Sometimes talk about money ain’t so funny. As Valentine’s Day came and went, a couple struggled with questions about consumerism, the meaning behind gifts, and how money affected their relationship. Whether it was financial inequality, overspending, or miserliness (a la Scrooge), humor was hard to find at a time when happiness is the ideal.
While money is often quoted as the number 1 or 2 reason for divorce (along with sex), both are about power and control. Further, both require a level of emotional intelligence that isn’t taught in schools nor by many parents.
What can couples do to have a better time with money? Following are 4 ideas. For each one, plan a special fun reward or celebration for yourselves at the end. The more you practice at these, the easier the conversations will get. You may even find your differences become predictable, manageable, and laughable.
Idea 1: Try a Monthly Money Date
For monthly money dates, quickies are best. These are for checking the “dashboard indicators” in your household finances. Agree to limit these conversations to about 15 minutes. (2 1/2 minute video on 3-Part Money Dates here: Make It a 3-Part Money Date). Build in fun and humor by focusing on your progress, positive wins, and gratitude for what you’ve got so far. For big ideas and thorny issues, make a separate date to discuss those using one of the following 3 formats. Then move on to the real date part!
Idea 2: Try a 2-Day Relationship Conference
No you don’t have to talk about money for 2 days! What a buzzkill! Instead, in a Relationship Conference, each partner takes a turn being a pure listener to the other partner’s issues. Being the listener in a relationship conference means saying nothing while your partner talks. You can decide on the timeframe, but make it somewhere between 15 and 45 minutes. You can take notes. Take a break for 24 to 48 hours and allow thoughts and feelings to arise to reflect on what you heard. Share those with your partner by reversing roles – it’s their turn to simply listen and reflect for whatever timeframe you decide – 24 to 48 hours. Summarize how you both felt about the Conference. Then celebrate your ability to tackle tough stuff.
Idea 3: Take Turns Active Listening
Another option is to take turns all in one setting being the active listener. This means being fully present to your partner’s issues and emotions, without bringing any of your own responses or emotions into the conversation. (Tip: This is really hard for most people who have never done it before.) You do this by repeating back what you heard, checking with them to make sure you got it all (“Did I get it all?”), and asking to hear more about the emotions underlying each statement (“You said you felt excluded. Tell me more about that.”) Once your partner agrees they feel completely heard and understood, then it’s your turn. Remember to celebrate and give yourselves credit for your progress with active listening.
Idea 4: Ask For Practice Help
Are there some money issues in your relationship that sound too difficult to talk about on your own? Sometimes each of these exercises work best if practiced with a counselor first. And that’s ok; sometimes we need some training wheels before we’re ready to ride the conversation bicycle on our own. Give yourselves the gift of an enhanced relationship by getting some tips on how to have a healthy conversation about money.
Remember when you learned to ride and then let go of the handlebars? Imagine feeling that free in your relationship with money and each other. One’s Scrooge to the other’s spending might actually be something you learn to laugh about for years to come. You might even be saying, “Honey, ain’t money funny?”
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