“I don’t want to talk about it. We’d just end up in a fight.”
This came from a business owner client recently when asked how conversations about money went with her partner, a salaried employee.
“It’s not great. And I think it might get worse if we don’t deal with it.”
This could have been me twelve years ago. Talking about money used to conjure a cacophony of negative emotions: guilt, shame, frustration, jealousy, resentment. I didn’t have much of it, and I guarded it from my boyfriend at the time, which made me feel petty and small and nasty.
If you’ve got that kind of money vibe going on, you’re guaranteed it’ll flow over into your relationship with your significant other, as it surely did for me.
Money issues in relationships centre on two themes: power and self-worth.
Many of us associate money with feelings of autonomy, independence and self-esteem. When we earn money, we feel proud of our contribution and achievement. And when we as business owners have a few lean months and don’t earn much, or as much as our partners, it can bring on tremors of self-doubt and fear.
Let’s face it; our salaried spouses have a different relationship with risk and money than we do. The entrepreneur sees past the risk of business ownership to the juicy rewards; the salaried spouse often focuses on the threat of unreliable income.
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Whether an employee or an entrepreneur, an income discrepancy in your relationship has the potential to put a spanner in the marital works. Earning less than your spouse can make you feel powerless, especially if the money talk is not healthy in the relationship. If a man’s spouse earns more than him, it may bring on feelings of inadequacy. For women, earning less can make them feel they need to prove themselves. These feelings and behaviours can jump from powerlessness, to needing to control, to feeling stuck and victimised, to blaming.
It usually follows that what we feel in the wallet, we feel in the bedroom. Our financial self-esteem affects our intimate self-esteem.
So how do we improve the money talk with our spouse? Here are three tips to help build those bridges.
1. Money issues vs. emotional issues
One’s feelings toward money are often shaped by past experiences and beliefs, and the emotions relating to these. The good news is you can change your relationship with money.
Start by exploring what you learnt about money from your parents and family. What kind of impact has that had on how you think and feel about money? About the money choices you make now? Are these beliefs and behaviours supporting you to feel at ease and comfortable with money? If not, what might be some better, healthier beliefs?
2. Share your thoughts
Your spouse has probably no idea how you think and feel about money, so start sharing. If you disagree over a spending decision, get to the heart of WHY you each feel that way. Why do you really want to spend that money, or why does spending make you uncomfortable? Be curious, and gentle, with each other as you explore your deeper money stories.
3. Set the example
I was very deliberate when I met my husband to talk about money early on. We discussed our respective incomes, we talked about how we might share expenses, we set some basic boundaries around financial decision making and we made common goals for our collective wealth. Every time a money bugaboo reared its head, I took courage and raised the issue, seeking to understand first my own complex feelings, and then exploring his perspective.
So, next time you feel the money talk starting to press your buttons, take a deep breath and just explore what’s really going on. Then gently share this with your partner. Soon, talking about money will feel like talking about plans for a great holiday – fun, enjoyable and exciting!
How do you talk about money with your partner?
For more tips on being an effective communicator, head here.