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This is a personal finance blog. We ostensibly write about money. But we’re really writing about creating a better life. Money is only a tool, albeit a powerful one, to apply towards those ends.

Married Couple Holding Hands

Other key elements to a fulfilling and happy life are health and relationships. I spent nearly two decades as a physical therapist learning about physical health.

Mental health and marriage are a different story. These areas of life always came easy for me. I took them for granted. Until they didn’t and I couldn’t.

As I’m sure it has been for many of you, 2020 has been hard for me. Social isolation and sudden massive uncertainty led to debilitating anxiety and depression I’ve never experienced before. My unhealthy mental state opened old wounds in my marriage.

By summer, I hit rock bottom. I wasn’t sleeping. Doing things I’ve always loved held no appeal. My nineteen year marriage was on the rocks.

I was fortunate to find this interview with Terry Real on Peter Attia’s podcast. That interview led me to Real’s books, The New Rules of Marriage and I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression.

Real’s books in turn led me to seek out a therapist trained in his Relational Life Therapy framework, which is how I connected with Kristy Gaisford, LCSW.

We often suffer unnecessarily with mental health issues due to shame and negative stigma. I have a new firsthand appreciation for this and want to do my part to help others avoid this unnecessary suffering.

Working with Kristy has been expensive, time consuming, and emotionally challenging. It’s one of the best investments of money, time, and energy I’ve ever made.

So I asked Kristy to answer a few questions in the hopes it may help others who are struggling. She graciously accepted.

It’s really important to determine what is in your control and what isn’t and to focus on the things that you can control; such as getting enough sleep, regular exercise and spending quality time with friends and family. It’s also important to have a safe place to talk about your feelings and know that you’re not alone. I also think that humor is great because it puts things in perspective.

I assume some anxious feelings and sadness are normal, particularly in these stressful times. At what point is a line crossed from a normal emotional response to needing professional help to deal with anxiety and depression?

Yes, it’s safe to say that everyone has felt some anxiety and grief this year. We have had a huge change in the way we live, our expectations and sense of control. 

It’s time to get professional help when your anxiety or sadness are getting in the way of being able to function on a normal level. 

  • Are you unable to get out of bed or find pleasure in things you used to enjoy?
  • Are you suddenly having panic attacks or feeling hopeless about the future?
  • Is your depression or anxiety affecting your relationships? 

These are all indications that it’s time to get help.

Two of my biggest hurdles to seeking help were a skepticism of therapy and not knowing how to find the right provider. If someone has never tried therapy or had a negative experience in the past, how would you recommend they find a therapist who will be a good fit for an individual’s needs and personality?

It is hard to know where to turn to find the right therapist for you. I think the best way is to ask someone you trust and get referrals from friends. 

There are also websites such as psychologytoday.com and goodtherapy.org that have bios and information about therapists in your area with different specialties. You can take time to read about each one and call the ones that seem to be a good fit.

If you have a bad experience, don’t give up. Look for someone else until you find someone you feel comfortable with and that has experience with your issue.

What role does medicine play in the treatment of common mental health issues like anxiety and depression? How do you determine when medical intervention is appropriate and necessary, either as a substitute for or adjunct to talk therapy?

Medication plays an important role when someone is going to therapy and doing the work, but they still don’t feel any better. They look at their life and can’t put their finger on what’s wrong, they just can’t seem to feel good–despite trying everything they can think of. Medical intervention almost always works best in conjunction with talk therapy.

Divorce is both one of the most likely and most devastating financial risks most of us face. It is often said that money is the leading cause of divorce. Your practice focuses on relational therapy. In your experience, have you found this to be true? What are other big risk factors we should be aware of?

I have found that money is almost never the real issue. Usually money problems in marriage are really manifestations of a difference in value systems. 

One person may really value security and therefore, saving money is a big deal to them. Their partner may really value freedom and experiences and therefore, being able to spend money and buy experiences is really important to them. 

The real issue is the expectations that we bring into a marriage. We think that the way we grew up or the way we do things is the “right way” and we’re appalled that this person we thought was our soul mate is turning out to be a big thorn in our side! 

Whether we fight about money, sex, kids, family, household chores, amount of affection, parenting style, communication style, etc. the real issue is that we are two different people with different values, expectations and priorities. 

The key to making marriage work is allowing for differences, making space for one person to feel secure and the other to feel freedom, for example. We need to respect each other’s differences without criticism or judgement. 

It’s also important to realize that grief is a part of any long term relationship. You will always grieve something and that’s okay. It’s better to feel the grief and recognize it than to resent your partner.

When you have worked with people where finances are an issue, what patterns have you observed? What can we do to take action preemptively?

One of the most common patterns I see in regards to money is that one person is more of a saver while the other person is more of a spender. The saver wants to be secure and make calculated financial decisions. The spender wants to feel free to buy the things they want. 

The spender feels controlled by the saver and begins to react passive aggressively by buying things behind their partner’s back or fighting with the partner about feeling controlled. The best way to take preemptive action is to communicate with an open mind and an open heart. 

