“Walking in this door was the hardest thing I’ve ever done!” John said, slumping against the black high-backed conference room chair.
Silence hung in the room and it felt as if there was a shortage of oxygen.
“I am basically laying my life bare; all the mistakes, the problems and failures. It’s hard.”
I nodded, looking John in the eyes.
“You are safe here, John. Our job is not to judge, but to help. Where shall we begin?”
John sat a little taller, let out a breath and began.
John’s story was not unique. He had a significant amount of debt, limited resources and most importantly, very little financial understanding beyond the basics. So rather than meet the challenge head on, he avoided his problems until he reached a breaking point.
Men are notorious avoiders. When we can’t find the restaurant and my wife asks “Why don’t you just call them?” my brain says hah—I can figure it out all by myself. I AM A MAN!
The same gene kicks in when we have to deal with other things besides money and uh, directions. We just don’t want to look foolish, incompetent, needy, dumb, incapable, inadequate or otherwise weak in anyone’s eyes…especially the people we love.
When it comes to money, “Don’t worry, I’ve got it handled” has been a frequent cause of pain, anger, confusion and ultimate failure in marriages. It’s a mindset that creates emotional, intellectual and financial roadblocks.
Instead consider trying some—or all—of these eight coping techniques:
- Create a safe zone. You and your partner need to establish a way to approach, discuss and share safely without recrimination and blame.
- Prepare a summary of the situation or problem. Put it all down in writing, the good, bad and ugly of it. Seeing it in black and white provides the power to make it real.
- Know that you don’t know everything and know that avoiding is the biggest problem. Shove your ego out of the way. It’s much healthier to state, with no equivocation, that you are not educated or familiar with the topic at hand.
- Open up and ask for help together. Focus on solutions. If you were suffering from cancer, you’d be knocking down the door of the best doctors possible. When it comes to problems in your money life, living in money misery probably isn’t going away without intervention.
- Find the right help. Don’t go to a sales person to help you navigate your way through the financial minefield. Make sure the person you hire is a fee-only fiduciary (who must adhere to the standard of working in the clients’ best interest). Ask about experience and how they get paid—if it’s any other method than straight fees, keep looking.
- Be open to new knowledge. Financial acumen is not something you acquire in one sitting, but like eating the proverbial elephant, is best one bite at a time. You might begin your exploration with Jason Zweig’s “Your Money and Your Brain” and Paul Merriman’s “Financial Fitness Forever”.
- Be active, not passive. Be an active force in making your situation better by taking small, measured and meaningful steps forward. Nothing happens if you don’t act.
- Be appreciative and forgiving. The more time you spend visiting self-deprecation, self-pity and blame, the less time you have to create shifts that matter.
Being in pain is terrible. The emotional pain of trying to manage something for which you are ill equipped is even worse. But you don’t have to remain in pain and helplessness. You just have to find the courage to stop and act.
John, getting ready to leave at the end of the meeting, turned, shook my hand and looked at me. “Thank you so much. Being here wasn’t as bad as I thought.”