Shall we talk… about money?

It’s (been) National Conversation Week this week, March 18th – 24th and, this year, the focus has been on encouraging people to talk about finances.  Good call. Money challenges or issues over finances are one of the most commonly articulated reasons for relationships falling apart. We need to get better at having this conversation.

Of course, not having enough money brings its own financial pressures.  But often, it’s about more than just not having enough money.  Wealthy couples argue about money too!  One survey reported that regardless of wealth, 20% of the people responding said that MOST of their arguments were about money.

There are three key reasons why we will always argue over money– no matter how much we have – until we develop the skills to have a better quality conversation.

  1. The first reason is that typically people view money differently and have different preferences about how it should be spent.  One tends to be more of a saver for the future and for a rainy day, and the other tends to be more of a spender – let’s live life at the moment.  Both are valid points of view and together can achieve a balance of enjoying a great lifestyle now and having enough to maintain a quality standard of living in the future, even with unforeseen events.  However, being able to have a conversation about preferences and goals demands a level of emotional intelligence and skill to negotiate around deeply held values that many of us just don’t have.  And when we feel ill-equipped to have this “money talk” we tend to shy away from the topic.  It’s easier to hide the shopping bags than to talk about and agree how money is spent.  When we sense it’s going to be a challenging conversation, we dip our heads into the sand and pretend that the challenge will go away.  Of course, deep down we know that’s not going to fix anything, but somehow, we still run and hide… kicking a very troublesome can down the road.
  2. The second key trigger for money arguments is when the balance of power or influence over what gets spent is perceived as unfair. This is a tricky pothole to manoeuvre especially where one person is the main breadwinner and the other is the stay-at-home caregiver.  Quite often ego gets in the way.  Again, being able to have a conversation about the goals you have as a couple/family and how you will support each other in the different seasons of life to achieve those goals is crucial.
  3. The third reason that money arguments tend to escalate is a matter of trust. Sometimes this is simply a lack of financial education. Many people have not been taught how to have a budget, balance income and expenditure, plan for the future etc., so sometimes the long-term implications of being impulsive with spending aren’t understood – until there is no money for essentials – like rent, mortgage, food.  Did you hear the one about the person who, shocked by their bank balance, exclaimed: “What do you mean there is no money in the account?  I still have cheques in the chequebook!”. Other times it is downright deceit.

Regardless of whether the cause is naivety or ill-intent, couples can end up at opposite sides of a great divide when one partner is committed to honouring the budget, but the other keeps breaking trust in agreed spending.  This is such an important factor that it has its own term – financial infidelity.

Whatever the income levels, learning to have courageous conversations about money and agree on the whatwhen and how of spending is vital to any couple wanting to enjoy a long-lasting, quality relationship.

Based on our work with couples over the last two decades, we have observed that ALL great relationships exhibit 4 simple, yet fundamental, habits which equip them to have these courageous conversations successfully and pull together rather than apart.  Every failing relationship we’ve ever seen has lacked one or more of them. 

Quite often, money is just a magnifier of what is going on in the relationship.  Developing these four habits will equip couples to have successful conversations about money and to overcome many of the other common hurdles that couples face in the process of blending two lives into one.

The four fundamental habits are :

  • Be CURIOUS, not critical– which equips couples to understand their different approaches to money and manage expectations better.
  • Be CAREFUL, not crushing– which equips couples to manage the conflict that often arises in money conversations, so they come out stronger together rather than damage the relationship.
  • ASK, don’t assume– which equips couples to strengthen trust and mutual respect in the relationship, regardless of who earns what.
  • CONNECT before you correct– which equips couples to stay connected and committed in their conversations rather than resorting to constant “telling off”.

On any level, not being able to talk about and agree on financial goals as a couple will lead to problems… best case chaos, worst case disaster.  Learning how to have the conversation and getting on the same page financially strengthens the relationship and gives choices. 

As Zig Ziglar says, “Money isn’t the most important thing in life, but it’s right up there next to Oxygen on the ‘gotta have it’ scale!”  We must get better at having the “money” conversation. This is a great week to start.

A couple sat side by side smiling down as they place a gold coin in a piggy bank.

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