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Monday, July 28, 2014

For Love & Money

By Debra L. Kaplan, MBA, MA, LPC, CMAT, CSAT-S

(The following article is excerpted from For Love and Money: Exploring Sexual & Financial Betrayal in Relationships, by Debra L. Kaplan. For Love and Money was published in 2013 and is available on Amazon and other online booksellers.)

When two people come together under an emotional and erotic cosmic trance, the one question they most likely don’t ask is: “What do I value most about being in a relationship?” This makes sense, given that our brains are hijacked by the hormonal and chemical rush of lust and attraction. Hopefully those conversations do occur, but later, after the lustful phase known as limerence subsides and the rose-colored glasses come off. This is where the relational currency begins to develop.

Sex Appeal as Currency

Currency is generally thought of as a form of economic or monetary exchange (i.e., money). But currency needn’t be pieces of paper or coins accepted as legal national tender. Currency can also be the emotional and sexual cache a person brings to a relationship. This type of relational currency speaks to what we value, our relational strengths, and the ways in which we communicate our values and strengths to a loved one. In other words, relational currency is the acts and statements used to express love and affection in relationship.
In the early phase of connection, when we are star-crossed lovers, we don’t barter in deeper relational currency, the proverbial life questions about what we truly value, or at least we are not likely to do so. These questions tend to surface about our romantic partner much later, often under a cloud of exasperation or relational disconnect. How is my partner showing up in our relationship, how does my partner express love and affection, and what does my partner value in the relationship?
We also ask these same questions of ourselves, albeit less often. In what ways am I showing up in our relationship, how do I express love and affection toward my partner and what do I value in the relationship? I often hear these and other statements in my work with couples:

  • He may not be very handsome, but the truth is that I married him for his money and he married me for my looks.
  • If he would only tell me that he even cares about me or loves me I wouldn’t feel so alone. But at least I get to live a rich lifestyle.
  • My friends are so envious that I’m engaged to a successful and handsome man. They tell me that it’s normal to be afraid about marriage and that I have nothing to complain about. But they don’t know that he is insecure and when things get rough, he drinks and takes off to the bars with his friends.
  • My wife stopped having sex with me years ago. So should I have stopped paying the bills?
  • Sure I know that he drinks, looks at porn and goes to strip clubs. Don’t all men do that? Besides, I love to spend money and I’m not prepared to give that up.

In 2010, Dr. Catherine Hakim, a British sociologist, presented a theory on what she called “erotic capital.” Hakim wrote, “Erotic capital combines beauty, sex appeal, liveliness, a talent for dressing well, charm and social skills, and sexual competence. Rather than degrading those who employ it, erotic capital represents a powerful and potentially equalizing tool — one that we scorn only to our own detriment.”1
In other words, the use of sex, sex appeal, and beauty as currency in courtships and relationships has long been a part of mating and dating. Prostitution, for instance, dates back to at least 2400 B.C.2 Controversial or not, Hakim’s perspective clearly identifies a longstanding tool of relational influence. Putting the matter as simply as possible sex appeal has always been, either overtly or covertly, used as relational currency, and this is likely to continue ad infinitum.

‘Til Theft Do Us Part

Money is also used, rather routinely, as currency in relationships. This is an all too common theme in sessions with couples. One particular session comes to mind.

“I make the money and you spend it.” Chuck said to his wife Katie. He was self-righteously angry, and all too happy to express his anger to a sympathetic ear and audience — me.  “I don’t remember vowing ‘til theft do us part,’” he added. “I don’t remember that we actually decided this. So maybe this was one of your unilateral marital decisions you made while I wasn’t looking.”  “Sorry you weren’t there, Chuck.” Katie retorted. “You must have been ‘burning the midnight oil’. Or is that burning the midnight oil with your colleague?”

That brought the discussion to a screeching halt, and we sat in silence. I tried not to smile at the dark humor Katie sometimes wielded when she was particularly hurt.

Given that Katie had asked for a crisis session and they were here to discuss Chuck’s latest infidelity, I was a bit surprised that they’d veered off on this money-related tangent. And yet I wasn’t surprised at all. Chuck and Katie had married 14 years ago in better times. The economy hadn’t yet eroded their life savings, their house had not come under the threat of foreclosure, and Chuck’s smoldering predilection for escorts and inter-office affairs hadn’t yet surfaced. Now money was tight, and both were spending it recklessly – Chuck on illicit sex, Katie on clothes and home furnishings. Both partners had been wielding the couple’s strained finances as a weapon for quite some time, so it was inevitable that we’d finally get around to this topic.

As is common for many in relationships, one of the partners comes to therapy in hopes of resolving an issue that has become problematic, perhaps even hopeless — in this case Chuck’s infidelity. Chuck was aware that Katie was unhappy and that she wanted to come to therapy to discuss his cheating. But in moments such as this, the therapist’s office becomes a de facto safe zone for what I call the relational rummage sale, meaning that eventually everything in the relationship ends up displayed — or as it was — flayed on the table. Once “safely” inside the therapy room, a partner or spouse drags out all the stuff that’s been stored for years in his or her emotional attic. Out comes the debris: long-standing resentments, fetid secrets, dashed hopes and disappointments that were, in their day, prized treasures and celebratory relational jewels.

For Chuck and Katie, this couldn’t have been truer. Katie had called and scheduled the appointment to “deal with Chuck’s latest sexual betrayal,” but when the door opened and the opportunity to expose unsung grievances presented it was game on. Resentments that had been festering for years were suddenly out in the open, ready to be picked over, looked at, discussed, and hopefully, in time, discarded.
Several minutes passed while Chuck and Katie sat in silence, avoiding even a glance at the other. Finally, Katie glanced anxiously at me, looking for some sort of sign that would communicate to her, “Go ahead, you have my permission to continue.” My silence was intentional. I was curious as to where this session was really heading. Suddenly Katie forged ahead.

