When I was asked to write for the HCJ*, I was faced with one of my greatest demons: writer's block. Being the daughter of a famous author, I grew up believing that it had all been said better than I could ever say it. So why bother?! This has haunted me all my life, and I've always been able to avoid it by being too busy with other things. Of course, now it is no different. I am WAY too busy to write this article! But a promise is a promise, and I have a deadline, so write I must.

I was told to write about something that I know about, and my brain became jammed with "How do I choose, where do I begin?" Then someone suggested that I write something about one of my personal workshops.

Often, the biggest problems in couple relationships have to do with communication about sex and/or money. Both subjects tend to be avoided as "dangerous topics" and end up being the source of intense discord. I believe the HAI workshops do a brilliant job of helping people to feel increasingly comfortable in discussing their sexuality and I see what a difference that makes in their relationships.

As I've led HAI Couple's Workshops, I've repeatedly heard people say that they wished HAI would give workshops on money issues. I discovered how often couples avoid discussing this prickly issue only to end up in explosions when they felt they had to say something.

Through the workshops I met Spencer Sherman, who wanted to give something back to our community. Spencer is a nationally recognized expert on couples and money. Together, we created a workshop to explore this area. Here are some of the things I've learned from our work together.

What couples may not realize is that the differing personal histories and beliefs that they grew up with are often the source of their discord with finances. These histories and beliefs give rise to "innocent messages" about money. Innocent messages are statements overheard at home, in the community or in the culture at large, such as: "A penny saved is a penny earned"; "Money doesn't grow on trees"; "Money is the root of all evil"; "Money makes life easier"; and many others. I am sure that you can come up with some of your own. Some of our innocent beliefs come from watching our families. If your family struggled financially, you may have developed the belief that "Money is hard to come by." Perhaps your family had financial ease, which included great family vacations and play time, and you grew up believing "Money is plentiful and easily come by." Maybe you had enough money, but you saw your parents working hard and having little time for family. This might bring beliefs such as "I need to neglect my family in order to provide for them" or "Money creates suffering."

People find it quite eye-opening as they come to see how their history creates their present. It's interesting to see how we can be hooked by these issues, and the ways in which our often unconscious beliefs can cause discord with our partners, and with money in general.

It can help to work on separating feelings from thoughts through meditation and breath, a process which can be quite challenging as there is a tendency to get a lot of negative juice out of hanging on to the emotions attached to our beliefs. When we're run by these feelings, we want to be RIGHT about them, thus causing conflict. If, for example, one partner values saving while the other likes to spend, the saver may feel very angry, resentful or vulnerable; the spender may feel crimped, oppressed and also resentful. Hanging on to our stories about money (and the whole financial industry) often creates suffering. Practicing letting go of our thoughts and allowing our feelings to just "be" can create a profound change in our relationship to those feelings.

Getting clear about our current financial facts can be painful and scary, but facing the reality is a powerful and necessary tool for creating change. The facts include: how much money is coming in, how much is being spent and where it's being spent. This, too, can be a real eye-opener. We also look at whether couples are combining their incomes and expenses, keeping them completely separate or doing something in between. With the facts clear about that, the couples can make changes.

In order to make those changes, it's important to get clear about what really matters most to each person. What are their life values, goals, dreams? Couples may find that there are many places where these match, and places where they can be quite different. Once they get clear about their financial facts and their values, goals and dreams, they can talk about how they could support each other in making these dreams come true. This may entail making new choices, and small to radical changes in their lives.

For instance, one couple I know discovered that they both highly valued travel. They decided to give up supporting two cars. With only one car, they could put money into making their travel dreams a reality.

As another example, my husband, Mark, and I decided it was important to spend less on housing so that we could save for our future. While we cut our rent costs by a third in moving to Petaluma, we have the surprise added benefit of finding ourselves living in our most beautiful and nurturing home space to date. Furthermore, in our relationship Mark has helped me to become less impulsive in my spending, while I have helped him to lighten up and allow more freedom in spending to do things that give us both much joy, usually in the form of travel or camping trips. Being conscious and in charge of what we are doing financially can also greatly enhance our self-esteem.

It's important for couples to learn understanding and compassion for themselves and each other, and how to use what they learn in HAI workshops, to bring them back to love again and again as they navigate the sensitive subject of finances.

One message that I really wish had been infused in me as I grew up is: "Save something always." It doesn't matter how little you have, always put something away. The enlightening thing that I've learned is that it is rare to find someone who is capable of saving on their own. No matter how much or how little you earn, there is always something you "need" to spend money on. The best way to save is to have someone like your bank or your accountant automatically put the money away for you each month, no matter how small the amount. I think of it as a regular monthly bill I have to pay, like the electric bill, only it's for my future.

It takes courage to tell the truth, to feel the feelings, to love yourself and your partner enough to truly let go of old beliefs and suffering, and to make your dreams come true. It's not about having millions of dollars; it's about what you truly value most in life, and living that. Discussions about money can enhance the rich fabric of relationship.

* Published in the Human Awareness Institute Community Journal Nov./Dec. 2002


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