Friday, June 17, 2011

7 Tips to Resolve Conflicts about the Cash

7 Tips to Resolve Conflicts about the Cash

June 15th, 2011  
By Lori Hollander LCSW-C, BCD Relationships & Marriage Topic Expert Contributor
Unresolved conflict about money is the #1 cause of divorce in the US. Learning to communicate effectively about money is the #1 solution. The ability to face, handle and resolve conflict is a skill. Unfortunately it’s not a subject or skill we are taught at school; or at home – for most of us. We get education about reading, writing and arithmetic. We even get sex education; as girls and boys we learn about “private parts,” the reproduction cycle and periods. At home, some of us are even lucky enough to get the “sex” talk from mom or dad; or at least a book about where babies come from. But, did your parents ever come to you and say, “Honey, it’s time we have the talk about how to deal with conflict effectively?” We’ll bet not. What we do learn about conflict, for better or worse, comes from observing how conflict was handled in our families growing up.
Some people had homes where conflict was hidden; peace at all costs. No one dared take it on or discuss it. Differences lay silent for years. Conflict was swept under the rug and its existence denied. It may have been a quiet home but there wasn’t deep and genuine closeness. Other’s had quite the opposite, a home where conflict reigned as king; chronic conflict was driven by one or both parents; episodes of yelling, fighting, sarcasm with nothing getting resolved; no apologies, no forgiveness; tension and stress filled the air. Lastly, there were homes where there were occasional fights or raising of voices, but parents made a consistent effort to come back and talk calmly about issues so they could come to resolution and make up; apologies and forgiveness abounded.
What did you learn growing up about managing conflict?
This is only part of the problem. Education about financial matters was scant or non-existent. I recall learning how to write checks and balance a check book in high school; but learning about income, debt, what it costs to buy a home or raise children, how to budget, why saving is so important, how a 401K or a Roth IRA works, the difference between a bond and a mutual fund, how to diversify a portfolio or how to make financial decisions was nowhere to be found. Now, combine that with strong emotions about the almighty dollar and add a husband/wife raised with different money values and experiences. Can you see why trying to communicate about and handle money differences can wreak havoc on the best marriage?
What emotions do you feel about money?
What did you learn about handling finances?
How about your partner?
Our 7 Steps to resolving money conflict is a method we have used ourselves and with couples in Couple to Couple Coaching©. Conflict resolution is a skill anyone can learn. It is vital for you and your partner to practice this, and then teach it to your kids.
1. Take it on together – Face and embrace conflict around money; do not avoid it or endlessly argue/fight about it. Carve out some quiet time for the two of you to talk without interruption, even if you have to hire a babysitter. Agree that during the discussion you will remember that this is not about who is right and who is wrong, but about two people with different points of view coming to consensus.
Don’t put a conflict between the two of you; 
put the problem on the chalkboard and solve it as a team.
2. Check your emotions – Money can be a highly charged issue. Agree that one of you will speak at a time. Use “I” statements so you own your point of view. While one person is speaking the other person must listen for understanding, not for developing their response back. Listen deeply until you understand your partner’s point of view so well that you could defend them in court, even if you don’t agree with it. If the conversation heats up even a little, agree that you will stop talking for the moment.
If you get emotionally hijacked during conflict, separate to soothe your own emotions; then come back to continue the discussion.
3. Get the facts – When couples come in with money conflicts we often find that only one of them really knows what is going on financially or that the two of them have never sat down and looked at the numbers – how much income comes in and what are the fixed and variable expenses. Get your financial facts in order. If you don’t know how, agree to go to a financial advisor or your accountant to get this information.
Part of the solution to money conflict may lie with the numbers; 
Imagine your home is a family business and do a Profit & Loss statement.
4. Explore “who owns the money” – Most couples we have seen don’t have incomes that are equal – either one partner is staying home with kids and earns no income or two partners earn substantially different amounts of income. What we see in practice is the one who earns the greater income or the sole income feels entitled to more say about how money is spent. Or the one who earns less or no money, feels unentitled to spend the partner’s money. We strongly believe this is not fair. Here is how we look at it:
If you truly believe that the investment and synthesis of innumerable tasks is what creates a family – child care, shopping, doing laundry, cleaning, paying bills, managing finances, scheduling doctors appointments, making money, than it follows that ROI including income belongs to the couple as equal partners.
5. Look for deeper meaning – Often disagreements about money are not really what they seem. Each of us have very different feelings about money. Have a conversation with your partner about what positive and negative feelings money brings up for you. Here’s a list to get you started: 
Afraid
Angry
Sad
Jealous
Worried
Deprived
Inadequate
Unworthy
Overwhelmed
Incompetent
Depressed
Anxious
Frustrated
Shameful
Guilty
Embarrassed
Cheerful
Excited
Comfortable
Hopeful
Loving
Secure
Joyful
Elated
Fortunate
Happy
Safe
Proud
Grateful
Satisfied
Deserving
Confident
Conflicts about money are often a metaphor for a deeper struggle. Talk with each other about what money may represent to each of you, especially based on your experience with money in your past. Here are some possibilities:
Survival
Autonomy
Security
Self-Esteem
Control
Influence
Dependence
Freedom
Trust
Pleasure
Love
Status
Prestige
Power
Independence
Abundance
Scarcity
It is easier to have understanding and empathy for each others point of view if we understand what money represents to our partner. Our feelings about money can be understood if we look at our money history. Don’t make your partner wrong for having his/her feelings.
6. Create consensus – Couples will never agree on all money expenditures or savings, so there is a need to compromise and come to consensus; i.e. neither person gets it all their way but both can live with the decision.
Money is just a means of exchange for what we value. 
Since value is in the eye of the beholder, 
there is no right or wrong purchase.
7. Agree to ongoing dialogue periodically – We live in a world where we can’t avoid dealing with money so it is vital that couples embrace this as an ongoing issue that they need to discuss from time to time. We suggest you review your finances together at least quarterly so you learn to approach the issues of saving, spending and investing as a team.
The way a couple handles financial conflict is a portal into the strength of their relationship. Learning to effectively communicate about money builds a couples “relationship muscles.”

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