“What do you mean ‘til theft do us part? If you mean that I spend the money, I do. That’s my job, isn’t it? I’m the one at home with the kids. I get them set for school and take care of the doctors’ visits, clothes, you know EVERYTHING. And everything is also what I gave up in order to stay home and raise the kids. Well, I’m tired of that. I’m tired of doing everything! I buy the food, keep the house, manage everything, and all you do is go to work and apparently screw around with any woman that will have you, and then you come home and sit on your ass like you’ve fulfilled all your daily requirements!”

Katie turned toward me and told me that Chuck had no idea about half of what went on at home, as if Chuck himself was not inches from her and within earshot of that very gibe. At this point I finally interjected. “I’m confused. I thought we’re here today because of Chuck’s infidelity. Is that the case? Or are there more pressing issues?”

Money Matters

According to a national telephone survey conducted in early 2012 by Harris Interactive for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), financial matters are the most common cause of discord among American couples.3

Twenty-seven percent of those who are married or living with a partner acknowledged that disagreements over money are the most likely cause of a spat, causing an average of three arguments per month. Financial matters topped the list, beating out children, chores, sex, work, friends, and every other potential bone of contention. “According to the survey, much of a relationship’s financial conflict can be traced to a failure to communicate about money matters. Amazingly, 55 percent of the people surveyed admitted that they do not set aside time on a regular basis to talk about financial issues.”

About the study’s findings, Jordan Amin, chair of the National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, said, “Money is a lightning rod for conflict in relationships because it’s a sensitive topic and each person brings a different perspective based on their past experiences. It’s critical for couples to communicate openly and regularly about financial matters in order to establish a common language around money and move toward shared goals.” Unfortunately, most couples, like Chuck and Katie in the discussion above, do not heed Amin’s advice. And when they don’t, financial matters can create silent resentments that manifest badly in any number of ways.

It seems logical that if financial matters are the primary source of discord among couples, then relational currency should be the primary avenue for exploring how couples relate. In my practice I have found this to absolutely be the case. The simple fact is that couples arrive at a relational medium of exchange, whether they know it or not. This relational currency is based on their individual values (both conscious and unconscious).

The fact that everyone has values is not in dispute. What is up for discussion is what those values are, and whether they’ve become the proverbial tail wagging the relational dog. Discovering what each partner values – really values, and is ultimately seeking in marriage or relationship and then negotiating for it — is paramount to relational success or failure. I have often shared with clients that in relationships there are two types of information: the information we need to know and have yet to ask for, and the information we already have yet choose to ignore. Actively discovering, accepting, and dealing with a person’s relational currency is difficult to do in the limerence of early sexual and emotional discovery. Most of us enjoy basking in the excitement and exhilaration of a promising relationship. When we ignore obvious information or continue to avoid asking important life questions, this promising relationship is threatened from the outset.

What Are We Really Fighting For?

During their therapy session, Chuck and Katie sparred about sexual infidelity and money. However, as the therapeutic process unfolded over the next few months, other underlying needs and values (relational currency) came to light. As it turns out, twenty years earlier, when Chuck and Katie were dating, Chuck was quick to point out much of what he so adored about Katie: her quick wit, her ability to hold her own in negotiations with her male business colleagues, and her needless/wantless stance. What he kept secret at that time, only revealing it in a therapy session, was that he’d also been attracted to Katie’s youth, as she was 10 years his junior. Reading between the lines it was easy to deduce that part of Chuck’s relational currency was: I’ll provide the salary if you keep providing the looks.

Katie’s relational currency was slightly different. Early on she was enamored with Chuck’s lithe social ease and his ability to make conversation in any situation, be it in business or in a social realm. Katie valued this part of Chuck’s life because it extended social standing. It was also Chuck’s established financial success that Katie found so appealing. As time passed, however, Katie seemed to forget that Chuck’s success in business is part of what made him so attractive to her in the first place. When the financial crash began in 2008, their finances were greatly impacted and it was clear to me that this major financial upheaval had as much to do with her anger at Chuck as his serial infidelity.

It seems that Katie and Chuck’s values, their relational currency, became over time deficits and aspects of mutual disdain. I knew that if they were to ever find their way back to their early relational roots, both would have to work at being honest with themselves, honest with the other, and sharing equally in the heavy lifting of therapy. Regardless of the internal work to be done, external distractions and Chuck’s readily apparent (to me) sexual addiction would need to be dealt with immediately.

Below is a short list of life questions I pose to couples as they begin their individual and couples work in therapy.

Questions for yourself:
• What do I value in a relationship?
• Do I ask for what I need and want?
• How do I express love and affection in my relationships?
• How do I show my love and affection to my partner?
• Do I express my love for him/her in a way that s/he values?

Questions about your partner:
• What does my partner really value in a relationship?
• Is my partner emotionally available in the ways that I need
    and want?
• Does my partner express love and affection in the ways that
    I need/want?
• How does s/he show his/her love and affection for me?
• Does my partner express his/her love for me in ways that I value?

Debra L. Kaplan, MBA, MA, LPC, CMAT, CSAT-S is a licensed therapist in Tucson, Arizona. She specializes in attachment and intimacy, complex traumatic stress and sexual addiction/compulsivity; issues that are often rooted in unresolved childhood trauma. Debra is a Certified EMDR clinician and incorporates advanced EMDR protocols in her work with trauma and addiction. Debra lectures internationally on trauma and addiction and authors articles and blog publications. Her book, For Love and Money: Exploring Sexual & Financial Betrayal in Relationships was published in 2013.  

For more information visit 
debrakaplancounseling.com or email: info@debrakaplancounseling.com