You’re sulking at the dining room table, financial spreadsheets glaring from your computer into your already-droopy eyeballs, wishing you were watching Monday evening’s episode of Jeopardy instead of talking about money. Then your partner says you spend too much money on the dog. This isn’t the first time the dog has come up. That’s it.
Anger boils up inside of you. Don’t they understand that this dog is your baby? She’s a rescue, she deserves those fuzzy sweaters. Suddenly you find yourself nitpicking your partner’s spending habits — what about that daily cold brew they insist on buying? Or that $40 adult onesie made from banana fabric that they insisted they needed? Come on!
The fact that you had planned to discuss your household spending flies out the door. You stomp out of the room and take a pretend nap on the bed until he comes in and apologizes. Then, you apologize, and you both go watch The Crown. Zero progress is made with your finances.
Does this scenario sound familiar? Well, there’s good news — it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are 8 rules from Lindsey Foss, a licensed marriage and family therapist, for talking about money with your significant other. Follow these tips, and you’ll (probably) never yell about a banana-covered onesie again.
1. Agree on a Time
Mutually agree upon a time to have the discussion. Add it to your calendar and set a reminder if needed. Make it a weekly date, or as often as needed. Turning it into a routine will help you actually stick to it and won’t cut into your Jeopardy time. Be careful to choose a time that will allow for ease and minimal disruptions — as in, not right before you have to pick up the kids or your friends are coming over. Limiting the stress of a time crunch will help the conversation go more smoothly.
2. Choose a Location That is Free From Distractions
Don’t talk about finances in front of a new episode of Dr. Who or right next to Grandma’s wild bridge club crowding around the coffee table. This will lead to a lack of focus on the task at hand and possible frustration at being torn between two different things. It will take more time to get less accomplished. If you have a hard time finding a quiet space, kick people out for 30 minutes. Make your kids take the dog for a walk. Tell Grandma’s crew the game is over. Whatever has to happen, make these finance chats a priority by carving out space for them.
3. Put the Phones Away
Cell phones, iPads, and Apple Watches need to be stashed away from your conversation and on silent. Basically, anything that might buzz or beep at you. The last thing you want is a call from your mother, accidentally being sucked into her droning on about how she accidentally bought skim milk instead of 2% and finds it too watery.
4. Limit the Topic
Instead of sitting down to talk about “finances,” choose to talk specifically about how to pay off the debt for the Mastercard. Or where to transfer that bonus you just got at work. Or which goals to create on your Mint account.
It’s like tackling any large task — you need an end goal. If your goal for one 30-minute chat is to talk about “money,” then you’ll be left staring at the wall, waiting for the other person to start the conversation. Or, you’ll get derailed and hop from retirement planning to home buying to “We’re spending how much on the dog’s food?” In other words, you’ll get nowhere. If, on the other hand, you know in that 30 minutes that you would like to set up 5 goals in your Mint account, that is manageable. That has a conclusion, and you can even feel the satisfaction of checking it off a list.
5. Set a Time Limit
If you know the conversation may get intense, set a time limit before you begin. It could be as little as 10 minutes. These chats don’t need to go on forever to get something accomplished, and in fact, it can be better to do frequent short spurts. You can set an actual timer on your stove or your watch if it helps. And don’t keep working through even after it beeps. Take it seriously and quit. If you go over, you’re less likely to want to come back next time.
6. Take Turns
Ask questions about your partner’s ideas before jumping in with thoughts of your own. If you tend to throw in your two cents a lot, hold your tongue. Try asking what they mean about the price of the dog food before becoming defensive or going on the attack. Asking questions is a great way to actually understanding what the other person is saying and reduce the chances of taking things out of context.
7. Pay Attention to Your Emotional State
Monitor your internal experience, and notice if you are beginning to get agitated. If so, take a break. It’s each of your responsibilities to keep yourself accountable and to make sure you remain calm. If your partner says something that frustrates you, try not to raise your voice. Instead, call it a day on the financial chat and find a time to come back later.
8. Schedule the Next Chat
Set a date to check back in with each other or to continue the conversation if there is more to discuss. Make sure it’s on the calendar. Setting the next date before you leave is important because it’s too easy to keep pushing it off. All of a sudden, it will be two months later and you’ll remember you were supposed to set up those automatic transfers.
Just like Rome wasn’t built in a day, a solid financial plan for your family won’t be either. It takes a lot of time, patience, and mutual respect. If you can get to a point where you end a finance talk on a positive note instead of by fake napping in the bedroom, we’ll call that a win.
What ways do you manage tension in financial talks with your partner?
Tiffany Verbeck is a freelance writer and storyteller who helps small businesses and entrepreneurs tell their brand story. She runs a professional blog on personal finance at www.tiffanyverbeck.com and a personal blog on growing up in Indiana called Midwestern Transplant. She can be found on Twitter at @tiffanyverbeck.
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