by Neil Denny, author of Conversational Riffs
How often do you and your partner get to sit down and have a really good conversation about money? We’re not talking about those “What would you do…” lottery pipe dreams, but proper, grown up conversations about budgets, spending habits and financial planning. Many couples find this to be one of the hardest conversations to have.
Unfortunately when we communicate it can be very easy to misunderstand what is being said. By way of example, when my wife and I bought our first home as newlyweds, a modest two-up two-down terraced property, I would bristle every time my wife said “It’s getting cold tonight.”
Why? Because what I heard was this; “You dragged me 200 miles away from my home town, my kind and loving parents and their comfortable, warm, dry home to live here!”
Sounds implausible, right? Wrong.
What made it worse is that my wife complained about the temperature every night!
How filters work
When conversations arise we hear them through our own filters. These filters are, in turn, shaped by our sense of identity and personal experiences. We assume that other people will see us as we see ourselves and then twist what is being said so that it fits that anticipation.
It is essential that couples are able to have conversations, and sometimes difficult conversations, about finances.
Don’t get defensive
We need to get better at recognising when we are becoming defensive in response to these conversations.
1. Ask yourself which inner gremlins are twisting what is being said and leading you to assume that a different message is being delivered?
2. What aspect of your own self-perception might be getting in the way of communication?
3. Discipline yourself to stop over-analysing or interpreting what is said.
4. If you have a hunch that something is meant other than what is being said then check to see if your interpretation, or hunch, is correct. When you do so, assume that your interpretation may well be incorrect, even wildly so.
We also need to be bolder about talking about what we are feeling.
Assume the best, not the worst
Assume an innocent, benevolent intention behind the conversation.
1. Be vulnerable.
2. Use You/I statements.
“I know you are trying to help us get on top of this, and I know I am wrong to feel like this, but when you start to talk about the borrowing I can’t help feel like you are blaming me for it. This is difficult isn’t it? Let’s try and help each other talk it through.”
NEIL’S TIP: Whatever you do, do not go on the attack or counter-attack. Comments such as “Don’t have a go at me about it.” or counter-attacks along the lines of “You can talk, what about that coat you bought…” will not help this conversation.
Get more information
You might find it helpful to encourage your partner to give more information about how he or she sees things currently before responding at all.
As a final point, if it is you who is going to bring the conversation up, signpost that you are going to do so. Let your partner know that you want to have the discussion and be firm in specifying a time you would like to have it.
If you really cannot have these difficult conversations together then consider getting help from a financial or couples coach who can help you both keep on track and be accountable to one another.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Neil Denny is an author and speaker on conflict and communications. He is the author of the book Conversational Riffs Creating Meaning Out Of Conflict and is a consultant collaborative lawyer with divorce law firm Family Law in Partnership in London.
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