The Dynamic Duo of Sex and Money: An Interview with Debra L. Kaplan
Debra Kaplan, a psychotherapist working in Tucson, AZ who specializes in trauma, intimacy, and sex addiction treatment has published a new book entitled For Love and Money: Exploring Sexual & Financial Betrayal in Relationships. I recently spoke with Debra about the book, and I wanted to share her thoughts here.
RW: The concept of financial betrayal is not often discussed. Could you explain what financial betrayal is and give some examples?
DK: You’re correct, Rob. Financial betrayal is not often discussed yet it stands as a significant area of discord between couples. Financial betrayal speaks to the hidden use of money, currency, and/or “relational tender” to deceive, exploit, control, and/or manipulate a partner in a committed relationship or marriage. An example might include using a couple’s resources on addictions. When we are speaking about a sex addiction, for instance, the monies or resources might be spent on prostitutes, affairs, the support of an affair partner, and massage parlors.
RW: What is the relationship between sexual and financial exploitation?
DK: Sex, if used to control, manipulate, or exploit, is sex abuse. When sex is fused with rage, it becomes eroticized and it’s referred to as eroticized rage. As we know, the use of finances or financial resources to control and manipulate others is financial abuse. In For Love and Money I refer to this as monetized rage. In sex addiction there is a strong overlay of sex and money as two “currencies” used in tandem while an individual engages in his or her addiction. The fusing of these two relational currencies, sex and money, allows them to become weapons of control, deception, and exploitation, often creating power struggles within relationships.
RW: You just mentioned that sex and money are two “currencies.” Can you say more about what you mean by “currency?”
DK: Yes. When two people come together under an emotional and erotic cosmic trance, the one conversation most likely not occurring is: “What do you value most about being in a relationship and how do you express this to your partner?” Therefore, a couple’s relational currency speaks to what they each value, yet unspoken dynamics often drive their relating. As such, the struggle at hand for many couples is the undisclosed and unexplored anger that often drives their relational process. Individuals may join together and/or marry for mutual love, emotional or financial security, convenience, legal status, or even loneliness. If there has been betrayal due to sexual addiction, then that connection has been breached by sexual or emotional infidelity. If it isn’t difficult enough maintaining open communication, kindness, and love, what’s a relationship to do when monetized rage and/or sexual exploitation create a volatile coefficient?
DK: Before I became the therapist I am today, I spent many years in the financial world trading commodities and other financial products on Wall Street. During those years I was aware of the underlying perception that it’s not if people can be bought, it’s just at what price! The idea that sex is readily available for the right price paraded around in full force in the financial markets and business world. I eventually turned my lens to the behavioral traits of those in the financial markets and I knew that at some unknown point in the future my experience in finance would serve as anecdotal research for my work as a sex addiction therapist and author.
RW: Is there hope for couples or individuals who find themselves in the middle of sexual and financial betrayal?
DK: Certainly there is hope. What I see in my practice is that when one or both individuals begins to look inward at what they value, and they bring that honest conversation to the therapeutic table, then healthier relating begins to take shape. For Love and Money helps to identify the underlying issues that contribute to the dynamics that put many couples at continued risk for relational distress and/or dissolution. In every relationship there are imbalances in relational currencies, and there are also both spoken and unspoken agreements about those imbalances. For instance, a common unspoken agreement is I bring to the relationship my good looks, and as long as my looks hold up then you as the person with the money will supply the lifestyle I want. The problem is that we don’t stay young and beautiful forever, and as we inevitably age a disparity in relational currencies arises in this type of relationship. Then we see things like the breadwinner spending money without the knowledge or consent of the other partner, possibly on extramarital affairs and sexual conquests.
RW: So relationship problems arise not just because the power dynamic changes, but because those changes are not discussed and adequately dealt with?
