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How To Handle Financial Resentment In Your Intimate Relationship and Foster Financial Intimacy
When Financial Resentment Breaks Through
Sitting in a parking lot on vacation with tears in my wife’s eyes, the reality of financial resentment buildup comes pouring out. We are a couple like so many other couples. First and foremost, we are human. Second, we each have a personal history with money and its many meanings. Yes, I am a Therapy-Informed Financial Planner™, and I try to practice what I preach, but that does not always mean it is easy.
Financial resentment is nearly ubiquitous in my work with clients and my own life. We don’t talk openly about financial resentment with ourselves, family, or friends, or heavens forbid with our partners. And if we do, we don’t do it in very productive ways.
The sting and pain of financial resentment can evoke a wide range of both psychological and physiological signs of distress. Anxiety, depression, shame, tight chest, bloating stomach, to name a few. It’s no wonder we want to avoid the painful reality of financial resentment that builds up.
Why does financial resentment exist? Believe it or not, it is a good thing seen from one perspective. Financial resentment is like a smoke detector in your home, alerting you to the reality that something is on fire. The whole relational house doesn’t have to be in flames for the financial resentment detector to go off.
What Is Financial Resentment
Financial resentment comes from the experience of things being unfair, both in real and perceived terms. The psychology of fairness is a vast topic on its own. Financial resentment is a reaction to issues of unfairness.
The range of issues and experiences that can evoke financial resentment is almost limitless, from differences in income, financial knowledge, financial responsibility, financial ability, social status, gender dynamics, racial dynamics, religious dynamics, sexuality, spending, saving preferences, etc.
Because we are humans and each of us has many layers to ourselves, it is not hard to evoke or feel financial resentment. We can feel financial resentment both towards others and ourselves. Like when we continually financially self-sabotage ourselves and then realize we have been doing so for years.
We must break the taboo of financial resentment. Like so many other psychological phenomena, resentment gets moralized as being “bad,” so we try to avoid the acknowledgment and reality of it. Yet the suppression of financial resentment will catch up with us in time.
How Does Financial Resentment Develop?
Your Relationship History
Even before you enter an intimate relationship, you have financial expectations of yourself and the people you meet. If they don’t line up, the opportunity for resentment to build presents itself. Then as your intimate relationship develops you start to formalize consciously and unconsciously financial expectations of each other. The roles you play in the many aspects of money get determined. Then over the years and decades, there have been many opportunities for money misunderstandings without acknowledgment and repair. Without this acknowledgment and repair, they cut at the fabric of the relationship and, for some, lead to divorce.
Your Family History
Your family history sets the stage for how you navigate financial resentment, at least initially in intimate relationships. As children, we watch our parents navigate intimate relationships, family dynamics, and patterns with our siblings, touching on money. Even if they do not know the words resentment or financial resentment, kids can feel resentment in the air and their bodies.
When financial resentment goes unresolved, it gets lodged in their body as a felt sense of what money is like. Gale Coleman refers to this as Somatic Finance. If you track the work of somatic therapy, you will quickly realize the money/body connection. For those of you not as familiar with somatic therapy, it is a body-focused therapy that looks at specifically what happens in the physical body. Historical financial resentment sets the stage for automatic and often unconscious financial resentment reactions to our own and partner’s financial decisions.
We need the opportunity for curiosity, compassion, empathy, and healing, and growth.
There are countless financial expectations placed on each of us. These externally determined expectations set an often conflicting and impossible standard to obtain about ideal financial life images that none of us can live up to. Much like idealized images of what bodies look like, there are many idealized images of what our financial lives should look like, and when we do not meet or exceed those expectations, it can evoke deep resentment.
Why You Two Need To Address Financial Resentment
Unaddressed Financial Resentment as Psychologically Damaging To All
At this point in my life and work, I don’t imagine we can get to the point where we never feel financial resentment. The reality of experiencing financial resentment is not the problem. It is what we do with it that matters.
Lashing out in anger, shame, or passive aggressive behavior only spins the cycle of financial resentment.
As an example
A breadwinning spouse (true for both men and women in this role) is tired of carrying the financial weight of the family. They want to slow down but can’t seem to draw their partner into a conversation about how to make supportive changes for both of them.
The non-breadwinning partner has spent years in different roles for the family. Their host of fears, anxieties, and likely resentments have built up. They may be ready to step into a breadwinning role for the family.
The couple dances around this dynamic and reality but needs to address what it has meant to each of them to be in this role. Both the good and challenge that has come with their respective positions.
Over time loneliness, anger, snarky comments, and withdrawal all become part of the relationship.
