There's an old saying that the scariest four words someone can hear from their partner are "we need to talk." It's even worse than that if you tack on "...about money" to the end.
On one hand you might think that bringing up something that needs to be talked about is healthy. Talking about it is better than ignoring it, right? Unfortunately money is one of those topics that brings up a lot of shame, guilt, anxiety, and stress. Blindsiding your partner or catching him or her by surprise is not a great way to start a meaningful conversation.
There is a concept called emotional flooding, whereby the logical part of our brain goes offline. Our logical brain wants to analyze things and takes too long to make a decision. When we are having an emotionally charged conversation our brain perceives this as a threat and threats need to be taken care of quickly. There's no time to sit and analyze. Have you ever said to yourself, "What was I thinking? Why did I say that?" About 20 or 30 minutes after emotional flooding, the chemicals that flood our brains finally go away and we are able to think clearly again. It's at this point when we wonder what our subconscious brain did!
When a flood comes it's helpful to get into a boat. One lifeboat option that we can use for emotional flooding is awareness and mindfulness. If you start paying attention you can start to sense when you are about to get flooded. When you sense this happening, take a break. Go for a walk for a half hour. Let yourself calm down.
Another lifeboat option is preparation. If you can plan for stressful conversations, including money talks, then you have time to prepare. If you can inform your partner ahead of time, that will give him or her time to prepare as well. Ambushing someone with a stressful conversation an express lane toward emotional flooding, and unproductive conversations.
Here are some ideas on how to plan for money conversations.
Money Dates: Go on a date with your partner every few months with the goal to talk about money. Since both of you will be anticipating this date, the conversation will naturally be less emotionally charged. Remember that if you feel you or your partner is about to become emotionally flooded, take a break!
No Money Dates: Go on dates where you specifically say you will not talk about money. When money springs up into conversation it has a tendency to be brought up because one partner was frustrated with something and the other partner was caught off guard. By agreeing in advance to not talk about money you give yourselves permission to spend your date enjoying each other.
Ad Hoc Money Conversations: Sometimes there will be a need to talk about money in between money dates. When the time comes it's helpful to remember that surprising someone will usually not end with a good outcome. Ask for time to talk and specify the topic of conversation so your partner can prepare.
Stop the Flood
Just remember that emotionally charged conversations will almost never result in an ideal outcome. Be aware of the possibility that you may become emotionally flooded, but also be aware that it may happen to your partner as well.
Learn to anticipate and prepare for money conversations, learn how to understand each others' points, and take breaks when necessary, and you'll be on the right track toward having healthy money conversations.
Brad Klontz, Ted Klontz: Mind Over Money
Ted Klontz: "Exquisite Listening" Workshop
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