This guest post is by Kate Levinson, PhD, a therapist specializing in money issues, and the author of Emotional Currency: A Woman’s Guide to Building a Healthy Relationship With Money (Random House, 2011)
The terrain of money and divorce is a rugged, sometimes brutal one – often because the end of a marriage is the very first time people examine the connection between their finances and their feelings.
Few people are taught how to process their emotions when it comes to money. We may talk intimately with friends about our work, partners, children and even sex, but rarely do we come near the still-taboo subject of personal finances. Divorce and the process of dividing assets and paying bills often forces all participants to face how they feel about money for the first time in their lives.
We all have emotional reactions to money, and we all use money to express emotion. Some of us splurge when we’re happy or stressed, others try to muster a measure of control by budgeting or saving. When it comes to a crisis like divorce, our darkest and most primitive emotions are at play. Divorce evokes an endless tangle of feelings—grief, uncertainty, anger, fear, vulnerability, hurt, betrayal, regret, blame, guilt, retaliation, despair, power, and powerlessness. Getting this mess in check is key to a successful, fair divorce – and a successful, happy life afterwards.
Here are some suggestions for getting through:
- Own your feelings. You don’t have to change anything—not yet—but you do need to do the hard work of identifying what you feel rather than just getting caught up in the chaos of your feelings. If you’re angry or frustrated about a money-related divorce negotiation, dig in and decide what is really upsetting you. Ask, “Is my rage about paying him spousal support, or his affair?” “Am I really upset that he spent all our savings, or that I stayed for so long in an unhappy marriage?”
- Identify your primary vulnerabilities and figure out how they affect your financial dealings. In what ways are you overly accommodating about money? In what ways are you rigid about it? For example, I often feel that I’ve missed out on the good stuff and can never have what I want because of a lack of money—neither of which is really true. Knowing this about myself, I can compensate for this attitude when in negotiations.
- Form a team of professionals and trusted friends to help you with financial matters. Talk to friends who have experienced divorce and can offer support and help you see your situation objectively. Your financial team might include your divorce lawyer, an accountant, financial planner, and maybe a real estate or business attorney as your situation requires.
- Determine your bottom line before negotiations begin. This will help avoid an endless, emotional fight with your spouse.
- Watch out for the common pitfalls of feeling either overly entitled or undeserving.
- Don’t try to heal your wounds with money. Overspending will not lessen your pain, but can put you in debt and insert additional challenges into your divorce negotiations.
- Accept that you will be afraid. Nearly every woman divorcing is scared to death about money, but few stay paralyzed for very long.
- Use your fear to motivate you to engage with your financial life. You are living a new reality—some of which you have control over and some of which you don’t. Recognize that you bring both vulnerabilities and strengths to the upheaval of divorce. Figure out what you need to do to take care of yourself—in your inner and outer life—in order to accept the changes, deal with this new reality, and create a new future. Gazillions of women have done it before you—you can too!
- Don’t settle for less than the fairest and best financial agreement possible. Accept that this settlement will include compromises.
- Remember: Money is not the best way to get even or attain justice; living a fulfilling life is.
- Remember: It’s just money.