DK: That is correct. A lot of times the power dynamic wasn’t properly discussed or negotiated to begin with. For instance, two people get together. The husband goes to med school and the wife agrees to support him through that, assuming that when he graduates and becomes a doctor they will have kids and she will raise them and manage the house. Then the husband finishes med school but doesn’t want kids. Instead, he puts his money, time, and energy into building a great career. In this example the relational currency and values of the two partners weren’t adequately negotiated to begin with, and then when the deal changed (in the wife’s opinion) she felt betrayed, manipulated, and exploited. I see this sort of thing a lot in my practice – an underlying miscommunication at the start of a relationship leads over time to the formation of some very deep resentments.
RW: Elsewhere you have called these disparities and changes in relational currency the elephant in the room when couples come into therapy. Nevertheless, it seems as if many therapists fail to recognize this interplay. Why is that? And how can clinicians do a better job of spotting this stuff?
DK: Most couples come into therapy with a specific problem. And therapists, by our very nature, want to help people feel better, so we tend to deal with the issue in the room at that particular moment – the argument about the children, the argument about working late, the argument about never turning off the cellphone and not being available emotionally. That’s the obvious and easy thing for therapists to deal with, and there are often tangible short-term results. That said, what we really should be doing is stepping back and taking a look at the deeper issues, such as what the financial and sexual power dynamics of the relationship are and how they have changed over time, because this is usually the true source of friction. It is paramount that therapists really dig in and ascertain what’s going on beneath the surface. Where are the betrayal, the exploitation, the control, and the manipulation taking place? Of course, this sort of exploration usually only happens with a lot of pushback from the couple, because they’re in the dance. And the truth is that most therapists don’t like to be in the position of pushing the envelope. But being a good therapist is more than just being nice and listening. We have to be discerning.
It’s really important for therapists to look at the dynamics of control in relationships – how does it happen, why does it happen, and is there a disparity of negotiated power. If there does appear to be a disparity, then the therapist is tasked with finding out what is going on underneath the surface that the individuals might not be aware of. We also have to understand that if money, work, sex, or anything else is being used as a form of manipulation and control and therefore exploitation, then it’s not going to be easily discovered because nearly always the person doing the exploiting has worked very hard to keep this reality comfortably out of sight. So a therapist bumping up against this and trying to address it isn’t going to get anywhere easily. Clients are not going to loosen their grip from this power without a fight.
RW: What do you want readers to know about For Love and Money?
DK: For Love and Money not only explores the concepts of sex, money, and power, it offers the reader tools and exercises at the end of each chapter to begin rebuilding healthier and happier relationships. In Part One of the book I lay the groundwork, from a biopsychosocial perspective, for understanding how past traumas predispose us to neurobiological, emotional, and sexual perception, decision-making, and attachment. I explain how that process hijacks the primordial need for conquest, power, and control. In Part Two I continue to build the foundational concepts by utilizing colorful case commentary and depiction extracted from my therapeutic observations and case accounts. I weave my business and financial experience on Wall Street into the text as an overarching construct of money, rage, and relationship. Finally, Part Three speaks to the distinct practices, principles, and tools that are inherent to a healthy approach to monetary, emotional, and psychological well-being.
About Debra Kaplan: Before becoming a therapist Debra Kaplan enjoyed a successful career as a commodities trader on Wall Street. Those years provided her an understanding glance into the ways that sex, money, and power often merge. She has carried this ongoing interest forward into her current clinical work, where she helps both individuals and couples navigate their complex relationships, finding, at times that money weighs as heavily in intimate betrayal as does sex or love.
Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is Senior Vice President of Clinical Development with Elements Behavioral Health. He has developed clinical programs for The Ranch outside Nashville, Tennessee, Promises Treatment Centers in Malibu, and The Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles. An author and subject expert on the relationship between digital technology and human sexuality, Mr. Weiss has served as a media specialist for CNN, The Oprah Winfrey Network, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Today Show, among many others. He has also provided clinical multi-addiction training and behavioral health program development for the US military and treatment centers throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia.
Weiss LCSW, R. (2013). The Dynamic Duo of Sex and Money: An Interview with Debra L. Kaplan. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 2, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex/2013/12/the-dynamic-duo-of-sex-and-money-an-interview-with-debra-l-kaplan/