Money Matters: A Mental Health Professional’s Perspective on the Four Financial Attachment Styles
By Kristin Wallace, PhD, Counselors for Change
Mental health professionals are key in the Collaborative Divorce process. They have a depth of understanding about human behavior, power dynamics, and trauma. This is why the Collaborative process is so unique compared to other divorce options. When clients understand that the combined expertise of the team provides a deeper understanding of what they are experiencing, they see the value of the process and trust that their language is being spoken and that the process is getting to the heart of their concerns and worries.
The Responsibility of the Mental Health Professional in an Attachment-Informed Collaborative Divorce
The mental health neutral adds value to a Collaborative Divorce in several ways. They help the team use emotionally-friendly language, offer their highly-trained interpersonal skill set, and understand complex psychological processes.
One particular type of phenomena has to do with the effects and acting out of the grieving process. Part of grief, as the mental health expert is aware, stems from a loss of identity or an impairment to identity. There is heartbreak and loss in terms of their relationship—they are going from someone who was married to someone who is divorced, and all that comes with change. They have to tell their friends, family, and former bridesmaids and groomsmen. They will need to make sense of the breaking down of the relationship to their kids and community. But, there is also a non-negibile pain that comes from recognizing a change in lifestyle and finances.
Collaborative Divorce and Financial Attachment as an Entryway to a Deeper Sense of Self
The mental health neutral’s responsibility is to try to keep the clients’ financial identities intact, even while money is being reallocated, funds are divided, or houses are put on the market. They help clients look at money in affirming ways that are not damaging to their personalities or wellbeing.
It is important to remember that each partner individually has their own identity and financial identity separate from their partner's identity. Of course, this sense of self is adapted through, because of, or even in spite of the marriage relationship. But, it is possible that the divorce can be the means through which the individual’s financial and personal identity can be restored in a healthy way through this process.
The mental health professional can help the clients redefine, reestablish, and reframe this disjoining as an opportunity, guiding the clients to see options they might not have considered before. For instance, the partners might need to discuss what to do with a timeshare, something that has to do with both leisure and status, the Recreative and Social attachment styles. In this case, the two spouses may not see the timeshare as a pot of money that needs to be divided. Rather, there might be ways of facilitating an agreement that gives both access, appealing to each of their attachment styles.
Attachment Styles and the Heart of a Disagreement
Even though many arguments have to do with children, custody, and visitation, there are still many more arguments about money. Even in arguments having to do with children, they often boil down to money (think about college savings funds, vacation budgets that include children’s travel arrangements, inheritances in the children’s names, and so on). Money can play a large role in shaping parental identity, but also the parental attachment style.
As mentioned, while money is the main source of conflict, it is hardly ever money for the sake of money itself—it is rather the emotional part of the self that has to do with money. If one feels insecure, or feels a sense of loss, or feels as if their identity is being threatened, then they are likely to be less reasonable, less willing to compromise, more defensive, and more willing to be hostile.
Sometimes, Collaborative Divorce meetings do not go well because of arguments, and other times, they are not successful because of subtle sabotage. For instance, there can be a quiet resistance or purposeful stalling that prevents conversations from moving forward or for expenses to be inflated. When people feel hurt or not listened to, they may try to undermine the fairness of the Collaborative process. This in turn also undermines the trust that is necessary to engage in the ongoing team-based, low-conflict agenda that should be happening. This vicious cycle can be interrupted—by having Collaborative professionals listen and engage with their clients at deeper levels than just the monetary by engaging with financial attachment styles.
Making Progress Through Financial Attachment Theory
If the Collaborative team can talk openly and honestly about their clients’ motivations behind the money, progress can be made. The couple can then acknowledge the “why” behind their standpoints and non-negotiables, what those financial decisions mean for them and for the other, or how their own identity could suffer loss.
These conversations will require a deeper sense of authenticity, since they are getting to the root of disagreements, and not merely the surface-level defense mechanisms. It is certainly one thing for a spouse to tell the other that they cannot afford a month-long vacation to Rome anymore. It is a different matter entirely for that spouse to devalue their partner at a personal level, by targeting their attachment style with what they say and do in a collaborative meeting. In either case, there will be hurt and loss. However, clients can be coached on language and solutions that focus on solving practical issues, rather than attacking their partner’s identity. When these transparent conversations happen, the team can prevent the couple’s already rocky relationship from further unwinding. If the clients communicated effectively and agreed on everything they would not be pursuing a divorce—and this should be kept in mind throughout the Collaborative proceedings.
By focusing on the financial attachments of clients and spending time talking about personality and identity, it allows Collaborative professionals to be clearer on the logistical, practical, and concrete details of divorce. There will be less tiptoeing about hard decisions because the team is prudently directing sensitivity and care towards the people making the decisions. For example, it will be easier to have a difficult conversation about budgets if the couple’s identity, personality, and desire for security is affirmed first. Even though a person’s home, standard of living, or retirement accounts are in dispute, there is never an argument about that person’s sense of self, who they are, and what their needs might be.
TO LEARN MORE
To learn more join us at the 2022 Florida Academy of Collaborative Professional (FACP) where we will presenting: Money Matters – A Team Approach to Understanding the Emotional and Practical Needs of Clients Facing Complex Financial Issues in the Collaborative Process.