Money is one topic where “silence is NOT golden.”
This is what I shared this past weekend with a large group of Naval Special Warfare spouses, those “silent warriors” who make it possible for their partners to focus on what they do “out there” to keep us all safe.
So why the silence?
So many of us have bought into the belief that talking about money is taboo. It’s as if a conspiracy exists between our parents, our teachers and our culture. What’s baffling is that in past decades we’ve dropped the taboo around discussing sex, sexual abuse and mental illness. Yet the taboo around money has stayed as strong as ever.
But where did the taboo come from? And why has it remained so powerful?
In these difficult economic times, job loss and threats of foreclosure or short sales of their houses have led to so much financial talk. Even so, topics such as salaries and net worth are still off limits. Is it because these are seen as proxies for self-worth and self-esteem?
(One online comment I saw reflected that. It said, “I would never tell anyone my income. If I made less than they did, I’d be embarrassed. On the other hand, if I made more, telling them what I made would be rude, like bragging.” Could it be that we don’t talk about money because we think the other person might feel awkward?)
Or is it because the “exceptionalism” some claim as America’s birthright also includes personal success, “having it all” or “getting to the top"? And do we then consider ourselves a failure if we haven’t done as well as we think others have? Since no one talks about their finances, are we sure they’re doing all that well?
The taboo is certainly perpetuated, generation to generation, by the hush-hush tones our parents used whenever they talked about money. And any fight they had over it (that sounded so threatening to us as children) only added to the anxiety and potential danger triggered by it.
As adults, you’d think we’d get over those childhood triggers. But many of us haven’t.
Even psychologists and spiritual advisors say they hear all sorts of details about clients’ and church members’ private lives, but virtually nothing about their money concerns. (And it’s not as if religious texts don’t say plenty about wealth, poverty, making money, giving it away and so forth.)
Maybe people are afraid they might sound ignorant, so they hesitate to ask for help around finances. But remember, as we were growing up, very few of us were taught how money works. And most of us had to learn through trial and error. Yet somehow we’ve decided everyone else knows more than we do and we don’t want to embarrass ourselves.
Whatever the reasons, valid or not, we still are caught in the web of silence. And that silence can be devastating.
Most of all, that silence does nothing for our intimate relationships. In fact, the American Psychological Association conducts an annual survey called "Stress in America." And it consistently ranks money as the #1 stressor in the nation. Beyond that, in his writings on how it affects family relationships, Professor Jeffrey Dew at Utah State University reports that conflict linked to money issues predicts divorce more precisely than any other type of disagreement.
So, taboo or not, it’s critical for couples to discuss money. Open, honest and non-confrontational communication about it is the only way.
Because of that, I offered a gift to the Naval Special Warfare spouses this weekend that hopefully will make speaking of money easier. I’m hoping it will defuse some of the stress around the subject that is compounded by their partners’ long absences. Here’s what I gifted them.
Let’s all break the deadly silence. Let’s tear down those artificial walls. Find whatever tool you can to make the money conversation an easy one. Do you have any tips you’d like to share?