Wealthy couples argue about money, too

More money means more chance for dysfunction, says author Deborah Price

photo illustration by sarah mackinnon

When couples fight about money, it isn’t always because they don’t have enough. In many cases, the more they have, the more dysfunction there is, says Deborah Price, a well-respected money coach and author of a new book for couples called The Heart of Money: A Couple’s Guide to Creating True Financial Intimacy.

“This book was written for anybody who’s interested in exploring and understanding their more emotional and behavioural issues toward money,” said Price, the California-based founder and CEO of the Money Coaching Institute. “Many of our clients are people who are very affluent. In fact, many are from multi-generational families of wealth.”

Price’s coaching work goes beyond financial advice to help people talk about what’s really going on. “For example, I have a client who is very talented and makes a good living, but who worries incessantly about money. He thinks he has money issues, but the truth is, he has enough money and makes a good living. His real problems are: one, he hates what he does for a living and feels trapped; two, he lacks the confidence and faith that he can choose to do something else; and three, he doesn’t believe that he deserves to have what he wants, which is the heart of his problem,” writes Price.

On the phone, she acknowledges that “a lot of people don’t have a lot of compassion for the wealthy, but the fact is, they sometimes have very painful stories.” Price also runs a workshop where the rich learn to talk about love and wealth. “A person can develop a way of thinking ‘when you love me, you give me something,’ which is a flawed way of seeing love, but is actually a really common dynamic amongst wealthy people.”

Children from wealthy families often lack self-esteem, she adds. “They feel guilty because they have all this money and they haven’t had to work for it. And/or they grew up in dysfunctional systems where money was used as a means of control or manipulation. I can’t tell you how many wealthy children I work with as adults who got everything they could possibly ever imagine in the material realm, but did not experience love and affection. So they grow up with another level of deprivation . There’s not a lot of sensitivity or compassion for them—because they have so much—that they can feel alone in the world.”

Exploring your childhood experience with money is central to understanding your current relationship to it, says Price, who asks clients, whether wealthy or struggling financially, to write a money biography. “Write your stories from your earliest money memory and move chronologically through time. It is best to write your money story in a stream-of-consciousness manner without editing, judging or analyzing your memories,” she instructs in the book.

“I’m not a therapist. I’m a coach,” she says, explaining that behaviours related to money start when we are children, and so her coaching has to look to the past.

In the book, she describes how she helped saved the marriage of a multi-millionaire whose wife was ready to divorce him. The husband ran a successful biotech firm but was often away on business, obsessed with amassing more and more money. When the wife asked for a divorce, the husband said, “I’ve given you everything—look at this house, this life.” The wife responded, “I didn’t get married to this house or this life. I married you, and you barely exist in this relationship, and this isn’t the life I ever wanted.”

After working with Price, the husband realized he had an unconscious desire to prove his father—who said he wouldn’t amount to anything—wrong. “He decided to sell his company and focus on his home life for a while, while the family lived off the investments,” she writes. “They are planning to start a family foundation to help make a difference in the lives of single mothers, a cause close to the wife’s heart.”

In the interview, Price points out that the phrase “money is the root of all evil” is a misquotation from the Bible, and it’s the emotional connection to it that does the damage. “The love of money is the root of all evil,” she corrects.

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