My husband is my personal superhero. He is a great match for me in every way and has one of the kindest hearts of any man I know.
Coming into our marriage I knew that finances were the leading cause of divorce. I did not tread lightly or believe that love would conquer all. I had the financial education to know how to set things up so that money was never something that came between us.
My father always made it his top priority to educate my sister and I on finances. When my sister was twelve and wanted to buy her own computer my dad asked her, "Is that an appreciating asset or a depreciating asset?" This was designed to instill in us early on that your money should always be used to make you more money, and that my sister and I had the power to do so.
I have continued this approach into my financial education as an adult, taking business courses, reading books on how to invest and build your wealth and speaking to everyone I could who was more educated than I was in the area.
I have developed a clear view of the financial world because of this education and how this macrocosm manifests itself in our personal lives-- namely in relationships. It has always been important to me to keep my marriage clear and healthy in all areas; and keeping our money clear is an extension of how committed I am to my husband.
You have to look at the future of your relationship with a sober perspective, rather than a romantic lens. Viewing finances pragmatically is what will allow the romance of your relationship to thrive and grow over time. Hoping that things will change or get better with time is succumbing to your romantic lens, and it leaches the relationship of its peace over time.
Here are three steps to keep your relationship financially healthy.
Be Clear on What your Contribution is:
One of the things that creates resentment in relationships is when one partner works and brings in the money, and the other stays at home. In many relationships, the partner who stays home doesn't feel like they have a right to the money and will not ask for what they really want, because they weren't the ones who went out and earned it.
If you are in a relationship, you are being a contribution in some way, whether it is raising children or caring for your home. If you agree to both live off one partner's income, this doesn't mean the partner who didn't directly earn it wasn't a major support in their spouse's life.
This comes down to self-worth. We often assume that the role of our partner is to remind us of our self-worth, but that is not a reasonable expectation of them. If you don't value what you have to contribute, you cannot expect your partner to. You really have to look at how you value your contribution to the relationship and what you would like to have in your life- whether or not you're the main source of income.
Consider How You Tend to Spend Your Money:
You need to be clear on how you and your partner tend to function with regard to money. What are your saving and spending habits and what are your partner's? If you are someone who likes to spend $600 on a pair of shoes now and then, how does that make your partner feel? If you have always wanted a boat but your partner doesn't share the same nautical dreams, you need discuss this before you enter into the next phase of your relationship. Most people are not willing to be honest about their financial aspirations because they believe that if an agreement is not reached, it will threaten the relationship. This is rarely the case. The real threat is having the difference in opinion erode the relationship over time as it becomes apparent in different situations.
Make a Deal and Deliver:
This is a conversation where you sit down with your spouse and write down everything that is required in the relationship. Who takes out the trash, who brings in the money, who makes sure the kids have brushed their teeth and how many nights a week does each person make dinner?
In my house, my husband and I both bring in the money, we split the bills, I make dinner every night and he minds the bills and takes care of his beautiful gardens. The greater the detail, the greater the ease. People avoid putting this into practice because it takes away the romantic notion. The opposite is true, when you have this clarity, it leaves more space for romance.
The Secret to Having Money Is Making More than you Spend:
Now this is quite an obvious sentiment and I am being a bit facetious here. I wish this point was as obvious in practice as it is on paper.
This is a total myth. This mindset is designed to control us into being average earners and big consumers. If you open up any good financial book, you will realize that setting yourself up to have money is as easy as learning to cook or do basic math. I am at an advantage because I was raised in a household where this type of attitude was valued, but I have seen people learn this in adulthood successfully time and time again.
Being in a relationship is about finding someone who makes your life happier, lighter and greater. The romantic partner you choose becomes the most important business relationship in your life. What if it was easier than it seemed to have a healthy relationship with your partner and your money?
Marriage can be a tightrope act: when everything is in balance, it is bliss and you feel safe, but once things get shaky, you are unsure about next steps. Add outside forces into the equation like kids, work, finances or a personal crisis and now there's a strong chance that you'll need extra support to keep you from falling.
