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SALT LAKE CITY — In this edition of LIFEadvice, Coach Kim explains why couples fight about money and how to set up rules about money that make everyone feel safe.
My husband and I have been married about two years and we simply cannot talk about money without it ending in a fight. He gets very angry if I bring up my concerns about our spending habits, but we can't keep going like we are. How do I get him to talk to me about money without him getting angry and attacking me?
Almost everyone fights about money on occasion, because it is a topic that brings out both the fear of loss (the fear of losing money or losing control) and the fear of failure (the fear of making mistakes or not being good enough) and when you or your spouse is functioning from fear, you will tend to be selfish, reactive and unkind.
You must understand your spouse gets upset when you try to talk about money, because he's scared or feels threatened in some way. He may be afraid this conversation is going to end with him looking bad or feeling like a failure. Or he may feel you are trying to take from him at some level. In order to change the way you communicate about money, you must get clear about the specific fears money triggers in each of you. If you understand what he fears, you will also understand what he needs.
Figure the answers to these questions first:
What does money represent to you?
And what does it represent to your spouse?
Here are some ideas about what money represents. See if these are true for either of you.
- Money represents security and peace of mind, but only if there is money saved and in the bank. Without a good amount in savings you feel unsafe.
- Money to spend represents freedom. Only when you have money to spend do you feel free and safe. Without it, you feel oppressed and unsafe.
- Money is the scorecard that proves your value as a person (it shouldn’t be, but it often is). Does having money in the bank validate your worth? Or does owning lots of nice things make you feel validated and safe?
- Having too much money makes you feel uncomfortable, greedy or even evil. if you grew up hearing negative things about rich people, you could subconsciously avoid becoming rich because it represents greed.
- Money represents opportunity and is meant to be taken advantage of when you have it. You may think you must spend it when you have it because it won't last. Having the freedom to buy makes you feel safe.
- Possessions equal worth to you and if you can't spend money and have nice things, you feel inadequate.
- You may feel incompetent or inadequate when in comes to managing money, and the whole topic represents failure. Understanding what money represents to you and your spouse should give you some clarity about why these conversations make you upset.
Then, figure out what each of you are afraid of when it comes to money. Here are some possibilities:
- Are you afraid of not having what you need in the future?
- Are you afraid of not having the freedom to buy what you want with your own money?
- Are you afraid of disasters and not being prepared?
- Are you afraid of failing to provide for your family, which would be the ultimate failure as a provider?
- Are you extremely afraid of what others think about you and does this drive you to keep up with the neighbors?
- Are you afraid of being controlled or losing control?
I recommend that you and your husband go over these questions in detail by yourself and then together as a couple. Get really honest about what triggers your fear and what kind of bad behavior you are prone to when these fears show up.
Understand that men, especially, have a great deal of fear of failure and loss around money. If you handle money or conversations about money in a way that triggers these deep and painful fears, the resulting behavior is not going to be good. Scared people aren't very kind. They are focused on one thing only, feeling safer, and if this means lashing back at you, blaming you for the problems or shutting down the entire conversation, that is what they'll do.
If you are going to talk about money you must learn to do it from a place of love and understanding about his fears. You must reassure him that he is admired, respected, appreciated and wanted (and you must do this all the time so the foundation is there long before the conversation about money comes up).
Before you bring up your concerns about money, ask lots of questions about how he feels about it. What are his concerns, needs, wants and plans? Take the time to listen to his thoughts first and validate, honor and respect his right to those ideas even if you don't agree. After you have spent time listening to him, ask if you can share some of your ideas. Make sure you use 'I' statements and talk about yourself and your observations and fears. Avoid 'you' statements, which feel like an attack. You can download my formula for mutually validating conversations from my website.
Then, together as a team, you must create some rules about spending, saving and debt that will lessen both your fears. Make sure both parties agree to following the rules and being honest and loyal to each other.
Here are some other tips that may lessen the conflict:
Never fight about money in the moment when your fear is first triggered. Make it your policy to step back, identify your fears, and make sure you can treat your spouse with respect and love before talking about money.
Listen to and validate each other’s feelings. Having mutually validating conversations is the key to a good marriage. Honor and respect your spouse’s right to see the situation the way they see it. Respectfully ask permission to share your feelings and then do so in a kind, loving way. Focus more on future behavior than past behavior. Ask if they would be open to behaving differently in the future. Create compromises that put both your fears to rest.
Set rules and limits you are both comfortable with. Create a budget and honor it. Make rules about how much you will spend per week on small things. Agree that on purchases (over a certain amount) you will talk to each other first. Rules like these make everyone feel safer.
Keep the rules. This is the most important way you can honor your commitment to your spouse. You cannot have love without trust.
Be honest. Never lie to your spouse. It’s better to tell them what they won’t want to hear, than to lie and destroy the trust in your relationship.
Make a plan to get out of debt and start saving. This creates peace of mind and lessens fear in everyone.
If you or your spouse have so much fear around money that you just can't get past it, I highly recommend you get some professional help with it. It's the best thing you can do for your family.
You can do this.