What are the things you can’t live without in a relationship? Those are your needs. And what are the things you’d like but could live without? Those are wants.
Romance and Finance. Two of the toughest things to manage in recovery—and the most likely to lead to a relapse. While someone with addiction can stay abstinent from drugs and alcohol, we must learn to moderate when it comes to love and money. This is a tall order for a group of “all or nothing” people. So what do we need to know to make sex, money and power work out more Hollywood ending and less tabloid headline? I spoke with three experts who offer their wisdom and tools for understanding and solving the riddle.
Psychotherapist, Sex Addiction, and Financial Disorders Expert Debra Kaplan points out that underlying attachment issues surface a few years into sobriety from drugs and/or alcohol, and when they do, romance and finance become all the more difficult. ”Attachment is the process by which we gain our knowledge of self— we know who we are because it has been reflected back to us by a co-regulating other,” she explains. Most people with substance use disorders suffer from some ruptures in attachment— a bond that may not have been consistent throughout our developmental process. When this process goes awry, we may become insecure about our self-worth. Kaplan says we must understand that sex and money are “stand-ins for self-esteem and self-worth.” This is why so many people who start in one 12-step program like NA or AA also end up in DA (Debtors Anonymous) and SLAA (Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous)—many times when they’ve been brought to their knees by these issues. So this this is a question of both living sober and relapse prevention.
According to a 2016 Ameriprise study, “Approximately 31% of all couples clash over their finances at least once a month.” We all know this is a leading cause of divorce. Sex and money are tied like Christian Gray’s shoelaces: tightly. As Kaplan says, “When there are financial troubles, the bedroom is the canary in the mine.” Her years as a successful Wall Street trader and her work as a psychotherapist make her uniquely qualified to acknowledge the connections and disconnections between sex, money and power.
All of the experts I spoke to agree: the first key to success in love and money is negotiation. There is no question that a power differential exists in romantic relationships. Just as we create contracts in business, we create contracts with one another. Would you sign a business contract without knowing what was important to you? And yet so many of us in sobriety will rush into relationships because of our insecurities. One pitfall Kaplan warns against is the tendency to blend money early in a relationship by buying or leasing property together too soon. Kaplan says, “Ask yourself, do I know how my partner operates when it comes to money and work?”
These conversations are scary but in order to have successful relationships, we need to develop some negotiation skills. The truth is we are communicating all the time every day whether we speak or not. Kaplan says: “There are two levels of negotiation; spoken agreements and silent arrangements.” From the outset, even in the early stages of dating, we must acknowledge what Kaplan calls “relational currency.” She defines this as “My worth, what I’m bringing to the table, what we expect from each other.” It can be anything from youth or beauty to social access or financial wealth. This currency plays into the negotiations we are making silently, even with ourselves. For example: Well, he’s not making as much money as me, but he’s ten years younger and considerably better looking.
Dr. Pat Allen, a Certified Addiction Specialist and Transactional Analyst and author of the recovery tome Getting To I Do, agrees: “Ninety percent of all communication is nonverbal,” she says. One of her five tools for negotiation is a marvelous way to bring that nonverbal communication into conversation. The script she suggests is: “I sense by the look on your face you’re upset, yes or no? What can I do?” Or, for a man: “I think by the look on your face you’re upset, yes or no? What can I do?” The languaging, Allen says, varies from gender to gender. Generally, the feminine “feels” and the masculine “thinks.” This tool brings the issue to the floor and allows it to be dealt with rather than festering in a dark corner and becoming a resentment.
Allen explains her point of view: “Einstein said ‘everything is energy’ and we are both yin and yang, this is physics. Men have yang bodies but yin souls, women have yin bodies but a yang soul.” So there is a built-in duality in all of us to consider in relationships and in negotiating. People—even pansexual people— play different roles in relationships, not necessarily based on gender, but on the choice between masculine and feminine principles. They may not be static, but we usually have one that is more prevalent. So, Allen says, “Before you even go on a date, know which role you want to play.”
Kaplan echoed the importance of self-examination, saying that the key in early stages is, “Know thyself.” Know what your needs and wants are and the difference between the two. What are the things you can’t live without in a relationship? Those are your needs. And what are the things you’d like but could live without? Those are wants.
According to Allen, a quick way to determine which role you are playing is to ask yourself— “Do you want to get laid or paid?” The masculine wants to get “laid” and picks with his eyes. The feminine wants to get “paid” and picks with her ears.
Once you know what role you want to play, the trick is negotiating the contract of the relationship. “Ask for help!” Kaplan says. Her work with couples involves uncovering some of the underlying beliefs about self, sex, and money in order to make conscious decisions. This is important considering the underlying attachment disturbances that may be triggered. Her book, For Love and Money: Exploring Sexual and Financial Betrayal in Relationships also has an inventory that can be helpful in identifying patterns. Allen says that couples should negotiate every three months for the first year, then once a year, or whenever any large issue arises.
Dawn Cartwright is a renowned Tantra teacher who received her degree in psychology from the University of California, Davis, and has had extensive training in Tantra, Yoga, Sexuality, Bioenergetics, Meditation, and Expressionistic Movement & Art. When it comes to negotiating, she too brings it back to self-responsibility. “When I can keep myself regulated and stay in an emotionally available state even when I need to say no, that gives the person I’m involved with a lot more freedom to be my ally, rather than my therapist. I have to make sure that I’ve had enough sleep, eaten well, I’ve got some friends. I need to look at how many hours I’m working and make sure that I develop a well-rounded life so that when my partner and I come together it’s about being partners and it’s not about being rescued.”
Cartwright suggests setting aside a specific time to solve problems and talk budget, “Create a chart of all the things that need to get done but only talk about that once a week during a family meeting— even if it’s just the two of you, so those things don’t bleed over into your romantic sexual connection.”
It’s easy to get complacent at any stage of a relationship. Cartwright suggests: “We can continue to let every date be the first date.” She recommends a process she calls pleasure mapping. “Maybe we take some nights where we don’t actually have intercourse but we explore and experiment, what are some places on your body that you’d really love to be touched? Do we like massage there or feather kisses here? Do we want to hear sweet words? What is our pleasure map? When we do that we’re actually creating a greater bond with our partner and releasing more neurochemicals and we’re not falling into habits that are just highlighting certain parts of the brain over and over again. Each person has their needs and we negotiate. But we stay in the game. We stay in the yes and.”
With tools like these, you are on your way to that happy ending! I know what you’re thinking, but I didn’t mean it like that. Or did I?