“All we ever talk about anymore is money…”
“All we ever talk about anymore is money…”
I have to admit, when my husband said those words to me I felt crushed. And not in that metaphorical sense as in my feelings were hurt, or I was angry, or that I felt he was being unfair. Oh, I had those feelings too, every single one of them. But the crushing weight came from the knowledge, fueled to certainty by my strong inner critic, that I was failing the family. In our marriage, I’m the primary breadwinner. I’ve known since day one that my salary would make up the majority, if not all of our monthly earnings. This was just a fact of life, and one that I thought I had come to understand and accept…until finances started becoming tight. Until I was faced with the fact that, despite my best efforts, I wasn’t doing enough to take care of our family.
If I’m being honest, his factual statement that money was playing a predominant role in our conversations of late wasn’t wrong. It was, come to think of it, spot on. We’d moved cross country for a new job, gotten married, bought and renovated a house, all in the span of about 18 months. Each one of those items alone is enough to put a financial strain on a couple, much less emotional and physical. Combine all three together and I’m sometimes surprised one of us hasn’t (metaphorically) murdered the other one yet.
It wasn’t the truth behind his statement that rankled me to no end and made me want to scream, cry and pound the punching bag at the local gym, all simultaneously. It was more that the statement seemed to me (with that pesky little inner critic going at it again) seemed to build a title wave of guilt and inadequacy in my actions. Not only was I not doing enough to provide financially, but now my building frustrations around our financial situation and the stress and exhaustion that I was feeling were all impacting our relationship. My attempts at communicating how overwhelmed I felt were adding fuel to the fire. I felt hopeless. I felt like I had to keep all of my fear and stress internalized or risk affecting our family and marriage. I felt like I was in the situation all on my own.
My first inclination, after screaming and getting in a good workout of course, was to wallow around in self pity for a bit. Thankfully, my A-type personality didn’t allow that to keep up for more than a day or so. After a healthy dose of feeling sorry for myself I grabbed a pencil and paper and started jotting down ideas for making extra money. If there wasn’t a solution at hand, by darnit I was going to make one. I started listing my skills and hobbies and then ways in which they could be monetized. While I was a great cook, I’d seen enough “Restaurant Rescue” to know that certainly wasn’t the ticket to financial success. My green thumb was great for making the neighbors envious, but not all that lucrative. Writing…well, I was good at it, I could write in my “spare” time and it was something that didn’t conflict with my primary career and day job. It seemed like maybe this could be just the ticket.
A few internet searches later and I had a snazzy looking profile on a freelance website. A few weeks later and the extra income started trickling in. A few odd assignments here, one or two boring articles there, and before you know it I was turning a small extra profit on the side. Success, I’d solved the immediate dilemma of how to relieve the financial strain. I had done it, come up with a solution and managed a problem. So then why did I still feel like there was something left unsettled about my husband’s statement and our financial predicament?
What I would come to discover, after many months and a few more arguments, was that finding a solution for our financial worries wasn’t actually addressing the underlying issues that had caused the arguments and discussions in the first place. The inequity in perceived financial contributions created strains on each of us personally and these were the real problem. Easing the financial burden somewhat was like a coat of glossy paint over a rusty door. It may have resolved the immediate issue, but there was still work that needed to be done to ensure a solid foundation.
While the exact process is an article in itself, the key to resolving our emotional hiccups over finances was plain and simple communication. By communication I don’t mean just talking, game planning or strategizing our way out of the problem. There were multiple nights of calm, cool and collected conversations in which we had to put aside the immediate issues and talk about the emotional impact of our situation and the why’s and how’s of the feelings and experiences that got us here in the first place.
In short, finding a way to supplement our household income was a great prescription to treat a symptom, but there was more work needed to address the underlying condition. In any good relationship, strong problem solving is definitely a plus, but thinking about arguments or issues with one-off solutions can keep you from developing a long term plan. This doesn’t only apply to romantic relationships, either. The same strategy works for friendships, family ties and even your career. Through all of life’s ups and downs a combination of immediate action followed up with in depth analysis and long term resolutions are the most effective equation for long term success and happiness. Challenge yourself to think outside the box, and your comfort zone, truly communicating with your partner, boss or colleague and you’ll find the return on investment well worth the effort.