MENTAL HEALTH

When couples say they broke up over money, that’s not the real reason, says the therapist. That’s what it is

  • Psychoanalyst Orna Guralnik says money is one of the biggest stressors in relationships.
  • While financial matters can spark intense conflict for couples, Guralnik doesn’t believe money, or lack of it, is the real reason they broke up.
  • Two people in a relationship can have very different attitudes about money, Guralnik said.

Orna Guralnik on Showtime’s “Couple Therapy.”

Source: Entertainment

When I was little, my father repeated a saying he heard as a child from his grandmother: “When money don’t go in the door, love goes out the window.” That proverb appears to go back to a 19th-century painting by English artist George Frederick Watts, titled, “When poverty walks in the door, love flies out the window.”

I relayed the quote to psychoanalyst Orna Guralnik, and she agreed that money is one of the biggest stressors for couples, “especially because of the society we live in.” Guralnik stars in the Showtime documentary series “Couples Therapy,” in which she analyzes real patients in a room with hidden cameras. New episodes of its third season premiered last month.

While financial matters can spark intense conflict for couples, Guralnik doesn’t believe money, or lack of it, is the real reason they broke up. “Ultimately, from my perspective, the breakup isn’t about the money,” he said. Instead, Guralnik said, “the break is about the inability to negotiate differences, to be honest, or to find a way to reach common ground.”

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Guralnik describes money as one of the main “touchstones with reality” that can clarify that two people cannot solve problems together. It’s this inability to communicate, empathize, and compromise with one another that could ruin a relationship, he said.

During my late April interview with Guralnik, he had many more interesting things to say about love and money. Here are three.

In her work with patients, Guralnik said it can take a long time for people to open up about their financial situation.

“Sometimes, I find people are more private about money than about their sex life,” she said.

It’s not just with their therapist that people avoid topics like debt or overspending, Guralnik said. People can be married for years and still haven’t told their partner what’s going on with their finances.

Guralnik understands this avoidance of the topic.

“In American society, money places you in the social structure more than anything else,” he said. “A lot depends on money in terms of people’s self-esteem.”

People take huge risks by not talking about and confronting their finances, he said.

“If you refuse to look at your bank account when you pull out your credit card, you can run up debt,” Guralnik said. “And if you keep doing that, that debt can be pretty devastating.”

Sometimes, I find people are more private about money than their sex life.

Orna Guralnik

psychoanalyst and host of “Couple Therapy”

“It can put you in the hole for a lifetime to come,” she added.

“I’m not saying this hyperbolically,” Guralnik continued. “I have a lot of people come to my office in that situation.”

People “protect themselves from knowing reality” when they refuse to pay attention to their finances, Guralnik said. He added, “You can’t take care of yourself if you’re not dealing with reality.”

At one point in the new Season 3 episodes of “Couples Therapy,” couple Kristi and Brock tell Guralnik that they’re worried that the main reason they’re moving in together is to save money.

However, Guralnik sees no problem with that motivation. “I agree that finances are part of the reasons people stay together,” he said.

“Kristi and Brock are idealists, and I love them for that,” she continued. “They believe they should move for love, not financial servitude.”

But the idea that marriage should be all about love is a pretty new idea, she added.

“Marriage has always been, first and foremost, a way to create a structure that protects people. It’s there to protect the financial unit.”

The money can also help a couple stay together, Guralnik said. After all, two people can have a lot to lose financially by parting ways.

“It gives them another reason to try and fix it,” she said.

Two people in a relationship can have very different attitudes about money, Guralnik said.

“Some people are frugal and can lean on the obsessive side,” she said. “Some people have no impulse control and hate thinking about the future.”

“Any conversation about budgeting or planning is heartbreaking for them,” she added.

Jamie Grill | Getty Images

To understand their behavior, Guralnik tries to understand what money symbolizes for his patients.

“As a psychoanalyst, my general way of approaching things is with the belief that concrete realities are related to unconscious realities,” she said.

For example, he once had a patient who hoarded money. “We discovered through the analysis that, for her, money represented time,” Guralnik said. “By hoarding money, in her unconscious, she was protecting herself from death.”

In other words, he said, “Money is not just money. It also represents something else.”

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