Mixing Fear with Money and Marriage

Mixing Fear with Money and Marriage November 30, 2021

Two people standing at a mountain cliff

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High school chemistry “volcanos” are only a dim memory, but I do recall that when you combine a little bit of vinegar with baking soda, it creates a chemical reaction, bubbling up in a foamy mess and overflowing everywhere. Well, it turns out that dropping a little bit of fear into your marriage relationship around money does pretty much the same thing.

As Jeff and I were doing research with thousands of couples for our book, Thriving in Love and Money, we found that, quite often, some of our deepest fears and insecurities will look to our spouse like a little dose of baking soda—in other words, like nothing much at all. Yet, because they are so real to us, those fears are one of the most potent behind-the-scenes elements behind our reactions to money.

Take Deanna and Carl, for example, who I interviewed months ago. For most of their 17-year marriage, Deanna and Carl have had tension over his highly paid but demanding job. They both agree that he works all the time and—except for a few extravagant vacations here and there—misses a lot that is going on with the family. He can’t make it to very many of the kids’ piano recitals, sporting events, or family dinners, and rarely has time just to hang out. When he is at home, he’s pretty tired and is yearning for downtime rather than games of catch or a dinner date out. Deanna appreciates Carl’s lucrative salary, but many times has told him that she would gladly downgrade to a smaller house and cheaper vacations in order to have more of him. Carl, on the other hand, doesn’t quite believe that. He loves his wife and kids but feels a bit trapped and continues to put in long hours.

What is going on in situations like this?

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