The 10 Commandments of Couple Communication with Money
Everyone has heard that money is the leading cause of divorce at one time or another. I would say it another way. The inability to communicate about money is the leading cause of divorce. We go about it all the wrong way. We let all of the many toxic emotions of money get in the way and limit our ability to communicate effectively. So, I wanted to devote some time to the basics of communication with your spouse when it comes to money. In over two decades of counseling with people, these are the things I see trip people up the most.
(1) Leave your ego at the door (lose the need to be right)
I did not originally come up with this saying. I heard it many years ago, and it just stuck with me. Usually, if we lead with our ego, we will storm into the room and tell our spouse how things are going to be. Do you really think that is going to go well? If you are going to discuss money issues, don't make it about yourself or your ego. When we lead with our ego, it is about making ourselves right and the other spouse wrong. Leave your ego at the door and lose the need to be right. Arguing is nothing more than a process of determining who is right and who is wrong.
(2) Seek first to understand, then be understood
This is a principle from Stephen Covey's Book the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Said another way, listen to understand and then talk. By listening first, you accomplish three things. First, you are showing complete respect to your spouse. That puts the discussion in a much better place. Plus, it helps you leave your ego at the door. Second, you are communicating to your spouse that what they have to say is much more important than what you have to say. Finally, by listening, you often get a much clearer understanding of what the compromise or solution needs to be.
(3) Learn to Trust and Give the Benefit of the Doubt
Trust can be a tough thing to give out, especially if you have been burned. However, it is critical when communicating about money. When you don't trust, you don't give the benefit of the doubt. You automatically assume that they did the wrong thing or that it will be just a matter of time, and you react accordingly. If you reinforce that message enough times, your spouse might just say, "why am I even trying?"
(4) His Goals, Her Goals, Our Goals
One of the biggest challenges of married life is combining your own wants and desires and your spouse's individual wants and desires. If you don't have goals together, you both will be going in two separate directions. Work to find what works for both of you. There is a lot more harmony when you are both going in the same direction, driven by the same family values.
(5) Don't lead separate financial lives
This is dangerous for several reasons. Plain and simple, it destroys trust. There is a reason that there is secrecy. By learning to handle financial problems and money together, you are better equipped to grow your relationship.
(6) Men, watch the condescending tone and body language.
Stop yelling at me! says the wife to the husband. I am not yelling at you says the husband. Then the wife says, "You are using that tone again." Men are so guilty of doing this. You accomplish two things with that tone. First, you are talking down to your wife. No one likes to be treated that way. Second, you are acting as if you are beyond making mistakes. Of course, the body language magnifies the sound of the tone.
(7) Resist reacting
This is powerful. The more you get in the habit of reacting or getting angry, the less your spouse will want to talk to you. Create a safe place to communicate. If your spouse says something to you that would normally create a reaction, take a deep breath and pause between what you would typically say, allowing your brain to think about something constructive to say. The good news is that you can get real good at this just by practicing. Replace the angry reaction with a simple, "okay, let me think that through" or "tell me more, and we can figure this out."
(8) Make a Grand Plan (powered by values)
Sit down with your spouse and create a values inventory. Decide what you value most as a couple, and then create a grand plan and a strategy to accomplish it. It allows you and your spouse to create a vision for the life you both want together.
(9) Make a Monthly Finance Date
OK, this is where you might click and go to another site. Yes, I am saying that I want you to intentionally talk to your spouse about money. Make a date once a month and talk about the family finances. Talk about how the cash flow and expenses went during the month. Talk about what expenses are coming up. Put a list together of things that you want to accomplish financially. Couples just do not talk enough when it comes to money.
(10) Unless you are perfect, Show Grace!
This could be the biggest commandment of all. Practice showing Grace to your spouse when they make mistakes... well, unless you are perfect and have never screwed up before. It is easy to get on the throne of judgment when your spouse does something wrong. Instead, show Grace. The good news is that you are modeling how you want to be treated for your spouse when you screw up. In all things, show Grace!