Mark and Lisa, a young couple married for two months, came to me for counseling. They couldn’t seem to find a solution with their contradicting financial goals. Mark wanted to be generous with his family-of-origin — treating them dinners regularly and shouldering family vacations occasionally. On the other hand, Lisa wanted to save as much as they could. She seemed to be in a hurry to meet their target amount of savings. They tried to solve it on their own, but apparently failed to come up with a fair solution for both.
When couples get stuck in an issue, they are having a kind of perpetual problem that stresses the relationship. In their stuckness, they start feeling misunderstood which could eventually lead to resentment. It is therefore important for couples to understand the causes that are motivating their actions.
Learning their present motivations from the past events.
Lisa recounted the time when one of her siblings suffered from terminal illness. At the time, they were depending on only one income, and all the family savings they’ve had were scraped away by medication. Lisa cried as she related the story. Clearly, this was a distressing event in their family life. This then taught her about the uncertainty of the future and the value of saving and preparation. We can see that her strong desire to keep on hitting their target amount of saving and her impatience when the saving is slow is driven by her need to secure the future.
Mark on the other hand, explained that treating his family is a love language he expresses with his parents and younger brother. They are not the type who show love through physical and verbal affections. Thus, through his own way, he could show them how important they are to him. In addition, he has an optimistic view on financial matters which he adopted from his parents. From this we can see that Mark is driven by his need to show his affection to his family-of-origin and optimism.
Tracing the past to understand their present motivations, each partner becomes aware that their individual goals — putting all money to savings and treating one’s family — are unrealistic given their partner’s history and background. This enables the couple to realize that their individual goals are not achievable. Moreso, it sets the relationship up for frustration and unhappiness.
Aside from gaining awareness and understanding, the couple develops empathy for one another. They will learn that their partners’ actions and desires are not from stubborness but out of past experiences, usually painful ones. As they emphatise with each other, they can now be more flexible with their decisions that will accommodate each others’ wishes, needs, and dreams.
Finding a solution
Finding a solution that will accommodate both individual goals should be rooted from empathy, understanding, and generosity. In Mark and Lisa’s case there are many options in which they could choose from. Perhaps Mark can limit the family dinner which he’s shouldering or ask his sibling to contribute. Lisa on the other hand, can allot an allowance for Mark’s treating expenses that is comfortable for her. In the end, it all depends on the couple how are they going to going to come up with a solution. What is important is that they understand where both are coming from.
When couple become aware of and rule out impossible goals, they will begin to pursue realistic and achievable goals. As a result, their chances for happiness are increased, and frustration decreased, in life and relationships.
Seven Principles in Making Marriage Work
Disclaimer: Some minor details about the clients such as names were modified to preserve anonymity.