Did You or Did You Not Contribute to His Success

  Photo Credit: Emily Scott

Photo Credit: Emily Scott

Among the many things that occur for me between the year-end and the year-beginning is the review of what I call my financial recipe.  The ingredients of this recipe include my budget (actual and planned), my philanthropic contributions (actual and planned), the income forecast for the coming year, tax preparation, and an examination of the alignment of my values with my money.  As with any recipe, the ingredients are all mixed up and baked together: the past year with the new year, the personal expenses with the professional expenses, the expected budget with the actual balance sheet, and the intellectual with the emotional.  It is the latter – the realistic versus the irrational – that always catches me by surprise.

Tangent: My Bag Lady Syndrome (I have mentioned this in other blogs), which, by the way, affects nearly 50% of women in the United States (according to a 2014 study by Allianz Insurance), is about as emotional vs. intellectual as you can get. 

Two things happened in the last 12 months that caught me by surprise – me, someone who has been very conscious of the emotional side of money for decades.  The first: my father died in April at 96, and my mother turned 92 in June.  I realized that my genetics coupled with my relatively healthy lifestyle could potentially push my age far longer than I anticipated.

 I went back to my life’s financial plan (not to be confused with my yearly plan) to adjust for my longevity.  The domino effect is obvious to me; my wealth needs to be spread out over more time, which means I have to re-evaluate not just my annual budget but my investment strategy as well.  While this is all fabulously practical, the emotional side of the equation made me gulp as I realized that my funds and my spending must be altered by the 30% increase in my life span.  “Mama needs a new pair shoes,” quickly disappeared from my dialogue.

The second: I heard the echo of my ex-husband’s comments about our financial picture when we were separated and going to marriage counseling; that he would have been just as successful with or without me. (Why the echo now, I’ll explain in just a bit.) I wasn’t surprised by his ownership of the money as it is common for the breadwinner to have this perspective.  I was hurt, and then indignant, by his belief that I did nothing to contribute to his success, especially since he’d always claimed otherwise. 

The debater in me wanted to point to all the ‘evidence’ that proved otherwise.  And I have lots of it; including emails from the very man himself extolling my virtues and help.  Here’s the deal – our marriage ended over 4 years ago, so this is an absolutely moot point. 

The rub, the punch in the gut, of being told I was not a contributing member of the partnership goes to the core of how I viewed my identity for 20 years. His words infiltrated my self-worth. It took serious work on my part to get the missing links back in line.  Included in those absent pieces was reconnecting with what I do well, appreciating and recognizing my own skills and talents. For the most part, the effort was worth it.  My metaphor for the healing process: I went from an amputated arm, to a broken arm, to a broken wrist, to a broken finger, to, at present, a hangnail.  You know, that ‘something’ that just seems to catch on ‘something’ that causes you to say “ouch.”

So why now – why did this echo rebound years later? Over the last year, this sentiment, this fear, this wound has come up for many of my clients during our discussions. I am astounded by the number of divorced (or divorcing) women wading through this question of identity and worth. What did they add to the equation for all those years? That’s what they’re asking themselves, and me. I am not alone in this vortex. 

I discussed this phenomenon with a woman I respect immensely, Joan DiFuria, founding partner, of Money, Meaning, and Choices; on how one moves forward.  The minute she used the word, “reframe,” I sat up and took notice, as this is one of my favorite tools, personally and professionally. 

Reframing: Our thought process often gets in our own way and if we can redirect the thought – reframe – we then have an opportunity to add new information into the equation. 

Joan said, “What are the actions you take to reframe?  You acknowledge that if you don’t get recognized, it doesn’t mean you need to devalue your contribution. Fair is not the objective.”  In other words, you need to come to terms with your needs and your worth, on your own or with professional help. Trust yourself for you deserve it. Joan added, “What we can’t recognize, we can’t change.”

I spend a lot of time with my clients, interviewing them to learn their story, their narrative.  Together, we combine what they think their narrative is with what others think their narrative is. The epiphany occurs when we parse out the conjectures of others within the portrayal of ourselves.  As they say, everyone is entitled to their perspective.  That’s the entitlement – it’s their perspective, not the universal truth.

Interestingly, one of my recent female clients is the breadwinner of the family.  We’ve talked about the balance of financial power, the respect needed on both sides for each partner’s contribution to the family.  It’s not binary, it’s multi-complex.  Cultural and societal norms, familial backgrounds, how we value money, how we assess the power of money, how we define work and partnership, and how we incorporate our own experiences are just part of a long list of questions to explore. These are the ingredients that make up our approach to finances, our personal sense of worth.