I think by now most people are aware that money is often a huge source of stress in a relationship. I want to talk about this in the context of Integral Theory. In this post, I’ve outlined some thoughts on how different perspectives on money don’t always align, as well as some tips for approaching money in marriage in a more integral way.
I, We, and It
Ken Wilber, prolific writer and author of Integral Theory, breaks down the three main perspectives from which we can view things into I, We, and It. (Click here for more details and to see a graphic representation of Wilber’s four quadrants. Note that Wilber often collapses "It" and "Its" into just "It.") In the context of money in marriage, you have two individuals with their own interior, subjective personal perspectives: two individual "I’s" that come together to form a collective "We." Money in this relationship is an "It."
Combining Fuzzy Perceptions of Money
“It” is a thing, a tool, and an abstract and intangible one at that. You don't see or touch money for the most part anymore, and it is more difficult for many people to have money conversations than sex conversations. Most parents just teach their children that it's "rude to discuss money." Kids are taught that money is the root of all evil. And you can graduate with a PhD without ever having taken a class on personal finance.
So, if two individuals come together with fuzzy interior thoughts on money, spending, and investing, how could they hope to form a "We" that is more aware or in alignment?
Taking an Integral Approach to Money in Marriage
I think that, individually and collectively, couples should think about the following issues:
- What is important to us about money?
- What are we trying to accomplish individually and collectively (i.e., pay off student loans, save for a home, start a business, raise children, help children with college)?
- What does long-term mean?
- Hypothetically, what might you do if you suddenly had an extra $1,000, $10,000, $100,000, or more? Work bonuses, inheritances, and other windfalls can create great opportunities, but they can also lead to huge fights when you don't have a game plan.
- How should we handle day-to-day finances?
This last one can be huge. Many couples come together as individuals and throw everything into a common pot. This can be good for big expenses but can lead to stress when it comes to individual expenditures. Successful couples I work with often agree on an "allowance" for each other so each person can feel free to splurge on little things for themselves or even a gift for the other without risk of over-spending the family budget. If each person has a bit of their own money, this can reduce chances for resentment, especially if the common money is working toward joint goals.
This illustrates the importance of addressing both the “I’s” and the “We” in the relationship. When each individual perspective is understood and acknowledged, the collective couple can become more unified in their attitudes toward “It.”
If you have any questions or need help talking through these points with your spouse, let me know! Email [email protected].