You’re teeming with anger, and so are they—even thinking about divorce.
Being honest did not go so well. Then again, you knew that this was going to be one tough conversation. That’s why, when you all started talking about it, your blood began to rush, you felt antsy, or you wanted to just shut it down quickly. But that didn’t work, because you really needed to have this conversation—and you all keep putting it off. Why in the world are you all fighting over this?
This past weekend was rather tense in our house; we had one of these conversations. Unfortunately, it’s also true that we’ve been putting it off. Every time the nerd (see Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University for details) would bring up the budget, the free spirit would be ready to shut it down—always protesting, “just tell me how much to spend and let’s move on please!” But that wouldn’t work, and it hadn’t yet, because this was too important. The decisions were too big. To be fair, the nerd was
moments. After all, this isn’t worth ignoring. Money is far too personal.
First things first, don’t ignore the elephant in the room. That elephant is powerful enough to kill you!
Now I don’t know if this is you, friend, but in the realm of fight or flight, you might like to skedaddle when everything blows up. And while ignoring the issue can help you avoid conflict, money is not likely one of the conflicts you should avoid having. Money is far too personal. There’s a reason why it lands among the top reported reasons for divorce across many sources.
I tend to have a great desire to flight on this issue, but I know that we really need to have money conversations. I made a firm commitment to be completely open to my partner-in-crime (well, not so much crime, except for that one time…)! So, you too, make a commitment to openness. Shutting down only ruins your potential for growth.
[Quick story: I played the clarinet in third grade and at my first recital, I had a solo. During this solo, I squeaked, and I quit after that. That was one of the worst decisions I made because the rolling effect of that was to quit, and quit, and quit, and quit again. Anything, and everything. If you’re like me, a flight-er, you may have to consider why you keep wanting to run away, and more importantly, make a firm decision—a commitment—to not close yourself down to your partner.]
Now, to clarify, not ignoring the elephant in the room does not mean, to talk until you yell loud enough that the neighbors want to call the police. Nor does it mean stand in the same room to “address” the problem until you are ready to scratch each other’s eyes out. It does mean, if you need to take a break (either one of you), then do it, but don’t leave it there. Choose a time, to come back together—which leads us to the second tip.
Set some ground rules. Forgive me PETA, but this elephant needs to be in a cage.
If you have never come to any agreements about how to argue with each other, this is a very valuable time to do it. Money is too personal, so it’s easy to get distracted by how mumbo-jumbo over there is saying everything and completely ignore what he or she is actually trying to communicate! Even if you all just choose 2-3 ways to speak to each other, it will help. Start with statements like “I want to know… about…” and “Help me understand how…”
For instance, if we are talking about our debt snowball (another reference to Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University), try “I want to know how we can keep putting this much money into debt if we have to account for the increase in child care expenses.” Notice, there’s no challenge here. The goal is to come to an agreement. You are on the same side—it’s the situation you’re against!
Here are some ideas for ground rules you can set:
Only use each other’s names (positive pet names can be okay)
Set a timer for how long one conversation will be
Listen past the words to each other’s hearts (sometimes words get in the way)
Focus on one topic at a time
Take breaks when you need them
Commit to not give up until you both really agree
Be specific rather than generalize (i.e., avoid words like “always” and “never”
Purposefully ask for clarification if there’s something you don’t understand
Use “I think/I feel” rather than “you”(they sound offensive when emotion is heightened)
Make sure you all stay on the same page by setting a goal. This is where you decide how the actual elephant looks.
Now is the time to be specific and figure out what you are trying to agree on. Remember, the goal is not to talk. The goal is always to say the things that will help you all reach an agreeable understanding. Meanwhile, you are on the same side, even though it doesn’t often feel like it. Don’t talk in circles for hours. That helps no one, and makes both of you more frustrated than is necessary. Start with the question, “what specifically do we need to talk about?”
This can be complicated if you don’t feel like you need to talk about the same thing. Let’s say one of you really cares about investing, and the other is wondering why you don’t have more money in the savings account. Those are two different things, therefore two different goals. Address them one by one. The more mature person will be the one to allow the other to bring up their concerns first. If you’re the more mature person, make sure you listen to what the other is saying rather than just dreaming about what you’re going to say.
After all’s said, end with love. Let the elephant free in the wild (check me out PETA!).
Don’t make the mistake of believing that you’re going to feel super connected to each other after potentially arguing. By all means, you may, but more times than not, we don’t. But we always end our arguments the same way—with an expressive outreach of love. It doesn’t matter who initiates it. But once we have said all we can about a subject, or agreed to disagree, then we let it end (sometimes this is a conscious decision not to start back up again). If you must, plan to talk about it again on another occasion. But then, offer a hand to hold, a gentle kiss, or an “I love you” that will help melt any ice that is lingering.
This is how we end all our arguments—no matter how heated. We do it purposely. Honestly, it’s probably the reason why we still love each other. We always forgive and move on. Holding onto whatever was said in the conversation means we need to talk again. But kissing that elephant at the end turns Dumbo into a handsome prince or princess. (Okay that’s two different stories, but you know what I’m saying.)
Hopefully something here was valuable information, or at very least, you feel encouraged to finish the conversation. As for us, it’s taken us about a week (maybe two) sort out this money talk, but we finally have come to a conclusion. And we blew kisses and made eyes at each other from across the room when we were done.
Disclaimer: I am not a licensed counselor, only a hardheaded wife with a bullheaded husband. We have learned to have real conversations where we end with respect and love for each other, and a real conclusion. I’m just here, sharing what has worked for us. By no means do I think it is exclusive, as a matter of fact, some of you may need to go to a pastor, unbiased friend or counselor to help. Whatever you need, I just hope you have as much peace in your relationship as we do in ours.
Finally, I don’t want to undervalue the power of prayer in our relationship. We lean heavily on the Holy Spirit, after all, without him, we won’t produce His fruit. (see Galatians 5 and John 15) You’ve got this friend.