Put two people together whose feelings have evolved to the state of commitment of some sort, throw in the subject of money, and you could have the makings of a bonfire. All you need is for someone to light a match.
That’s how powerful, and volatile, money can be in relationships!
And that power comes from the fact that too few of us deal with money as “just numbers.” Instead, money is loaded with emotion for reasons we don’t even understand. Because we don’t understand where those emotions come from and how to get them under control, we overreact to everything that touches money. We hide from it, we push it away, we spend it, we worship it, we hoard it … we do everything but respect it and use it strategically.
I recently wrote a playbook called “How and When to Talk to Your Partner about Money … Without It Leading to Breakup, Fights or Divorce!” It doesn’t go into great depth about the psychology and emotional charge of money. Instead, it gives you something you can put into use right away: the tools to create a healthy conversation about money with your partner and, in those cases where things heat up a bit, what you need to defuse arguments before they escalate into fights.
(And know that those fights are said to be the number one reason why relationships deteriorate into breakups or divorce. Just so you know, the National Center for Health Statistics says marriages are most fragile during the first five years, and 20 percent of them don’t make it past that milestone. Since money is a major sticking point for couples, it makes my playbook that much more valuable.)
So, wherever you are in your relationship, here’s a gentle exercise that could get the two of you to have your first door-opening conversations to financial intimacy, if you haven’t had one before.
Just for the record, some people can talk about money freely and easily. But they are not in the majority. And the chance of both people in a relationship being one of those is pretty slim … if not zero. The truth is, a Money Magazine survey in 2010 said that 84 percent of couples report the major tension in their relationships to be caused by money.
So here’s how to start a little honest communication, in hopes of keeping your relationship from becoming a statistic.
Your Ice-Breaker Exercise — First print out two copies of page 9 of this playbook. Then each take a copy of that page and go into separate rooms or areas. Spend about 15-20 minutes answering the five questions on the page, writing two or three lines for each.
Don’t overthink the answers; your first ones are almost always the best ones. Just be honest, and don’t write what you think your partner would want you to say.
Once back together again, in a quiet and comfortable place, take turns sharing what you wrote about question one. Allow conversation to grow around it if possible. If not, go on to question two. This one should be easier to discuss. Do the same for questions three, four and five.
This exercise may feel like jumping into the deep end of the pool before learning how to swim. And for some people it is. Whether or not you are able to discuss your answers to each question, you will have a true gauge of how easy or hard the subject “money talk” is in your relationship.
And a seed will be planted for both of you of some of the emotional pitfalls that could lie ahead for you as a couple if you don’t address them. (Click here for the rest of the play-by-play downloadable book “How and When to Talk to Your Partner about Money … Without it Leading to Breakup, Fights or Divorce!”)
Remember, loving relationships are built on trust. This little exercise just dealt with some of the basic emotions around money. But in order to “live happily ever after,” you have to be able to trust each other with information that we were raised to believe was taboo … or at least real sensitive: your money. But those walls really do have to come down.
This could get sticky. But be sure to do it anyway!
Leave us a comment below. And be sure to share this post with anyone you think it could help out when it comes to money talk …