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Couples and Money

Starting The Year Financially United


Prior to ever doing an annual cash flow plan, I wouldn’t have believed how the process intensified intimate connection with my husband, Greg, or how at peace in my heart I would feel. There is a “heart skippity do da” that is experienced,  starting the year off with united intentions, an honoring of individual intentions, and being on the same financial page….agreeing on how we desire our year to unfold and how we are going to fund our desires.

I’ve grown to love our January process of planning out our year together and Greg has too. It gives us both a warm fuzzy feeling to have accomplished something that at one time felt impossible.

It wasn’t always this way with us, the planning piece. We used to share our dreams with one another but didn’t do a plan to actually take action on our desires and make them happen. We would say things like, “wouldn’t it be nice to (fill in the blank), and that’s where it ended. This way of living became frustrating and depressing for us. Enough years of lost dreams shifted us into a different more satisfying process that I am sharing with you in this post.

You can modify this process to work for yourself  as an individual or with your partner.

We begin with an inquiry that goes like this:

  • What’s most important to us this year as a couple? How do we want to do fun this year?
  • What’s most important to us individually?
  • What experiences or moments are important to our hearts, so much so that we would feel regret if we didn’t make these happen?
  • What changes if any will happen with our regular monthly expenses, like the mortgage, healthcare, things of this nature?
  • How much do we want to save for retirement this year? How much do we want to give to charity?
  • Where oh where will we direct our dollars to go that brings us the most joy, pleasure + is in alignment with our deepest values.
  • What are our biggest priorities this year?
  • What earnings need to come in for us to create the year we desire? and…if there is a gap between our desires we want to fund and earnings, how do we close that gap?

We reflect, talk, reflect, talk some more, and then we sit and have a pow wow with our spreadsheet on the computer. Over the years the spreadsheet has become the tool in our marriage where we go to create, problem solve and explore possibilities. The spreadsheet houses all the parts of our money life, so we can play with creativity and move our money parts around like pieces of a puzzle, to see what we can make happen.

Each year is different for us. The last two years, we placed a priority on increased visits to the midwest and east coast to see our aging parents (while we look in the mirror and notice our own aging too). We opted to do less bigger vacations and more small retreats. We talked about doing some landscaping vs a new fence vs pavers and opted for the fence.

The process we use as a couple and the visual tool of the spreadsheet is a dynamic dynamite combo that supports us in reaching our goals each year…because it supports us being on the same financial page, united (for the most part) in our desires and dreams. Process + spreadsheet playing = intentions come true. Our dollars become the blood flow that funds our deepest desires and what is most important to us.

For me, this is a process I hold near and dear to my heart to begin our year. I hope this inspires you to create your own annual cash flow plan process and if you need help I am here.

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“How” we communicate can bring us closer together in a warm fuzzy kinda way or pull us apart with feelings of disconnection, separateness and heartfelt hurt. New research is now identifying communication behaviors that neuro-chemically bond or distance us. While the focus of this research was on leadership styles in corporate America, we can apply this to our personal money lives as well.

Judith E. Glaser and Richard D. Glaser have published research that shows:

  • when we have concern for others
  • are truthful about what is on our minds
  • approach discussions with the quality of curiosity
  • stay open and willing to practice difficult conversations
  • and anchor ourselves in a united vision

Then magic happens inside of our bodies…the above behaviors stimulate the hormone “oxytocin,” a feel good or “tend and befriend” hormone. Wouldn’t all of us want more oxytocin with us on our money dates?

Other communication behaviors, such as:

  • not trusting the intentions of another
  • or focusing on convincing your partner rather than understanding his/her viewpoint
  • pretending to listen all the while having thoughts going on in your head of your next response
  • and being highly emotional, which can distract us from active listening

Creates another form of hormone magic, where the stress hormone cortisol gets triggered and floods our body. “When we perceive rejection, criticism, when we feel marginalized or minimized, cortisol, shuts down the thinking center of our brains and activates conflict aversion and protection behaviors. We become more reactive and sensitive. We often perceive even greater judgment and negativity than actually exists.”

“Cortisol can circulate in the body for up to 26 hours, imprinting the interaction on our memories and magnifying the impact it has on our future behavior. Cortisol functions like a sustained-release tablet – the more we ruminate about our fear, the longer the impact.” (taken from the Harvard Business Review)

Deep breath here! This is really important research to help us shape behaviors on our money dates that bring us together rather than separate us. See what practicing oxytocin communication behaviors does for your money dates…with yourself or your partner.

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Twenty-two years ago my husband + I created money vows that we said out loud to one another. Prior to that we kept our silent money expectations about our partnership in our heads (not recommended). When we took our marriage vows, I can honestly say I was fairly unconscious that our collective behavior had anything to do with us creating a state of “richer” or “poorer.” My naivety at the time, most likely thought…”hey, we will deal with whatever life brings us,” rather than…”hey, lets get in alignment from the get go + create “for richer!”

