The practice of family law is where practicality meets emotion with diverse consequences. For some, divorce comes upon them like a changing tide; for others, it is an emotional tsunami. People fall apart for various reasons, but the two most common are: “I like someone better,” and “I can’t live like that.” The former has to do with love; the latter with money.
Bala Cynwyd psychologist Maggie Baker’s new book, Crazy About Money: How Emotions Confuse Our Money Choices And What To Do About It (2010: HW Press), dissects the caverns of emotion that money has carved in the American psyche. As a student of history, what amuses me about the topic is how new and pervasive money management has become in America. Until 60 years ago how money was managed wasn’t much discussed. Nobody really had any worth talking about.
But today lots of people have money. And they fret over it. People who don’t have money also fret over it. Baker’s book isn’t about the money. It’s about the fretting. And in paging through it, one comes to recognize how emotional a subject money has become. Often it is the catalyst for divorce when couples realize that their approach to asset accumulation is completely divergent. Typically, for men, money is a source of power. Some like it parked in their garage; some drive 15 year old cars because power is better displayed in the pages of their monthly brokerage statement. Women tend to see money as a source of security, although for some a pair of pumps can be as exhilarating as a Porsche 911 and we see a fair amount of unbridled spending for anything related to “the children.”
Baker’s book reminds us that these habits come from our emotional framework and our financial history. They are very deeply rooted but they can be changed if we are willing to invest time trying to understand our history and open our eyes to how we perceive our financial world. I daresay that couples who feel powerless because of irreconcilable financial differences actually can save a marriage if they jointly explore what those differences are and where they come from. It might save your marriage and deprive the voracious lawyers of a fee. Oops, did I say that?