Are You Talking or Fighting About Money?

Part 1: How smart couples handle money.

Posted Jan 16, 2020

Linda: The topic at the top of the list of things that most couples fight about is money. Money is the topic that couples need to talk about but don’t address enough. It’s because money can be such a loaded subject, and because we may have previously had very few, if any, successful conversations about it, that we put conversations about money on the back burner.

When we move things to the back burner, they get neglected. It’s not until we start to smell something burning that we turn our attention to the source. By that time, we have a fire to put out. Rather than having a civil conversation, we are in emergency mode. When we don't communicate with skill and respect, the outcome is unlikely to be productive. Our desire to avoid future conversations about finances becomes even greater, producing a vicious cycle of denial, frustration, avoidance, and arguing.

If you are wondering how to break this cycle, or even whether it’s even possible to break it, these are good questions. A more immediate question is, why is money such a loaded issue for most of us, and why is it that just talking about it can trigger such powerful feelings?

We live in a highly materialistic culture, which means that there is a cultural bias to place a high value on things and what enables us to possess those things. Money not only provides access to pleasurable experiences and possessions, but it defines our status in the world. While some of us tend to be more possessed by these cultural views than others, we all have to deal with them.

Money has value for its purchasing power and for its power to determine our rightful place in our community, family, relationships, and our world. It enables us to purchase things, and in addition to things, respect, power, influence, self-esteem, worthiness, security, and well-being. With so much on the line, it’s no wonder that the topic of money is such a hot button.

We all bring our own personal history with us, which includes previous experiences, future goals, hopes, concerns, visions, expectations, preferences, and values. It’s a wonder that more marriages don’t collapse under the weight of it all. It seems like an accident waiting to happen!

As daunting as navigating through this potential minefield can appear, some couples do manage to keep their relationships intact and to pool their collective personal resources (assets and liabilities) to succeed in creating a shared life that far exceeds what they had dared to hope for.

Here are a few of the things that we’ve learned from those couples, separating those who have survived from those who haven’t, and those who have thrived from those who have survived.

  • Communication. If you lack the necessary skills, learn, practice and develop them. Get the support that you need to become a champion listener and an honest speaker.
  • Responsibility. Quit the blame game. Rather than talking about what your partner is doing wrong, focus on how you can be an effective agent in your conversations about money. Stop confessing their sins to look at what you can bring to the conversation that can change the direction in which it’s going.
  • Non-defensiveness. Let go of your efforts to justify yourself and acknowledge the truth about how you contribute to the situation.
  • Vision. Dedicate yourself to a vision that you and your partner share.
  • Support. Being willing to solicit, receive, and act upon the guidance of those you deem to be more knowledgeable about finances than you are. Consider getting into a group for people who have trouble with money management (such as spenders anonymous or debtors anonymous) and listen to them. Share your own experiences, including any shame you might have.
  • Non-attachment. Being willing to identify habits that are counterproductive to your goal of becoming more responsible about managing money effectively. Be willing to replace old habits with those that are consistent with your new goal of facing issues rather than avoiding them.
  • Prioritize. Create an agreement with your partner regarding what is most important.
  • Find common ground. Clarify the places where you share common goals and start with them. Save the more challenging issues until later after you’ve experienced some successes.
  • Self-discipline. Practice restraint when it comes to impulse buying. Remind yourself how good it will feel to live guilt-free and with greater peace of mind.
  • Creativity. Use your imagination to come up with ways of bringing more enjoyment into your life with experiences that require little or no expense. Play and have more fun with your partner and/or others!

These are some of the many things that you can do to have a lasting impact on your ability to face some of the challenging aspects of finance-related conversations. Our next chapter will include a questionnaire that can guide you through the specific concerns that are likely to come up in those conversations.

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