Written By: Stacy Livingstone-Hoyt, AFC, FFC
The Healthy Love and Money Way: How the Four Attachment Styles Impact Your Financial Well-Being written by Ed Coambs, MBA, MA, MS, CFP®, CFT-I™, LMFT, offers readers deep insights, specific strategies, and hope to thrive in intimate relationships by unearthing and expounding the concepts and realities found within attachment theory. “Attachment theory explains how humans form, maintain, and change the way that they manage relationships with themselves and others” (p. 3). As an expert in the science of relationships and money and practicing therapist, Coambs demonstrates how each attachment style can bear the brunt of responsibility for how we show up in and navigate our intimate relationships. He weaves in various elements of his personal story to illustrate the working of his own attachment system and then demonstrates how to move towards the attachment system that orients towards confidence, security, well-being and financial intimacy – the secure attachment system.
Throughout the book, Coambs lends a supportive and therapeutic voice to readers as he sheds light on what may feel like the darkened spaces we experience in intimate relationships when confronted by financial conversations, histories, and behaviors. Overall, the book is designed to engage as a private conversation would unfold into exploring the world of attachment theory, family system and affect regulation system.
Discovering Your Attachment Style
The Healthy Love and Money Way aims to help individuals and couples navigate their way to deeper relational connection and reconciliation. The roadmap provided begins by taking a look at our family histories and caregiver experiences. We form ways of thinking and being as a result of childhood experiences and early family relationships. These patterns do not vanish, they are stored in various parts of our brain and contribute to our identity. Readers are invited to take an assessment to flush out this identity system through a free attachment style quiz on The Healthy Love and Money website. Through this lens, discovering our personal attachment style will illuminate the trail of our own behaviors and thinking surrounding money, as well as begin to open up a pathway where we can think differently about how an intimate partner experiences money and intimacy. From this bed of understanding, the seeds of financial intimacy can take root and shape.
The author also helps readers to uncover and dissect any number of vexing relationship themes – to include “pain, hurt, mistrust, criticism and contempt” (pg 29). Coambs expands on each attachment style and gives specific details on how they are lived out. The two primary attachment systems are secure and insecure. Three branches then stem from an insecure attachment style: anxious, avoidant and disorganized. These systems are “adaptive based” (pg 32) and help us survive in our environment. Most people use more than one attachment style. These systems can explain the dynamic and complex issues that arise in our relationships and financial lives. Coambs breaks down these complexities and helps readers to contemplate, link, and stitch together their own histories, decisions and behaviors. For example; a couple who is fighting today about money may have unresolved issues from their past. Money experiences with a prior intimate partner can create patterns and expectations in a new relationship that can thwart growing together peacefully with money. This carrying over effect can be unconscious. To resolve these differences he recommends the process of going backward “to go forward” (pg. 27). This look back approach is likely a first for many individuals and couples and is a crucial step towards having personal congruence with money. Coambs cautions his readers that gaining “this knowledge is not a tool to weaponize” (pg 49) – warning against labeling and blaming as the deep truths behind our stories are unveiled.
With much more details given in the book, this is a brief, non exhaustive list of themes that can arise from each attachment style:
Secure attachment – confidence, trust, security.
Anxious attachment – dependence, worry, deferring to the wants of others.
Avoidant – lone decision making, self reliance, uncertainty about how to connect deeply.
Disorganized – difficulty regulating emotions, secrecy, chaos.
Strategies on how to best discuss money and support a partner that exhibit any mix of the four attachment styles are also detailed.
Putting the Pieces Together
The book is composed into fourteen chapters, with each building on the previous chapters’ explanations, ideas, stories and the author’s experiences. Each chapter offers a moment of personal reflection with a writing prompt to collect readers’ own stories, experiences and potential action steps. This supportive tool is an essential aid in the journey of financial well-being and relational peace. Such a private exploration may be emotionally difficult. Pausing is encouraged if a sense of overwhelm arises. In pursuing these reflections, readers could gain an appreciation and awareness of how money attitudes are created and shaped in themselves and for an intimate partner. This newly found insight can help us to exercise less judgement and enable growth towards a secure attachment pattern.Working through the exercises may also jolt us to respond with deeper empathy and understanding in our interactions rather than being preoccupied with misunderstandings.
Other areas for exploration, include how “cultural values show up in the way couples relate to each other” (pg. 95) – particularly in Western society where financial independence is highly regarded, but interdependence is less celebrated. The author helps readers to unfold how they have moved across “The Money Timeline” (pg 97) of life, and arrived at their current attachment styles. and, more astoundingly, how this carries over from one generation to the next – “…money is part of the circulatory system of life. It flows through our lives from beginning to end” (pg 100). Herein is an opportunity to change future legacies by understanding each other today.
Many couples who experience money conflicts may not “just automatically get better with the passage of time” (pg 101). As problems ensue, time and opportunities are lost. A“Money Map” exercise (pg 101) introduces couples to fundamental themes in personal financial planning; cash flow and income, balance sheet and retirement planning, taxes, insurance, education planning, and estate planning. Moreover, Coambs masterfully weaves in how the secure and insecure attachment styles can orient towards different views in these crucial areas of finance. Readers are then left with a deeper understanding of the various systems at work in their own lives. Coambs addresses his own deep trauma and the connection between how “much of what we think is healthy or normal with money may actually be a way of covering up trauma” (pg 125).
After these deep levels of thought, research, and personal exploration are presented, Coambs does not leave readers raw and without guidance. He gracefully addresses finding healing through several models: self-help, health relationships, and participating in therapy. Each of these paths is expanded to show readers how to “be better able to learn how to respond to each other” (pg 135). He also illustrates how interconnected we are versus “the cultural ethos of rugged individualism” (pg 136). He positions readers for “Playing The Long Game” (pg. 141) and references his own progress and failures over the years.
Several case studies are included that show how couples journey from insecure attachment styles to a much healthier and happier place found in the secure attachment system. The book wraps up with a continued message of healing through understanding, learning about psychology and coordinating the right support to enable this.
The Healthy Love and Money Way offers a mix of science, research, experience, and practicality to teach readers how to coordinate their financial lives with others and excel at intimate relationships. Personal finance practitioners and clients alike will benefit from the perspectives explored in this book as it succinctly meshes together the why’s and how’s “ideas about money are caught, not taught” (pg 26).
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