Dr Marry and I celebrated 19 years together yesterday. How in the world has it already been 19 years? I remember feeling pretty mature when I met him. I was through with my coursework for my Masters degree, Quinn was in Kindergarten, I was nearer 30 than 20 and felt like change was on the way.
Flash forward 19 years, and I definitely feel pretty mature, although I do wonder when I’ll feel like I’ve “made it.” We’re well into empty-nesting–six years, to be exact. I’m now nearer 50 than 40 and, again feel like change is on the way.
I’m doing a 21-day online abundance meditation series, and one of the “tasks” associated with one of the days was to write down every single expense you have–not the amount–but the expense, whether significant or trivial, so that you can see what your debts are. The meditation provides an opportunity to release the burden you feel around those debts.
Because Dr Marry came to visit me to celebrate our anniversary, we did it together, and it was a great project to work on. Having the conversation around our expenses was pretty effortless; there was a nice give and take between us. What was most lovely is that we were in agreement that these expenses are appropriate, and we’re happy to continue all of them going forward.
Where the conversation got “interesting” was when we shifted gears (not part of the meditation exercise) to talking about what to do with our excess money. It’s a fascinating paradigm to be married to someone who grew up in a culture where things like the arts and health and human services are primarily, or at least significantly, supported by the government. It took me years to convince Dr Marry that charitable giving was important and valuable and a wonderful use of money because he just didn’t grow up in an environment where that was needed or discussed.
Somewhere along the way, he became a convert, so that’s taken care of. But he’s not inclined to be quite as “generous” as I am with our money. He has much more of a “rainy day” saving mindset than I do. I’m not saying I don’t believe in having a financial safety net—after all the years I lived so close to the edge, I absolutely believe in that–but I also ascribe to the notion that “To whom much is given, much is expected.”
And so much has been given to me over the years. Whether from my family; from a Universal, Spiritual, Faith-based collective; from the state for much of my education, the nine years we lived in income-based housing and the years we received WIC; from Dr Marry himself who started carrying a big financial weight in our lives very shortly after we met; from anonymous people and friends who made sure Quinn and I were taken care of in ways large and small, we were always ok, even at our poorest.
And I just can’t forget that, and I just can’t turn my back on others who are where I once was. And then don’t even get me started on supporting the arts…
So our conversation got heated because we have really different philosophies around money. I know, get in line, right?
Money is one of the primary stated causes of divorce. And if I think about the financial conversations we had while Dr Marry was drinking, I can tell you that, again, it’s a miracle we survived.
Pre-2017, we didn’t have money conversations. We had money arguments. From his side, I was nagging, questioning, accusing; from mine, he was obfuscating, lying, paying no attention. We never, and I do mean never, had a “good” conversation around money.
As with most hard conversations, this one today started out ok and then pretty quickly devolved into something less than ok. It lasted for a couple of hours and seemed to involve a lot of “You’re not hearing me” and “You’re not listening,” but nobody raised their voice, nobody stormed off and neither of us for one single second thought, “This isn’t worth it, I want out of this marriage.”
And we worked through the tough conversation, or at least we reached a place where we both felt we could reasonably table it for an agreed upon later date where we’ll have some additional financial data from which to operate. We did what we keep telling everyone on our “Daily Dose of Dr Marry & DD” conversations to do: we just took the first step, and then the next and the next. And we diligently walked through it together.
It was an important conversation for us to have because we have so rarely disagreed in any meaningful way since Dr Marry got sober that it can be easy to think that everything is in complete harmony. But of course that’s not true. Of course we see things differently. We are, after all, very different people, which is in great part why we work so well together. But those differences can, and occasionally do, come to loggerheads, and I’m proud to say that today, we did the hard work to stay engaged, even when it was uncomfortable, even when our past patterns could have shown up and taken over. Just because Dr Marry has stopped drinking doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes catch ourselves almost falling back into patterns that were long-established in our marriage. But today, we just kept taking one small step, trying to find our way to the same path, or at least trying to move in the same direction.
We’ll have this conversation again, and it will probably be difficult again, but it will be less so because we laid down a new pattern today for how we disagree with each other. We made positive steps towards harmony around one of the most stressful aspects of many marriages. Today, I’m feeling closer to “made it” than I probably ever have.
If you have one of these hard conversations on the horizon with your significant other, I encourage you to have a pre-conversation where you lay out some “rules of engagement,” so that you, too, can move towards a more useful, honest and positive discussion. Doesn’t mean it won’t be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be whatever your history has demonstrated it will be. We all have the power to disrupt our “hard conversation system” and start a new routine. Good luck!