Dividing the Assets in Your Divorce: When Money and Emotions Overlap – DR. DEBORAH HECKER

Money is a core concern of any divorce experience.  Most people think of money in terms of dollars and cents and making the “right” financial choices.  However, money is a much more complex part of our lives and has the power to trigger potent subjective emotions in everyone.  Money symbolizes different things to different people because our feelings about money and how to handle it are largely dependent on our unique family histories.

In a “completed” divorce, both the legal and emotional bonds between the two members of a couple are severed.  Money is one of the primary sources of conflict in a marriage; those conflicts usually escalate during a divorce.  Couples who are separating and divorcing should be aware that the hot button of money can evoke emotional fireworks and disrupt the resolution of financial matters.

An individual’s interaction with money is one of the most important relationships in her or his life.  The way a person feels about money says more about them than they may realize.  Money is often thought of in black-and-white terms – either there is enough or there isn’t – but the reality is that money is full of psychological, emotional, and symbolic meaning.  An individual’s relationship with money mirrors her or his vulnerabilities, fears, needs, and desires.  Money affects career and relationship choices, is reflected in personal issues of control, self-esteem, and sense of well-being, and affects most of the decisions made in life.

Some individuals equate money and love, often due to the dynamics in their family of origin.  For example, parents who don’t spend enough time with their children often show their love with material gifts.  When these children become adults, they may feel unloved unless love is demonstrated with material items.

An individual’s self-esteem can directly impact financial decisions and spending habits.  If a person feels that she or he doesn’t measure up to their own expectations or those of others, the individual may make costly and unnecessary purchases that temporarily soothe their feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth.

Many divorcing people are too overwhelmed with feelings of fear, self-pity, anger, failure, and guilty to behave rationally about dividing assets.  Here are some tips for remaining objective and having a healthy financial divorce:

  • If your relationship with money has been murky, start educating yourself.  Wanting to be financially secure is not sufficient.  If you’ve left most financial decisions to your spouse, assume responsibility for your own economic interests.
  • Commit to a budget.  Be realistic about your spending habits and adjust your budget to accommodate lifestyle changes.  Learn to distinguish between “wants” and “needs.”
  • Develop and maintain a relationship with a competent financial advisor.  This individual will help you develop a financial plan that is separate and distinct from that of your soon-to-be ex-spouse.
  • Let go of self-pity concerning the change in your financial status.  You have value as a wage-earner and are capable of unwinding joint finances.
  • Consult with a divorce therapist to assess your feelings about money.  The divorce counselor will assist you in identifying the psychological factors that drive your financial behavior.  Instead of focusing on earning more money to attain happiness, you may need to reframe your thinking about earning, spending, and investing money.



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