It All Start's At A Conference
It’s early in the morning at a conference, and I am just finishing up learning about a new software I want to use. One of the trainers named Chris comes over to me, and we start to talk about the software. One thing leads to another, and we are talking about how he and his wife can’t speak about their respective overspending without being accused of hypocrisy.
Maybe you can relate. You don’t like being called a hypocrite. When both partners are overspending, and yet someone needs to pump the brakes, this can be a difficult conversation that needs to be addressed. The funny thing is this is a common dilemma I help couples work through. Just before I talked with Chris, I was talking with Natalie, and she explained the same thing was happening in her marriage.
I get it. Being married and raising a young family has many moving pieces, and addressing your financial life together can feel like just one more burden not worth the effort. Who wants to feel judged and criticized regarding their financial decisions?
Here’s the more profound truth I have learned as a financial therapist, our relationship with money is personal and meaningful. Even if we don’t like everything we do, think, or feel about money, it is still our relationship with money, and when we get asked or told to do something different, oh boy watch out for our defense mechanisms getting evoked.
3 Steps To Start To Change The Money Conversation
As intimate partners in life together, what you do and don’t do with money significantly impacts both of you and, in most cases, kids and other family members. If only it were as easy as just navigating the two of you. It’s not. Many demands are pulling on the two of you.
A great way to open the overspending conversation is to name that many demands and sometimes conflicting demands can make it hard to know what to do financially.
It might sound something like this.
Hey honey, can we find time to discuss our shared finances and financial decisions?
I know we both have a lot of demands and sometimes competing demands on us.
Acknowledge that it hasn’t gone so well in the past when it comes to talking about money, but you are learning and wanting to do a better job together.
(Remember, this is not just about your partner’s spending it’s about how both of you show up for each other)
Here’s where we are getting a bit deeper psychologically. Remember that you both have had many experiences around spending money before either of you met each other. Our first experiences and memories start in early childhood alongside our developing sense of self, which all sets the stage for our defense mechanisms getting triggered around specific money topics.
When we open the money conversation with our partner, we activate our attachment system (all the parts of us designed to maintain a relationship).
Depending on our attachment style, our automatic reactions will start as we navigate the financial conversation with our partner.
A great practice to help build connection while talking about your finances is to foster the experience of making eye contact.
I would encourage you not to just consciously start making more eye contact with your partner, as the two of you already have your regular amount of eye contact.
However, with time and practice, you can develop the habit of making eye contact while talking about money changes the two of you need to make together. When we make eye contact with our partners, it is much harder to misread them and feel disconnected.
How to start the eye gaze practice with your partner.
Let them know you want to experiment with what it would be like to make more eye contact
Find a safe place in our house where the two of you can practice
Start back to back and notice what that feels like for the two of you
Stand shoulder to should and notice what that feels like for the two of you
Now face each other and notice what that fees like for the two of you
Remember, hold no judgment about your own or your partner’s reactions or experiences. This is information for each of you to work with. If becoming more intimate and making eye contact was increasing distress for either of you, it may be time to find an attachment-focused therapist to work with.
Reflecting together is often a missed and yet critical part of intimate financial communication with our partners. We must continually learn, adapt and evolve how we communicate with our partners about our shared financial life. This is a lifelong skill that needs to be nurtured and developed.
The last part of any healthy and loving money conversation can include some reflective time to talk about what felt good and worked well in the conversation the two of you had about your finances. It is also a time to acknowledge if there are places for continued improvement and development that are needed.
One of the hardest parts of communication is that we can often not see what we are doing while we are doing it or until it is too late and we have said or done something we regret. This is why it is so important to take the time to slow down and reflect on what worked and did not work so well.
In the big picture, what felt financially relevant for us at the beginning of the relationship will change over time. I have heard some say throughout a 50-year marriage, you can easily be in 7 different marriages while staying in the same marriage. That’s because as we grow and change, what we need and want will come along with corresponding financial adjustments.
Coming Full Circle
I enjoyed talking with Chris and Natalie about their different marriage and money realities and being reminded of the common pattern of getting stuck talking to your partner about their spending patterns. They both seem like wonderful, thoughtful, and caring people who want the best for their marriages and their families, but even the best of people get stuck on how to have difficult money conversations.
I also know there are many wonderful, loving, caring people who also have some attachment wounds they need help identifying and working on so that they can more fully be the partner they desire to be.
Wishing You Healthy Love and Money,
MBA, MA, MS, CFP®, CFT-I™, LMFT
Curious About Your Attachment Style?
Take the Attachment Style Quiz now and learn how it impacts your relationships, finances, and life!