Learn how to stop fighting and better communicate about financial issues
By: Stacey Tidsdale
Conventional wisdom says that when we have a problem, we need to talk about it — so why isn’t that working for so many of us when it comes to money? Perhaps it’s because we try to have “the money talk” before we’re ready — and a lot needs to happen before a couple sits down to have a discussion.
Most importantly, you both must live up to your responsibilities: If you’re expected to contribute a certain amount to the family finances, make sure you’re holding up your end of the bargain. If you’ve both decided you need to save more, don’t overdo it with your credit cards. If you’re expected to mail the bills on time, make sure you’re getting them out.
You’ve got to “walk the walk” before you can have the talk. Don’t expect your concerns to be taken seriously if you’ve already proven you don’t keep your promises. Couples also need to understand where the other is coming from — as individuals — before they have productive conversations about money.
You must take each other’s financial personalities into account if you are to find common ground. For example, my husband’s parents grew up during the Great Depression with the mentality “Save, save, save.”
My parents grew up poor in the South and could not let a lack of money keep them from having the experiences they thought they needed to have. That means we have very different attitudes about spending and saving. Basically, he buys generic, while I buy organic.
Once we understand where we are coming from as individuals, we can stop playing the blame game and make choices that bring us closer to our goals.
Society gives men and women different messages about how to handle money: Men must be the breadwinners and know everything about finance. Women, however, even if they’re bringing home a paycheck, need to be nurturing and let men make important financial decisions. These messages put a lot of pressure on the financial aspect of the relationship. Women tend to see concerns or complaints as an invitation to move closer. Men hear concerns or complaints as a warning flag that they are about to get blamed for something. That makes it very difficult to have conversations about money.
Social messages — what we learned as children — are influences that are not going to go away, but there are things couples can do to move beyond them and create healthy financial lives. Use these five helpful tips to stop fighting about money:
- Lose the notion of right and wrong
There are no right and wrong beliefs about money, just different attitudes and beliefs, and they all come from our individual experiences. To tell someone they’re wrong is telling them that your experiences are more valuable than theirs. That’s simply not the truth — you’ll strike a nerve and start an argument.
- Don’t use money as a weapon
Don’t bring money into conflicts where it does not belong. If your partner is upset because you have not been spending time together, don’t say something like, “I’m working to pay off your bills.” Also, don’t go on a spending binge if you’re mad at your spouse. Actions like these take problems that aren’t related to money into dangerous territory.
- Set long- and short-term goals as a couple
Ask yourself questions like “What are some things we want to do with our finances this year? Do we want to build up our savings or take a vacation? What do we want to do in five or 10 years? How does our behavior have to change individually and as a couple in order to accomplish our dreams?”
- Stay connected to your goals
A great way to stay on top of your goals is to do a monthly money date. Attach a positive activity to it, like dinner, and be sure to talk about your goals and dreams, not just your problems. Figure out how to build on each other’s strengths (Note: Do not have this meeting at the beginning or end of the month, as things tend to be tense near bill-paying time.)
- Have your own money
While you have goals as a couple, you also have individual needs and goals. Once you agree on what you will each contribute to the family unit, decide on an amount that is off-limits. If you want to take it out into the backyard and burn it, it’s your decision. No discussion, no criticism.
Financial journalist Stacey Tisdale is the author of “The True Cost of Happiness: The Real Story Behind Managing Your Money.”