People have complicated relationships when it comes to finances. These relationships are more difficult because of rules of social politeness, which insist that it’s not okay to talk about it. A lot of us heard when we were growing up that it’s not “polite” to talk about money. That may be true when it comes to a cocktail party, but not in a relationship. Couples who are not used to talking about their finances often make mistakes in predictable, yet preventable ways.
There are three big mistakes that people usually make when talking about money in relationships. They are:
Another mistake is losing sight of the difference between an argument and a fight. In an argument, both sides present their cases, discuss issues logically and then come to a conclusion. In a fight, words become heated, tempers flare and things quickly get personal. Arguments are a fine and healthy part of any relationship, but fights are destructive and should be avoided.
When you assume, you’re right and your partner is wrong, the conversation becomes all about placing blame. You make accusations that your partner has done something wrong. Your partner then gets defensive about his or her choices as a means to avoid losing face. You both get angry because you start to place priority on winning the argument rather than solving the problem. Instead of trying to place blame, work on solving collective problems. To do that, acknowledge that no matter who started it, you’re in this together. Shift your energies (and the conversation) away from who caused your money problems. Move toward talking about how you can build a more secure financial future.
People have different financial priorities. You might focus on saving and devote a lot of energy to making and sticking to a budget. Your partner, though, might be a bit looser with money and might spend more freely. When your conversations focus on these differences, one or both of you will tend to make unfair comparisons. Spend more time talking about the goals that you share rather than on your areas of difference.
It’s also hard to keep focus when discussing your finances. It’s tempting to slip into “fight mode,” where your goal is on obtaining the win. When you’re in this frame of mind, you tend to use a lot of strategies that aren’t great for problem-solving. You might bring up other issues, such as work-sharing. You might also shut down and refuse to listen. Remember, though, that it’s the topic that’s making you stressed. The faster you and your partner can work together to solve your financial problems, the better.
Now that you know some of the pitfalls to avoid, it’s time to take some positive steps to make financial conversations more productive in the future.