To create “for richer,” many conversations are needed to talk about behaviors that create alignment supporting a united vision. I encourage all the couples I work with to create money vows when we begin our work together + to reshape those vows as needed. A vow is an agreement that speaks to how we intend to show up in our relationships. The work is matching up our verbal agreements with supporting behaviors! Sometimes easier said than done!


1. Vows keep money conversations happening on a regular basis with your partner + can take your relationship to new heights with greater intimacy.

2. When we talk about money + come into alignment with our partners, the body secretes oxytocin, called the “tend + befriend” hormone + we get that feeling of being close, bonded + that warm honey feeling circulating in our body.

3. A vow helps a couple establish priorities + to triage what is most important financially + emotionally + then your money can fund your highest priorities.

4. Vows help minimize conflict + the risk of the relationship breaking up over money. Researchers at Utah State University found that couples who disagreed once a week about their finances were twice as likely to divorce as couples who fought less than once a month.

5. Less fights can enhance your sex life!

6. Vows backed up by congruent behavior supporting them decreases the stress hormones of cortisol + adrenaline in our bodies. These hormones often place our brains + nervous system in a “fight or flight” mode of response with one another.

7. You can show your kids how to talk about money + be role models for them in how to relate to money matters in a healthy way.

8. Vows can help you reach your dreams faster because you are working to be on the same page financially.

9. Saying “I do” to your intentions means saying “I do not” to others + as a couple you get clear on what you are saying “YES” to and “NO” to.

10. You can experience blessing after blessing by co-creating a life of your unique desires as a couple!


“We agree to create a life of abundance in all forms, money being one of those forms. We will honor each other’s contributions to our partnership, holding time + money + energy as equal forms of contribution.  We will each earn to our potential + be equal partners in decision making with all money matters with the goal of building wealth instead of creating debt. We promise to full transparency of all accounts, free of secrets.

We agree to step into uncomfortable conversations with curiosity + discovery rather than fear + judgement if we observe ourselves or each other jeopardizing the integrity of our money vows.”

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I work with a lot of couples, helping them navigate the waters of money, marriage, and the mix of ours and mine. A large piece of our work together is getting both partners on the same financial page, with a united vision for how they want to move forward. This is the easy part.

The more challenging part has to do with the “stuff” (we all have our stuff) that comes up between couples that side tracks them from staying on track with their united vision. One of the pieces of stuff that comes up that needs to be addressed is TONE. Voice tone that is! It is one of the biggest “blind spots” couples live in…which is how they are coming across to one another…how what they say verbally might not be matching what they are saying with their body language (which voice tone is a part of) and we all know the body is the truth teller of how we feel, right?

Tone can create connection or derail a conversation in seconds. My husband and I know this firsthand! It took us weeks and months of practice before we came to our money meetings relaxed and left relaxed. It is the same for many of my clients.

Talking about money is stressful when there is a dance of snarling, blaming, projection, activation of unconscious emotional triggers and looping communication dances (the ones that go round and round and never end with a good result) that live in the problem instead of the solution. Whew!


Here are some pointers my husband and I practice to keep our TONE OF VOICE in check, so we BOTH experience money meetings that are fun and productive!

(1) Speak without constricting your voice. Constriction can occur when we are in an agitated or frustrated feeling state. If you feel agitated, take deep breaths to relax yourself.

  • Practice a deeper pitch to your voice (that sexy deep voice pitch), slow your pace, take pauses, breathe, breathe again
  • Think about what a “friendly tone” sounds like to you and practice that tone in your money meetings
  • Soften your voice volume
  • Relax your upper body…this will make your voice sound more gentle and pleasant. Do shoulder rolls, neck rotations and allow your belly to soften

(2) Smile at your partner rather than remaining tensed up in the jaw area

(3) Drink water to keep your throat area hydrated and to flush through feelings

(4) Be mindful of the words you place emphasis on…for example:

  • “What do you see as a solution to help us stay on track this month?”
  • “What do you see as a solution to help us stay on track this month?”

(5) Get out of “parent | child” communication dynamics and shift to an “adult | adult” communication dynamic. Check out this article to better help you with this shift.

(6) Record yourself with your smart phone and listen to how you sound. Honestly evaluate yourself. Do you sound bossy? Critical? Loving? Friendly?

(7) Attitude comes out in voice tone. Do a body check and feeling check. If you feel defended and upset, take deep breaths until you create a more positive feeling state in your body. Taking deep breaths brings more oxygen to our cells and helps decrease the stress hormone of cortisol in our bodies.

(8) Gather your breath from your belly area before you speak rather than from your throat or nasal cavity.

What other ideas do you have on how to be in check with your TONE! It really does matter!

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GLOW you say? When was the last time you noticed if it was missing?

Recently, I had the opportunity and pleasure to interview Relationship Therapist, Sara Bunce MFT. Sara specializes in working with couples and complex relationship dynamics. I call her a “Relationship Artist.” Her work is transforming and she helps couples “get their glow back!”

