Money means a lot of different things to people but for most couples you can count on the fact that it's going to mean arguments. We bring our own biases and beliefs about money not too mention our financial habits and expectations into our relationships. Now add on the stress of the current economy and its a wonder that most couples aren't at each other's throats everyday.
As a couples therapist I am able to navigate my way through some pretty challenging conversations but even I fall prey to the power of the dreaded "money talk." But there is hope, with a little work we can all learn to communicate better when it comes to finances. Here are a couple of key tips for changing the role of money in your relationship.
Acknowledge your feelings.
Somehow money issues often bring out the worst in us and our partners. The emotional meaning behind the numbers on our bank statements or the pile of credit card bills on the counter is powerful yet often ignored which leads to complicated arguments where no one feels understood. Money management is often considered a practical task, one where silly things like feelings should be set aside. But the truth is that money is one of the most emotionally charged issues in our relationships. Men and women both bring a set of values to their perspective on finances that influence how and when we react to financial issues or concerns. So whether you grew up in a family where love was shown through expensive gifts or you survived a financially debilitating divorce and now value saving- the lesson is that you carry an emotional story with every financial decision you make. The only way to make our financial discussions productive is articulate the underlying feelings that come up in the process. By discussing both the emotional and practical aspects of any money issue, we increase our chances of reaching mutually agreeable solutions.
Own your weaknesses.
Once you figure out what you're feeling, it's time to examine how it is influencing what you do. We all have emotional influences, not to mention bad habits, that contribute to poor financial decision making. Whether you shop excessively when you're under stress or you ignore the ever growing pile of overdue bills because it feels easier to avoid them, it's pretty much a guarantee that you have some financial weaknesses tied to your emotional perspective. Most educated adults can justify their financial behavior and even make it sound reasonable but that doesn't always mean its right. Before you defend your choices, ask yourself if they might just be areas where you can grow. While it is much easier to see how others should change, the most important thing you can do is look at yourself. I f you and your partner seem to keep coming back to the same old money fight it might be time to address your role in the conflict.
Schedule a regular money check-up.
Sometimes arguments are simply a function of bad timing. One of you is in a bad mood, someone is hungry, or still reeling for an unexpected Visa bill; whatever the stressor it is almost guaranteed to take a challenging conversation and push it into the danger zone. By scheduling a regular time to check in with your spouse about money you can avoid having every financial discussion start because of a problem. Often we avoid having these conversations until some situation, like an overdue bill or low bank balance, forces us to address things. The problem is that we then set up a cycle in which money talk is always centered on the negative. Like anything else in life, its important to give yourselves the opportunity to talk about what's going right. A weekly meeting to look at your budget or talk about upcoming expenses gives you and your partner a chance to head off major conflict and also recognize when each of you is doing their part to maintain (or improve) your financial health.