The Beautiful Dream
There is always that couple. You know the ones; they story-tell in tandem, taking turns to paint the perfect picture of their shared memories. They go on date nights and post social media updates about their fun yet meaningful hobbies, activities, and trips. Like the beautiful and mysterious relationship-unicorn they are, this couple appears to settle differences through a respectful exchange of viewpoints that culminates with a compromise that empowers everyone. Sensitive topics like family, money, marriage, careers and kids can’t touch these two because they were proactive and planned.
The Ugly Reality
So yeah, this couple doesn’t exist. Those pictures of the bright-eyed, happy family artfully arranged in a sun-drenched meadow were actually a gruelling six-hour photo shoot. That stunning Instagram feed full of #Blessed hashtags belongs to a woman diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder – she needs to check her oven nine times before bed. The house-proud husband and wife you visit might be the envy of the neighborhood, but he’s been out of work for a year, and they might have to sell that home.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that I want to tear people down. However, I want to talk about the habit of believing what we see in other people’s lives. Viewing two people from the outside is entirely different from being inside their relationship’s rich, multi-faceted world. We make snap judgments based on a quick conversation, a Facebook post, or an email and decide this must be the whole truth. Unfortunately, turning our friends’ lives into cardboard cut-outs of their happy, shiny moments doesn’t help anyone.
The Blood, Sweat, and Tears
In my experience, trying to develop a system for managing money is like training for a marathon – it takes a lot of work. Depending on where you are in your life or regime, you’ll need different strategies to achieve your goals. Stage one is building a base – go at a slow, comfortable pace and run as far as possible. When I first decided to become part of a be-yoo-tiful whole, we talked about how we make decisions about money, life goals, and how we’re similar and different.
From there, you look at the strength and speed phases of marathon training. You start building up your relationship money habits and reinforce them through repeated use. Maybe you set aside time to talk money once a week, broach touchy topics, and review progress towards a goal. Friction points start to develop in relationships – talking is always easier than implementing. That happens with running, too, and if you don’t address the minor problems early on, they become big problems.
In the latter stages of training, marathoners often start tapering – they back off the intensity of their practice while maintaining distance. In a similar process, partners consistently use their chosen financial strategies and are happy to hold steady for a while. For me, this is a tricky time because it’s easy to confuse contentment with complacency. My test for this is how the emotions sit when I think about something. There is a kind of conscious awareness when I’m at peace – I’m present in this moment. When I’m settling, I feel more irritable and avoidant. It’s different for everybody, but it gives you an idea of how to separate the two.
It Really Does Take Two
Two people who dedicate themselves to a shared life goal are like Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel; a thousand little thoughts and actions over a thousand days tell one story. Nobody knows how often the Renaissance painter wished he had never heard of that church over those four years, but it was probably more than once. The point is taking 45 seconds to snap a couple of selfies with the Vatican’s five-hundred-year-old frescoes in the background doesn’t make me an expert on creating art.
Whether we want to compare money and relationships to marathons or masterpieces, work must be done. There seems to be a trend of people using social media to post an overly flippant remark and pair it with a carefully crafted photo: “Just popping by Angkor Wat in Cambodia for a quick sunset tour before dashing over to Thailand to save elephants. #SoGrateful!” Attached is the obligatory picture of the sun’s first rays setting an ancient Hindu temple afire in crimson and gold. Of course, it’s totally unstaged and unfiltered.
I’m somewhat tongue in cheek about this behavior, but the point still stands. Don’t let anyone else dictate how happy you are in your relationship. Be honest with your partner, talk out your differences, celebrate your joys and share your sorrows. Don’t be afraid to tackle the scary stuff, like money or career. Most times, they can be worked through if you don’t get caught up in making things perfect.
Photo by Stephen Leonardi on Unsplash