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  • Andrea Liss

Ask Andrea - Married and Mortgaged

ask andrea

Looking for a little advice about your relationship? Perhaps you have questions about parenting in Europe? Ask Andrea! Our social worker, Andrea Liss will pick one question a month and answer it in our mid-month bulletin. You can submit your questions anonymously to her at

Dear Andrea, I’m a newlywed and trying to sort out how to think about money in my relationship. Can you offer any suggestions?

Thanks, Just Married and Mortgaged 


Dear Just Married and Mortgaged,   

 Congratulations on your marriage! The topic of money is a fascinating one. Your question is great.  Here are some ideas that can be helpful if both of you in the couple are willing to get on board. Let’s be clear- this topic is quite layered because money is subject to beliefs about power. Let’s explore this topic by way of a case scenario.   


Daniel worked in IT for the CAF and then decided to retire to build his own cybersecurity firm, which is now very successful. Way back in the early years of their relationship, Daniel and his wife Annette decided that to have the type of family life they wanted within the constraints of the CAF, they knew that one parent would need to work from home as the domestic and family manager. Daniel and Annette were both able to view their respective roles as bringing deep value to the family empire.   


Daniel and Annette had the capacity to refrain from comparing themselves to other families. They did not get caught up in what others thought they should be doing. Instead, they focused together on what worked best for their couple’s relationship and their family. Their secret?  They used the “One, Minus One” family contribution model.   


The One, Minus One model is very simple: tasks and activities that contribute to the family functioning correspond to the number 1 while tasks or attitudes that take away from family functioning represent the number -1. No task or activity has greater value than the other. A task is a task. This is important because it forces couples to focus on the act of contribution without the urge to quantify it. Quantifying contributions is not only subject to bias, but it induces competition and resentment, which detracts from healthy family functioning.     


Here are some examples: Christmas card writing = 1, ironing = 1, getting the car’s oil changed = 1, going to work = 1, making the kids lunch = 1, playing in the backyard with the kids = 1, signing up for a trip = 1, making dinner = 1, washing the dishes = 1, building a shed = 1, caring for an ailing grandparent = 1, doing the taxes = 1, putting out the garbage = 1.   You will note that no activity or task has greater value than the other. Activities which add to the overall functioning of the family are all seen as contributors. This model includes the children as well. As children grow, their activities are seen to contribute to the overall functioning of the family or detract from it. Of course, children can never be tasked like an adult. Activities which promote child life skill development, as well as emotional, social, and physical strength, can all be seen as contributors.   


What about the fun stuff? Going to the gym or getting a haircut are considered “Ones” in that a family member is taking care of themselves, which contributes to overall healthy family functioning. Here is another example: One teen sibling babysits all summer and earns money while her sister is at the gym training in competitive gymnastics. Both of these activities, babysitting and gymnastics, contribute to the greater good of the whole family.   Both teens are occupied, learning and working hard. Both teens are developing life skills and enjoying themselves in the process. Their lives are enriched which protects the whole family constellation. It is not possible to compare babysitting and gymnastics, just like it is not possible to compare single parenting at home to being on deployment. Both are virtuous, some might say thankless tasks, that need to get done for the functioning of the family.   


What happens when one in the couple is not contributing as much as the other? This is when the “Minus Ones” appear. Sometimes spouses expect to be taken care of by another spouse or believe that they can have a free pass on parenting because they worked all day.  Other problematic actions include spouses who are excessively self-focused at the expense of the healthy functioning of the household. Examples might include a spouse devoting too much time to a pastime resulting in them not being at home enough. Common examples include too much time at the pub without fulfilling duties at home, or too much time on one’s phone or computer and meanwhile, the family is languishing without clean clothes or food in the fridge.   


A special note about parenting is important here. Parents are duty-bound to physically and emotionally raise their child(ren) at all times. There is no “nine to five” in parenting. There is no “I worked all day, so you make supper and look after our daughter.” There is no break for a parent of a young child regardless of your employment status. Even when a parent is at a Pilates class, out fishing, on a date or on a vacation - a parent is always on call. A parent’s work at the office has no bearing on how little parenting they are to do. As a parent one has signed a ghost contract that one is “all in all the time.” When this ghost contract is reneged on, the “Minus ones” begin.    


Dearest Just Married and Mortgaged, please consider moving the ghost contract to a conscious, tangible, and oft-discussed one. If you need a hand, here are some resources.  Best wishes for a happy and loving life!   



Check out the programming available through SISIP Financial, a service brought to you by Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services (CFMWS). 

If you would like to pose a question for the Ask Andrea column, please send your anonymous question to and Andrea will do her best to share some of her ideas.

Andrea has a master’s degree in Social Work and is a Registered Social Worker (Ontario) with over 20 years of experience. She maintains a faculty appointment at McMaster University where she teaches in the Masters of Science in Psychotherapy program.

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