The Issue: How to get counseling clients to talk about money issues in a constructive, nonjudgmental manner; blending financial counseling and couples counseling.
Who: Ben Vos, LPC, is a therapist in Brentwood, TN. He works with individuals, couples and families. Vos has developed a specialty in substance abuse and addiction issues. Much of his couples counseling is with couples who are remarried or are contemplating remarriage. In addition, he works with an organization that offers free counseling services to veterans, active duty military and their families.
Combining financial counseling and couples counseling
“Money is an influencing factor in everything,” says Vos, who notes that studies show that money is the most common cause of couples’ fights and, ultimately, divorce.
As of late, Vos believes that the economy causes couples more financial stress. This might be from unemployment or from a lack of savings. “Couples are coming in right now with a lot of shattered dreams,” says Vos. In addition, couples with addiction issues often have financial issues: the cost of addiction, missed wages, and resultant hoarding or keeping money secrets.
Dealing with financial issues in marriage counseling: money values
Vos usually starts couples counseling by doing a genogram to better understand clients’ backgrounds. This discussion touches on the socioeconomic status of their family of origin. While Vos also finds it helpful to do a budget in couples counseling, it has its limits.
“The traditional way I’d have the money conversation is just by pulling out the budget and going line by line and item by item. But then it turns into an accounting exercise. Really the issue is not so much about the numbers or the math. The math can work itself out. The issue where the conflict is taking place is about the values,” says Vos of blending financial counseling.
Often the challenge in couples counseling is to help one person see the other’s point of view. “They’re going to focus on who’s right and who’s wrong and when that happens, it’s really toxic for a relationship. It’s no longer focused on solving problems and much more about winning arguments.”
“I found it’s really helpful to get couples to start having a different kind of conversation about money that’s much more about understanding their values, what’s important to them – and that doesn’t have one right answer,” says Vos.
Money Habitudes in couples counseling and financial counseling
Vos uses a variety of methods in couples counseling “so they’re not just sitting on a couch talking.” This includes getting couples to move around the room, role-playing and drawing. The hands-on Money Habitudes cards not only make couples counseling sessions more engaging, but they also change the dynamic of the money conversation.
“I use Money Habitudes cards to help couples begin that important money conversation, whether they’re just beginning a relationship and are learning about their values as a couple, or whether they been married for thirty years and they’re just trying to figure out how to communicate about these things in a way that’s going to be productive,” says Vos.
Vos sees the cards as helping with the following with respect to financial counseling:
- Getting away from right versus wrong: “Couples often think that their issue is a money issue, like, ‘If only we had more of it’ or ‘If only we managed it better.’ When in reality, it’s much more about the feelings underneath. Money Habitudes really helps couples to understand each other and those feelings rather than getting into a ‘who’s right and who’s wrong’ conversation. It’s really nice when you watch couples start to understand and appreciate how they balance one another, rather than getting upset because they don’t see things the same way.”
- Augmenting traditional financial fixes: “There are lots of good things out there if couples are just looking to do things like eliminate debt or try to apply for a better job or whatever. But what I think Money Habitudes does is give couples a way to have conversations that are going to help them be ok, no matter what the circumstances are because they have a deeper understanding of their relationship and what’s important.”
“Money Habitudes is just such an enriching experience because it takes some of the pressure off that couples feel talking about these sensitive issues,” says Vos.