We all grow up with beliefs about money. These beliefs are ingrained in us whether we like it or not; whether they support or constrain us. Whatever your money outlook may be, talking about money with your spouse or partner can be difficult. It is too easy to fall into a trap ranging from disengagement to outright verbal assault. The mere idea of talking about money and communicating our desires sometimes feels impossible.
The question is: How can you hold a productive and respectable money conversation that feels like a step in the right direction?
In a recent meeting, I heard the following:
Pete: “I am trying to pay off our debt and Karen just doesn’t stop spending money!”
Karen: “We could afford some of those extras if you weren’t so cheap!”
Pete: “I am trying to be responsible.”
Karen: “Are you calling me irresponsible?”
Most of this fostered an even greater divide between them, which tends to happen with this type of conversation.
Trying to break the destructive thread, I offered the following:
“Karen, can you help me understand what you want? I could use clarification.”
Karen accepted the lifeline willingly.
“I want to have a say in how we spend, save, and invest our money. I feel like it’s Pete’s way or no way!”
I watched Pete stiffen.
“How does that make you feel, Karen?”
“Powerless and angry!” She ranted.
Pete sat motionless for a while as the attention turned to him. It was his turn.
“Wow. I didn’t think you wanted to be involved at all in these issues. I guess I misread the situation. I’m sorry. What can we do to make this better?”
Having a productive money conversation is about clearing the path. You must have no blame, accusations, anger, or hurt feelings involved so a respectable conversation with tough statements can be made—without repercussions. The conversation with Karen and Pete could have gone a different way: Pete could have gotten angry, shut down, and accused Karen—but I think his sense of propriety of not exploding in front of a witness kept him in check.
Here are 9 ways to bring you closer to having a productive, stress-free money conversation:
- Schedule a time when both of your energies are strong.
- Choose a setting where you feel safe, but also not so public that your ‘frankness’ will be consumed by others—in other words: Some place public, but not too public.
- Communicate the purpose of the meeting and set out some ground rules, which might include an agreement to maintain appropriate decorum and speech and most importantly, mutual willingness to find a solution.
- Verbalize your concerns about the subject matter. Have a “no surprises” policy.
- Identify, before you sit down, what trigger words or phrases will be unproductive; words that engender blame.
- Set a time limit.
- Write down your ideas in advance, allowing you to stick to a well-conceived discussion.
- Agree to a signal to create a buffer if emotions start to flare. “I need a minute…” or “Let me think about that…”
- Most importantly, maintain a positive attitude and a loving posture.
Always begin your conversation with the standpoint that money conversations are usually difficult and that compassion and understanding needs to be front and center at all times. Life has taught us that no one gets what they want all the time. In order to move closer to finding common ground, we need to listen better, understand more fully and maintain an attitude of openness.
Here’s to that next conversation!