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Couples, Conversations, and Money



❝Any worthwhile conversation starts with listening. -Simon Sinek

I'm doing homework in my living room with the TV on in the background. I'm in college, and I'm pretty busy between school and work. Since I'm so busy, I believe it's necessary to multi-task. I'm trying to eat dinner, do homework, and watch television all at the same time. This proves to be unsuccessful because I don't really know what's going on in the program.


Then I hear one of the characters say that he not only wasn't on the same page with somebody else, but they weren't even reading the same book. I had to take a break to ponder the statement. I have not heard this before, but I think it's powerful.


Fifteen years later, I'm still thinking about this statement. It represents how people have different assumptions and core beliefs. I can't be on the same page with somebody if I'm not reading the same book. I can't find common ground with somebody if I don't share the same core beliefs and values.


Fortunately, I believe there's more common ground than we think. We are reading the same book and are close to the same page, especially with loved ones. The idea that we're reading from different books is tempting, but it's a story we make up in our minds.

MONEY IS STRESSFUL


If I may state the obvious, money is stressful. Money is the most common source of stress for people in the United States and a top cause of conflict in relationships. In addition, money is a taboo topic in our culture, so nobody talks about money.


We end up in a situation where we know exactly how stressful money feels for us, but as we look around, it does not look like anybody else is stressed. Not only do we not talk about money, but often people will use their money to signal status. That means that it feels like we're the only ones experiencing financial stress while everybody else has their stuff together. The irony is that everybody else thinks the same thing about you.


Because money is so stressful and outward-focused, it's easy to observe. At least it seems easy. Because of this perceived easiness, we tend to use money as a benchmark. It's easier, we think, to see how much money someone has than it is to see how happy they are. Money becomes the proxy for happiness, even though it's a poor proxy. This perpetuates the taboo about money because as soon as we open our mouths to talk about money, we open ourselves up for judgment.


It's the same in our relationships. It's hard to talk about money in general, but it can sometimes be more challenging to talk about money with those closest to us because of our fear of judgment.

UNDERSTANDING BASIC NEEDS


Financial psychology pioneer Ted Klontz boiled human needs down to six basic needs. According to him, our six basic needs are belonging, autonomy, safety/security, significance/purpose, connection, and self-expression. Every behavior we partake in is an attempt to meet one or more of these basic needs.


Combining this idea with the fact that money is stressful, we understand that money is a common trigger for emotional flooding. With emotional flooding, the thinking part of our brain takes a break because the subconscious part of our brain works faster without it. Its job is to get out of stressful situations by any means necessary, including dirty fighting techniques.


Understanding this will help you take a different perspective if you and your partner happen to have a disagreement about money. Fights about money can often be quite nasty. Simply asking yourself the question, "is it more likely that my partner is trying to hurt me or that my partner is stressed out and the need isn't being met?" can help diffuse a potential fight.


Most of the time, you'll find that you are on the same page; you just didn't know it.

LISTENING TO UNDERSTAND


Misunderstandings are common when we talk about money. The paradox here is that when we are not on the same page, it makes it more likely that we will drift further apart rather than come back together on the same page.


This happens, in large part, because most of us are terrible listeners. When the speaker is talking, most of us are either thinking of what we're going to say or completely lost in thought, not even paying attention. This is even more challenging with people we know very well because it's easier for us to assume we know what they will say. Paying closer attention to what the speaker is saying will significantly help your communication, especially around money.