Ten Steps Toward Healthy Communication about Money

Posted by on Jul 30, 2014 in Couples, Couples Counseling, Marriage, Money, Money, Relationships, Stress | 0 comments

Many couples become stuck in a rut with money. Both people in the relationship begin to become entrenched in their opinion that the other person is “wrong”.  When the issue does come up, both fire away at each other with verbal attacks, or sarcastic comments.  Sometimes it festers below the surface and couples often either become more detached, or act in ways that are passive aggressive.  The longer these patterns continue, the further apart the couple becomes emotionally.  Gradually it becomes more difficult to communicate and make decisions together.  If it continues for too long both partners may become emotionally numb, or hostile. Take a typical example.  Tom and Mary have been married for 11 years. They have 2 kids, a dog, and both work full time.  They both make about the same amount of money. For the most part, Mary makes most of the decisions about day to day purchases and pays the bills every month. Mary has gradually grown resentful that she has to manage all the financial details, but admits she also wouldn’t trust Tom to do it because “he doesn’t know what’s going on half the time”.  Mary feels she has more to do with the kids and keeping the household together, and feels its fine for her to buy small household items they need.  Every once in a while she’ll buy something for herself, but she doesn’t feel she is extravagant in her purchases.  She spends money on her hair, but “that’s just what it costs these days”.   If she didn’t buy new clothes, the kids would be made fun of at school for wearing things that don’t fit.  Whenever she tries to talk to Tom about day to day purchases he is negative or complains and says “NO” without even listening to her.  So she doesn’t try to talk about money anymore. Tom never buys a new pair of shoes, or a toaster, or a lamp.  He thinks that Mary spends more than she should on expensive grocery items, “fashionable” kids’ clothes, shoes she doesn’t need and cosmetics.  Tom would like to spend a few dollars here and there, but knows they can afford it. When he tries to talk to Mary about budgeting more, he gets yelled at.  Over time he resents what he considers Mary’s bad decisions. He looks at the check book balance at the end of the month and wishes they were putting more into savings.  Eventually he becomes resentful that he “never gets any say in anything” and goes and makes a big purchase for himself.   Two years ago it was a nice set of power tools.  Last year it was a pool table.  He didn’t talk to Mary about either of these purchases beforehand because he’s “tired of her making all the decisions”.   When she becomes upset about these purchases putting them into debt, his rationale is that “well, now you’ll have to cut back on buying all that crap we don’t need.” Occasionally Mary will make snarky comments about Tom’s purchases in front of family or friends.  Tom shuts down, just laughs and or changes the subject when she brings up money.  He’s also begun stashing money behind Mary’s back because he doesn’t want to deal with an argument, and doesn’t feel he should have to ask “permission”.  Mary feels more and more like she is left to deal with financial stress on her own and begins to feel like Tom doesn’t care about her. If you find yourself in a similar situation, follow these steps: 1)      Agree that you love each other, but that there is a problem that needs to be solved and that you need to try to talk about it peacefully. 2)      Agree that you both want to have less stress regarding money, and that you both want to have a stable future. 3)      Agree that you both could make some changes that could make things better. 4)      Set up a time to look at your finances each week. 5)      Don’t argue, just objectively look at income and expenses.  Make a list or a spread sheet, or use an APP that will put it all on a chart or graph so you can see it more clearly. 6)      Each person will create a list of “Wants vs. Needs”.  This list is going to look different for both of you and that’s ok – you have to have a place to start. Maybe some of the “wants” can be cut back on each month. How much would that save you?  Where can you both negotiate? 7)      What are your goals, short term and long term regarding a) savings, b) paying off debts, and c) future purchases? 8)      How could you plan and save ahead for a nicer car, vacation, new living room furniture? 9)      How much would each of you like to spend towards paying down debt each month – can you agree, or compromise on a common goal? 10)   Agree to talk about this for 20 minutes, one time each week.  Agree to not attack each other, call names, or bring up the past.  Repeat Step 1, as needed.

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