Your Kids Will Thank You
In the world of family therapy, we say that kids are the emotional geiger counters or bellwethers of the family. There are some very understandable reasons for this from the field of developmental psychology. Children’s brains are wired to read the emotional room to tell if they are safe/not safe if there is care available/not available. Kids’ brains and nervous systems are wired from birth for connection and regulation from their caregivers. The fields of attachment theory and interpersonal neurobiology have shown this over and over again.
Take a moment to stop and reflect on your childhood. How often could you read the emotional temperature of the room? Or did you have to tune out the emotional temperature of the room because it was too much?
Whether from science or personal experience, I hope we can agree that our parents and families emotional states had an impact on us as children. Acknowledging our parent’s impact on our emotional development is not about shaming or blaming parents but acknowledging an unavoidable impact. When financial resentment becomes normalized and unaddressed, it leaves children feeling stuck and as if there are no other options.
Your Financial Well-Being and Wealth Matters
When it comes to financial resentment, it will stop you dead in your tracks from addressing any number of important financial topics. Resentment often leads people to avoid or obsess over a topic. Either of which does not help navigate the financial decisions of your life. Of which we all have many to make.
Whether it is financial resentment about going to the store to buy groceries or the adult responsibilities of making financial plans for your long-term future, working through your financial resentment can positively affect both your short and long-term financial needs.
How You Two Can Address Financial Resentment and Foster Financial Intimacy
Normalize The Experience of Financial Resentment and Dr. Corey Hirsch makes the point that time alone will not resolve resentment.
When I talk about normalizing the experience of financial resentment, that does not mean we just throw our hands up in the air and say welp, there is financial resentment, and there is nothing we can do about it. Instead, normalizing the reality of financial resentment is intended to help spread the load and humanize the experience. We don’t need to feel like the odd one out for having this experience. That is a heavy psychological load to carry.
Let’s remember and look at financial resentment as a messenger, and our job is to understand what we need to do to healthy reduce the resentment.
Curiosity is one of our best psychological friends. Curiosity doesn’t jump to quick and easy solutions or answers. And if we do then we can use curiosity about why we are doing that. Likely it is because the feelings associated with financial resentment are hard to sit with.
One simple technique is to continually ask ourselves why we feel that way. Continue to ask ourselves until we can reach the issue’s core. This self-questioning process is where financial therapy can help us find our way to the heart of the issue.
Working through financial resentment as a couple is a practice, not an event. Like so much of relationship health, healing, and growth, it takes time, practice, reflection, and sometimes the help of professionals to help you navigate through the thick and challenging waters. Often times when there is longstanding financial resentment build up in the relationship, there are other painful patterns at play as well as unresolved traumatic experiences from childhood.
Self and Other Compassion
Self and other financial compassion initially will feel like it is at the other end of the spectrum from financial resentment. With practice and in time, you can experience financial resentment and compassion as partners, not opposites. Self and Other Financial Compassion helps us feel and know that we are not alone in the experience of financial resentment. Being curious and normalizing the experience of financial resentment is an act of financial compassion.
Empathy is one of the hardest things to step into when we are experiencing financial resentment. Empathy opens the door to exploring why the other person may be experiencing financial resentment towards us. We do not use empathy to minimize or exaggerate what they are experiencing but, as closely as possible, demonstrate that we understand the emotions and broader context that would give rise to their experience of financial resentment.
Financial intimacy is a big topic and one that is worth developing to address financial resentment amongst many other challenging money topics. Financial Intimacy is the experience of increasing vulnerability, honesty, and safety in your shared financial life together. At the deepest levels of financial intimacy, you can be entirely financially naked with each other and unashamed.
Asking for help to find your way through financial resentment is an act of courage and relationship care.
In Therapy-Informed Financial Planning™, financial resentment is a regular topic that gets worked through in building and maintaining a financial plan that works for the couple and the rest of the family they are connected with.
Feel free to schedule a free 30-minute consultation to learn more about how Therapy-Informed Financial Planning™ can help the two of you.
Therapy Informed Financial Planner at Healthy Love and Money
Working with many women who have only had part of the financial picture but not the whole family’s financial picture, I have seen and heard about the stress that it creates for them. Including panic attacks, depression, anxiety, anger, and missed opportunities to participate in what matters to them most.
Empowering women to see, know, and understand the whole financial picture of their lives transforms the way they show up in the world. Allowing them to enjoy themselves, their friendships, their relationships with their kids, and their intimate partners.
When women feel confident that they can partner with their intimate partner and be seen as equal, it restores intimacy and connection in their most meaningful relationships and models for the next generation of women what is possible.