I was super intrigued listening to what Sara had to say about “couples at risk” of relationship failure, those who have lost their “glow,” and more importantly…the core reasons why (which she says has to do with our brain and behavior).

Sara listed out for me 4 main reasons couples lose the glue and glow that show in healthy relationships. Here they are:

Failure to Risk Vulnerability

Failure to risk vulnerability can show up in two ways. Shying away from vulnerability can take the form of “fighting like cats and dogs with no resolution.”  Never ending fighting can be a way to avoid the real issue at hand (and keep the stress hormone of cortisol flowing in relationship).

Sara also goes on to say, “Couples that shy away from conflict, arguments or heated discussions, avoid vulnerability too.” These couples can outwardly appear as June and Ward Cleaver, where everything is just fine, or their homes can be mistaken for the movie set Pleasantville.”

“Being conflict adverse can mean we don’t tell our partners the truth because we are afraid of upsetting them and risk dis-approval.” So, instead, we wear a mask of adaptation. This mask has protective properties and over time we begin to lose touch with our true needs…for the sake of getting along and keeping the relationship waters for smooth sailing.

By the way, says Sara, “Couples that don’t risk vulnerability, often don’t have great sex lives either.” Placing the priority of “smooth relationship waters,” before vulnerability, can create a relationship, which can be deadening both emotionally and financially.

Emotionally, not risking vulnerability leads to un-met needs, chronic anxiety, silent resentments, and eventually a deep disconnect with ourselves and partners.

Financially, not risking vulnerability,  can mean not confronting behaviors of increasing debt, over-spending, under-earning or lack of savings in order to avoid conflict.

Although conflict avoidance can appear as a way to create smooth waters, what really occurs is a turbulent under current that eventually can capsize the boat. Turning a blind eye, not talking about the real issue, living in denial, or sacrificing truth and vulnerability can be harmful over the long run to your heart and bank account.

Breaking Commitments

Another relationship behavior that dulls the glow, is breaking commitments (not keeping your word), and then dismissing or minimizing the damage of the broken commitment.

Little things add up…emotionally and financially. Chronic lateness, chronic forgetting, saying one thing and doing another are ways we break commitments with our partners.  Over time this leads to eroded trust and un-met goals.

When it comes to finances, breaking commitments can take the form of creating a cash flow plan and not taking agreed upon action to stay on that plan, saying you won’t make an independent spending decision on certain higher ticket items and then doing so, or paying bills late for services already provided to you that you agreed to pay by a certain date.

Chronic broken commitments over time chip away at the foundation of trust in a relationship, which can take extensive effort to repair.

A Belief  That Happiness Exists Outside of Self

Third, Sara tells us, couples are at risk, that aren’t able to comfort themselves and believe happiness exists outside of themselves.

Anytime we believe the solution lies outside of us, we aren’t taking personal responsibility for ourselves. We are looking outward for a fix to make our insides feel better.

Relation-ship wise, this translates into placing expectations on our partner to behave in ways that make us happy…instead of finding ways to create our own happiness regardless of what is going on in an external way.

This is the case with addictions for sure, both process (shopping, spending, eating, sex) and substance (alcohol and drugs).

In my practice, I find when clients try to fill an internal need with an external object of desire, they are feeding the growing emptiness inside…and the hole just keeps getting bigger.

An example of this is trying to fill the basic internal esteem (Maslow) needs of love & belonging, fun, power, and freedom in an external way. People who do this spend more. Lets say you aren’t so great at creating intimate connections with your actions and words, then you might try to buy love through high ticket presents. This is an example of meeting an internal need in an external way.

Lack of Novelty

Fourth, Sara says, “Couples that lose their glow are ones that don’t create some form of novelty in their lives. Novelty can be very small and simple gestures to create new experiences or new ways to express love.”

Guess what? Novelty doesn’t have to cost money either. You can write your partner a love poem, create a date night, cook a special meal or share a new hike.

When you learn to talk about money, there’s a very good chance you can talk about other sensitive subjects, which will increase your intimacy and marriage satisfaction.

Sara’s work with couples integrates psychology (behavior) and biology (the brain). Her parting words in this interview were:

Know that your brain impacts your marriage

The primitive part of our brain that is good at keeping us alive in the face of danger, is very bad at love.  You can learn how to steer away from those hurtful fights & instead experience empathy, acceptance, & intimacy.

Reconnect in a new way that feels good to both of you.

Our culture doesn’t teach us the benefits of making marriage a priority

Putting time & effort into marriage can be a scary and counterintuitive thought.  Imagine feeling loved and taken care of? This will trickle down to your children and anyone that comes into contact with you.

In the meantime, if you want to read a book (recommended by Sara Bunce) try “WIRED FOR LOVE,” by Stan Tatkin. This book is based on psychobiology, understanding how our brains and behavior work together. It is filled with ways to get your glow back in relationship…and remember, what’s good for love is good for money!

Tremendous appreciation for Sara’s time in granting this interview.

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