. We’ve all got the opposite problem – we don’t know when to walk away. We hang on for all we’ve got.

I thought I was willing to walk. But it took months to actually muster myself to that tipping point and look over the edge.

And I can’t lie, the terror I felt was almost paralysing.

Being there, though – that was a turning point. I was making plans. I was saving listings on TradeMe. I went and looked at another place to live. It wasn’t just an option; I was committed to leaving. (Not necessarily the relationship, but definitely the living situation, for many pragmatic reasons.)

What changed my mind? So many little things, barely on the spectrum at all, really – a toothbrush, an unexpected encounter – but enough in aggregate to drive me into even deeper contemplation. Ultimately, a third path started to crystallise. I ran scenarios, crunched numbers. I thought I found a way to get what I wanted, without having to shake up my entire life right now. A win-win, as they call it. There’s nothing quite like feeling backed into a corner, and finally seeing a sliver of light in a new option as it reveals itself.

Moving forward

The most important thing is not my marriage. It’s ME.

I certainly haven’t been acting like it. But once I finally cemented this in my mind, things became a lot clearer.

Again, this is my life. I only get one, and I’m the only one living it. There are things I cannot control in it, things that have made life quite miserable. But there are other things I can control, and can change, to mitigate that. Sour as that lemonade is to swallow, it’s not as bitter as the lemons.

So, I’m making plans to achieve the things I want. My number one priority is myself. The status quo is unsustainable; a 2016 without progress is unacceptable.

Hopefully the future still involves us growing old together – but if it doesn’t, I have made peace with that. That might sound depressing, but I find this freeing.

Happiness is having a plan.

TL;DR: Money is the most important thing in the world. Don’t believe anyone who says it isn’t.

(Sorrynotsorry if that offends your romantic heart.)