Right from the start of our relationship, any discussion around money created antagonistic gridlock all the way to disproportionate chaos and conflict for my husband and me. At that time, I was turning 50 and had amassed very strong and wildly illogical beliefs around finances. Just hearing the word “money” or “bills” would cause me to emotionally and physically shut down. I would pick fights with him about his work ethic and earning capacity. I would battle over whose money it was and who could spend it. I would point fingers at what I believed to be ridiculous spending habits. And then on those ominous days when bills had to be paid, I would morph into a screaming, crazy woman.
In retrospect, I can tell you these arguments were completely irrational. We were both working hard and making ends meet. Whenever I checked the online banking statements, the money was there. But I never felt abundant. I truly believed that I would die alone and penniless. (The alone outcome scared me far less than being penniless.) It was a story to which I was so attached that through the force of my energy I was bending our reality to almost insure that our finances were a house of cards ready to collapse at any moment. And my staunch unwillingness to meet my husband in a place of mutual respect where we could talk about these deep values was eating away at our intimacy.
You see, when couples fight about money, their respective positions deeply reflect their core values. And as time goes on, this polarization becomes caustic and like a strong acid, it eats away at the very foundation of the relationship. The unwillingness to appreciate and sympathetically discuss your conflicting attitudes and beliefs eventually creates all kinds of misunderstandings and hurt feelings. If the arguing persists, one day you will find yourself believing that you’re better off alone than constantly fighting over money.
It took time and introspection, but when I could finally articulate what money represented (safety, security, self-esteem, protection, and ultimately freedom and independence) which translated into me being a SAVER (or as he saw it, a miser); and he could identify all that it represented to him (feelings of competence, power, control, happiness and a celebration of hard work) which translated into him being a SPENDER (or as I saw it a spendthrift). we began to gain a greater appreciation for why we were so conflicted. That compassion and deeper understanding created the foundation for learning how to have the tough discussions in a mutually respectful manner and eventually building a strong financial future together.
Why Couples Have Problems Communicating About Finances
Our opinions and values regarding wealth, abundance, and worthiness almost always stem from our upbringing. That’s why so many couples have issues talking about money. Some of us had lots of direction growing up when it came to money management. And some of us watched our parents struggle with not having enough money to buy sufficient food or clothing. Then there are those who witnessed non-stop conflict between their parents over money, a constant source of strife, screaming and suffering. We bring these emotional artifacts of those experiences into our present attitudes about money.
As adults, we can choose to recognize those artifacts, and we can recognize what’s healthy and productive, and what’s not. We can courageously learn to replace those old artifacts with an increasingly positive mindset where wealth – and worthiness – are concerned. Opening ourselves up to our partner to reveal and release the negative while nurturing the positive is a wonderful experience.
It all begins with communication.
And so with patience, a deeper understanding of what was motivating each of our perceptions around money, and a handful of non-negotiable ground rules and some concrete tools, we worked through our differences. I’m thrilled to share that my husband and I are now empathetic co-creators working daily toward expanding our solid financial foundation and talking about money painlessly!
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Here’s how we did it:
Set The Ground Rules
✓ Consciously set aside time to talk about money.
✓ Limit the time period for this conversation, and at the end of it, set up a future time for a continuation of the conversation.
✓ Turn off your remote devices so that there are no distractions.
✓ Establish a setting in which you can both comfortably speak and share your views where no one else can listen or interrupt.
✓ I’m not a fan of having these important discussions when you are tired or over alcohol either.
✓ Agree that your ultimate goal is to move forward with healthier habits, a goal or goals, and a plan for reaching them.
✓ Pick a specific area to begin with. For example: budgeting, financial goal setting, long-term dreams and desires (saving for a house, your children’s’ education, disability insurance, a boat, a vacation, retirement), his and her discretionary spending, savings, investing, and/or an emergency fund. These ideas should get you started on the right track. Once you choose your topic for that session, only that area will be discussed.
✓ Agree that both of you will hold nothing back, and will hold no judgment against the other for past mistakes.
✓ Agree that no one will yell, shout, scream or act in a hurtful or abusive manner.
✓ Recognize that sometimes you need to agree to disagree. And when that happens, write down the conflict and take some time to personally reflect on why you feel the way you do. It may open an entire area of needed disclosure that has been buried deeply.
✓ Once your session is completed, thank each other with words of sincere gratitude. Let your partner know how you feel when you are able to talk in a mutually respectful manner, allowing the other to be heard without judgement.
In Part Two of this article, I’m going to share the 7 effective ways that I used in my own marriage to enable peaceful, loving communication about money, financial goals, and spending. I hope to see you there!
If you’ve struggled discussing money matters as well, I hope that you will share tops for how you learned to communicate more respectfully. I can’t wait to hear from you.