Family Finance Support: Avoid One Thing When Talking Money With Your Partner
Disagreements about money and the values surrounding family finances don't have to lead to lasting relationship problems! Healthy, respectful communication on the topic can actually make your bond stronger. But there is one thing we recommend you avoid...
Family Finance Support Series: Avoid One Thing When Talking Money With Your Partner
[Part 2 of 3]
Want to read Part 1? Check Out Family Finance Support: Newlywed and Courageous Thinking Ahead
Avoid: The "Four Horsemen" when discussing family finance
Prominent family scientist and couples therapist John Gottman frequently lists four things that couples should avoid while communicating. He calls them the “Four Horsemen.”
Criticizing is not the same as voicing a complaint or a critique. Criticism attacks the partner’s character or being. For example, a complaint may be “I’m feeling concerned about your IKEA spending yesterday. I thought we agreed to consult each other if we were going to spend more than $200.” A criticism, on the other hand, could look like “You overspent the entertainment budget again. Why do you always do that? You are so selfish! You don’t even care about me and how hard I’m working.” One addresses the issue at hand, the other attacks the partner’s character. Criticism frequently leads to defensiveness.
While criticism attacks your partner’s character, contempt assumes a position of moral superiority over them. Contempt can be behaving disrespectfully, being sarcastic, rolling our eyes or using mimicking body language, scoffing, calling them names, etc. “You bought another idiotic video game? Are you kidding me? You are such a child.” Attacking a partner from a position of perceived relative superiority is terrible for a relationship, and will make discussing finances nearly impossible. Don’t do it!
We’ve all been defensive at some point; it’s usually a response to criticism. When we feel like we’ve been accused, we fight back and play the victim to get our partner to back off. “Yeah, well, you know how stressed I’ve been! I deserve something special. It’s not my fault you aren’t any fun.” Thing is, it doesn’t work—because it’s really a way of blaming your partner, and makes healthy conflict management impossible.
Stonewalling—usually a response to contempt—is when one partner shuts down, withdraws, and stops responding to the other. Stonewalling is a result of feeling physiologically flooded. However, ignoring the issue will not fix it. When we start to stonewall, we may not be able to think or respond logically and kindly. If that becomes the case, it is important to request a break in the conversation and pick it back up after 20 minutes—or more—to allow your body to calm down.
While most relationships will involve the Four Horsemen at some point, healthy communicators avoid them as much as possible and do more to repair them when they show up. If you catch your money conversations sliding into these bad habits, know that you have the power to turn them around and create a positive environment for discussing finances.
Ok, so now that we know what to avoid, here are some helpful positive suggestions.
But Do: Talk Often About Family Finance
A great way to reduce the stress of talking about money is to discuss things frequently with your partner. Don’t wait for a family finance crisis to talk.
Some couples find it best to schedule regular discussions about money—say, every Sunday afternoon—while others take a more casual approach.
If you operate on a monthly budget plan, maybe treat yourselves to a coffee or donut out and make it a fun thing to hash out the budget for the month. However you and your partner decide to do it, make sure that it is a frequent topic in your relationship. If you're one of those couples who avoid talking about money because it is stressful and uncomfortable, you're not alone - and included below are some more suggestions that can help start the conversation.
And Do: Discuss Family Finance Values From Childhood
Don't want to go there? You're not alone. We don't want to look at our childhood as a driver of how we behave as adults. But the truth is, many of our deep-seated financial values come from our first interactions with money - whether good, bad, wacky, or neutral. Start with some of these discussion questions in a non-confrontational way. If both of you know where you came from, it's a lot easier to see the patterns moving forward and come up with a plan.
Example questions (both partners share answers):
-Who made most financial decisions when you were growing up?
-Was there generally agreement or disagreement regarding finances in your family of origin? What was the nature of the disagreements?
-Was your family financially secure, in your opinion? How did that make you feel?
-What's one money habit you admire in the people you watched growing up?
-What's one money habit you don't want to repeat that you saw growing up?
Definitely Do: Discuss Family Finance Goals Before Dollar Amounts
Money means different things to different people. For some, it represents security, power, or status. For others, it is the ability to buy things, travel, or start a business. For another group, money simply means security and knowing there will be food on the table.
It’s important to talk with your spouse about your short-term family finance goals (6 months to 3 years) long-term goals (5 to 10 or more years) and what money means to you in general. It’s very likely that you’ll have different views about what money means, and talking about it will help you get on the same page. Don’t be afraid to go to a couples therapist or a financial professional to help with this discussion, if needed.
Along with goals is what types of action steps the two of you are willing to take. For example, do you need a budget checklist? Willing to work on a budget template together? Maybe plan a vacation on a budget or just start to track spending and keep tabs on family finance together. Perhaps it's as simple as setting up a savings plan for the first time. Whatever it is, do it together.
Always Do: Saddle Up Your Current Behaviors to Your Short and Long-Term Goals
Even if your long-term goals are aligned, it is possible that your short-term values will still be different. A baking enthusiast may feel lucky to find vanilla beans on sale for $300 a pound, while their partner balks at the price tag and wants to buy a bottle of imitation extract for $3.99. Someone who loves clothes may know that these $175 shoes are a steal, while their partner—who shops exclusively at thrift stores—may disagree.
These are not solely issues of dollar amount, so much as they are about what each partner feels is important. Understanding what your partner values and making any necessary adjustments together will help you work out your budget and your family finances.
Easy budgeting starts with an agreement between partners, and continues as you utilize free resources from a trusted partner. Here are a few you might like:
As anyone in a relationship knows, working together to find a solution on anything can be a challenge, never mind on an emotionally-charged topic such as family finances. But who knows, you might be surprised what a little open and honest communication can do. ❤️