Dr. Aletta spoke with candor, wisdom, and professional expertise when she shared her own personal money relationship and how she manages finances with her beloved husband. She described her money personality as the grasshopper to her husband’s ant; she the spender, he the saver.
The spender-saver dynamic: When this particular money dynamic is present in a relationship, it is very difficult for each person to understand where the other one is coming from. Sometimes the saver partner can come across very parental when discussing the spending partner’s actions. This causes the spender to become defensive, which leads to an argument. The spender-saver dynamic is typical and I’d even say necessary in a relationship to provide balance to the couple who is trying to make their way in the world of far-too-many-financial-decisions. The spender infuses a sense of spontaneity into life, while the saver provides stability. Both traits, I must add, are very attractive at the beginning of a relationship but, as time goes on, become a source of resentment if not addressed in a healthy manner.
Dr. Aletta described “money scripts”: the things we have learned, believe, and do with money. Like our personalities, they are hard-wired.
In addition, though many people have come to feel comfortable talking about sex, money remains a taboo topic, inextricably linked to our self-worth. This poses a special challenge to dealing with financial matters because how can you deal with a topic you cannot discuss?
Couples can learn to manage their family’s finances first by knowing and sharing their own money scripts, then by setting mutual goals, committing to understanding and respecting each other’s money personality, and letting go of the desire to control each other.
Conflicts, however, are inevitable; they’re like “little earthquakes” in a relationship. Dr. Aletta reminded us that avoiding conflict isn’t healthy, though, and can ultimately lead to divorce. The key to managing conflict is to establish a safe zone where each person can freely discuss his/her money situation and discuss what’s going on with honesty so you can deal with the reality – together.
The four rules of a good argument are:
1. Stay with one topic, don’t add to it. If you’re discussing the credit card bill, it isn’t the time to talk about why one person in the couple never picks up their dirty socks.
2. Leave other people out of the argument. The discussion should be between the two of you; not your father, mother-in-law, children, co-worker etc. The group agreed that the tendency to bring other people “on our side” of an argument is an indication that we don’t feel our own opinion is valuable or valid enough. This could be a symptom of larger issues the couple needs to address.
3. Watch your tone, volume and words. Any increase in sarcasm, volume, and/or harsh words increase the threat level, increasing defensiveness and decreasing the chance of a resolution. This is because when we feel threatened, our lizard brain takes over. This is the area of our brain responsible for our fight or flight response. If our lizard brains are in charge, our rational brains are not.
4. Take a strategic time-out to cool off and re-engage your rational brains. Agree to come back to the discussion at a set time.
Some other tools you may find helpful include:
- The American Indian tradition of a talking stick; this helps the person holding the stick to finish his/her thought without interruption.
- Nip an issue in the bud before it grows into something too big to manage easily.
- Choose a time and place to have a financial date; a time when you can discuss your family’s finances in a comfortable, non-threatening manner and enjoy each other’s company. Taking time to invest in your relationship this way can reduce the instances of financial conflict cropping up when you’re stressed and least able to tackle them wisely and lovingly.
- Set a timer for heated discussions so that each person has a chance to speak his/her mind, but not longer than the agreed-upon time limit. This keeps tirades at bay.
Dr. Aletta shared that the elements needed for a working marriage include respect, trust and accountability. Certainly love enters the mix, but you may not feel especially loving if your other half has maxed out the credit card; you can be respectful. We need to let the other person be angry with us without feeling defensive, so that we can listen, apologize, and make amends. This leads to problem-solving.
In closing, we mustn’t assume our partner can read our minds, this isn’t true, no matter how much they love us. In addition, be sure to thank your partner every opportunity you have.
Photos courtesy of ClipArt