My husband and I are no strangers to misunderstandings, which are expected in any relationship, but after 7 years of marriage, we were really being tested on how strong our bond was and it had nothing to do with the "7-year itch"--it was when I was diagnosed with PTSD. As a survivor of child sexual abuse who is a perfectionist, I felt guilty about not being the "perfect partner" in our relationship; frustrated that I might be triggered while being intimate; and worried about being seen as broken or weak because of panic attacks. My defense mechanism is to not need anyone, yet my biggest fear is often abandonment.
I am not a trained therapist or relationship expert, but since 2016, I have learned a lot about managing survivorship and PTSD triggers while being in a heterosexual marriage, so I am now sharing some of my practical relationship advice to the partners of survivors to support my fellow female survivors who may be struggling to have a stronger voice in their relationship. Partners of survivors have needs too during this process, but before those needs can be met, they need to understand how to support their survivor partner, and it isn't always an easy path to navigate.
To my fellow survivor sisters in romantic relationships, I write these tips from the perspective of giving advice to your partner, so schedule some quality time to talk with your boo and read these tips together.
I challenge you both to discuss if my advice resonates with you or not! Ultimately, it will help both of you develop an open line of communication about needs, boundaries, triggers and loving one another long-term.
1. To Be or Not to Be Sexy: Your survivor partner probably wants to feel sexy, but is ambivalent about sex. She was a sexual object to someone else and that can wreak havoc on her self-esteem and intimate relationships. She may want you to find her sexy and yet not want to actually be intimate with you. Talk to her about her needs in the bedroom, what will make her feel safe, what will make her feel sexy but not objectified, and remind her that you are attracted to her for a multitude or reasons--not just because of her physical appearance.
2. Safe Words = Safer Sex: Believe it or not, your partner's mind is probably wondering while you are intimate (yep, she isn't just thinking about how amazing you are, ha!). Negative thoughts can flash through her mind depending on her body position, things you say, how she feels, etc. Have a word that you agree on that she can say if she needs a break. It could be as simple as "pause," but it needs to be respected and not questioned so that she knows when it is used, you won't assume that you can sweet talk her into continuing. This doesn't have to be a bedroom only rule. Daytime physical touch or actions could warrant the safe word, as well.
3. Let Her Reconnect: Both partners need attention in a relationship, but sometimes a survivor is distracted. Maybe she was triggered that day, feels sad or her defense mechanisms are up because you did something to upset her and you didn't even know it (and she doesn't know how to explain what happened). If she is distant, ask her if she needs some time alone. Maybe she does, maybe she doesn't, but acknowledging that you can sense some internal conflict will go a long way. Sometimes giving her the space to reconnect with herself before expecting her to be able to focus on you/your needs is just what she needs to be reminded that she is safe and loved in this relationship.
4. Take the 5 Love Languages(r) Test: If you haven't read this book yet or taken the test, please at the very least take the free quiz to learn your individual love language. My top love language was Touch and Words of Affirmation before remembering my abuse and thereafter it became Acts of Service and Words of Affirmation. Knowing how your survivor partner prefers to be shown love goes a long way and it will in turn help your needs be met, as they might be different.
5. Be Patient: I know it might be frustrating at times and you can't possibly totally understand what your survivor partner is going through, but patience goes a long way. If your survivor partner is going through the early stages of PTSD, she feels like a lot of her emotional well-being is out of her control. Panic attacks are scary and there are triggers everywhere in society. For example, studies have shown that sexual references are made anywhere from 8 to 10 times during one hour of prime time television (source: Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media). My husband is now on high alert when we watch TV and film. He quickly paused a Game of Thrones episode when we started season 2 because he realized a potentially violent sexual scene was coming up, and ultimately we turned it off and never watched the series again. He didn't make a big deal about it and I was relieved.
6. Courage to Heal, Together: The Courage to Heal book has been around for many years and it supported me well during the onset of my first flashbacks of my abuse. At the back of the book is a partners section for couples to read together. I highly recommend it so that you can try to understand from a psychological, physical and emotional stand point what your survivor partner is grappling with and how the two of you can support one another on the path of healing and enjoying life together.