This is not about who is right and who is wrong. There is no such thing. It’s about, “how can we create space in this relationship where we both feel happy and fulfilled?” 

It may mean that some finances are kept separate. One person may choose to save their money each month, while the other person always spends their allotment. The key is to respect each other’s decision and value system without judgement or resentment.

It’s interesting that people will get so upset about a spouse’s spending pattern, but then will divorce them and lose so much more than if they had just accepted the fact that their partner will always spend more than they wish they would.

General divorce rates are going down, but “Gray Divorce” is on the rise. What are common causes of marital discord among adults that have been married for decades? What can we do to strengthen our marriages as we age together?

One of the most important things I learned from Terry Real is, “When we don’t speak the truth, intimacy dies.” When marriages fall apart after decades, it’s usually due to a loss of connection. 

The couple stopped communicating in vulnerable, honest, open ways. They stopped continuing to get to know each other and stopped putting their energy into the marriage.

Relationships take work and attention to continue to grow. Most people want to be happily married, they just lack the skills to repair things when they get off course. 

In our society we’re not really taught how to be a good listener, how to speak in a way that our spouse can take in without being defensive, how to have good boundaries so we’re not so reactive.

You’ve shared with Kim and me that you’ve helped couples work through major issues (infidelity, abuse, addiction, etc) to rebuild happy and healthy marriages. You’ve also seen couples with seemingly minor problems who you haven’t been able to help and who go on to divorce. What are the key factors you’ve observed in couples who are able to repair their marriages? What are common characteristics among couples you haven’t been able to help?

Being able to change requires a certain amount of humility. In the couples that I haven’t been able to help, at least one person hasn’t been able to see their part in the dynamic. They drag their partner into therapy so that they can be “fixed” and are deeply offended at the suggestion that they may have some things to work on too.

On the other hand, couples where both partners are humble, accountable, willing to be vulnerable, admit faults and mistakes and to give each other grace when needed, can generally get through almost anything. This takes an enormous amount of personal work and maturity.

My $.02

Thanks to Kristy for taking the time to answer my questions so thoughtfully.

A frequent question I get from readers is, “I’d love to pursue a different lifestyle, but how do I get my spouse on board?” I never know how to answer that.

Saving has always been easy for Kim and me. This was true even when we were starting out, making very little money, and paying off debt. To reinforce Kristy’s point, that’s because our goals and values were in alignment. So we worked together and found a way.

When we started to make the transition to early retirement, our relationship dynamics changed. Despite being in the strongest financial position of our lives, we were suddenly fighting about money. Or so we thought.

It had nothing to do with money. It had to do with different, and deeply entrenched, value systems that manifest themselves in how we think about money. We never learned that about each other until our values were misaligned.

If you are trying to get your significant other to save more, cut back on work, or otherwise start transitioning to a new lifestyle or behavior, but you’re butting heads…STOP! 

Take the time to figure out why you see things differently. What do you each really want? What in your past is driving your current desires?

Swallow Your Pride

If you’re stuck in your marriage, or struggling with anything else, and anxiety and depression set in, go find help! 

We pride ourselves on a DIY ethic and frugality. Sometimes you need help. I’ve written about times when it may be beneficial to seek help with your finances. This applies when you’re stuck or struggling with mental health or relationships as well.

If you could do something yourself, you would already have done it. At the very least, you’d be progressing toward your goals and wouldn’t be feeling frustrated and stuck.

If you need help, find it. There’s no shame there. Frankly it’s dumb to struggle alone when help is all around us.

Sometimes this requires spending money. Kristy makes another great point that some people and couples obsess about spending decisions.

One partner (or both) won’t spend money on things that can improve your relationship and life in general. Then they lose half of everything in a divorce. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish.

Thank You!

I again want to thank Kristy for her work which has profoundly impacted my life and for taking the time to answer my questions publicly in an effort to help others.

I was hesitant to share something so personal. But if one person who is suffering with anxiety and depression or is on the path to divorce is helped, it will have been worth it to me.

If you want to learn more about Kristy Gaisford and the Relational Life Therapy approach, you can check out her website.

(Full Disclosure: We have no financial relationship. The blog will not be compensated in any way if you click on the links or seek out any services associated with them. I invited Kristy to answer my questions and share these resources with others whom they may help, because I have personally benefited from working with her.)

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[Chris Mamula used principles of traditional retirement planning, combined with creative lifestyle design, to retire from a career as a physical therapist at age 41. After poor experiences with the financial industry early in his professional life, he educated himself on investing and tax planning. Now he draws on his experience to write about wealth building, DIY investing, financial planning, early retirement, and lifestyle design at Can I Retire Yet? Chris has been featured on MarketWatch, Morningstar, U.S. News & World Report, and Business Insider. He is also the primary author of the book Choose FI: Your Blueprint to Financial Independence. You can reach him at chris@caniretireyet.com.]

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