Jim and Caroline were talking about finances and Caroline expressed really wanting something. Jim said, “We can’t afford it” and the conversation shut down. The couple came to counseling because they were disconnected, but finances were the first theme they addressed. They weren’t able to have conversations about finances. Doing so would allow their financial decisions to reflect their joint values as a couple.
The statement “We can’t afford it” is problematic on two levels. First of all, it’s a dismissive statement. It doesn’t allow a conversation about what’s important to each partner and to examine more closely what their budget can absorb. Maybe Caroline is willing to spend less elsewhere to make something more important happen or maybe it’s a long-term goal or aspiration.
Secondly, the statement reflects a power dynamic in which Jim determines the outcome instead of the couple having a collaborative discussion. Since the couple had a history of futile discussions about finances, they brought in spreadsheets and discussed finances in the facilitated environment of couples counseling. They did this for a couple of sessions and decided to continue this process on their own. Now they were deciding together what they could or could not afford, a worthwhile investment of their time.