Why Blurt Sounds Like Hurt

Here’s a basic rule: the communication between two people is the relationship between those people. With female bread-winning on the rise and job security a thing of the past for both genders, communication between men and women on the subject of income, savings, and household finance can become stilted. Financial tensions are no joke; they are real, and nowdays they are massively divisive.  Blurting is lazy talk that divides people.  The following nine statements must be handled with care and sensitivity in order to give conversations about money between men and women a harmonious tenor.

As a financial advisor, much of my work is technical.  However, a large part of what I do involves understanding the people who have trusted me with their life savings. Because they are at the center of many different forces, I have to comprehend how they are influenced by world they live in.  The male ego is a sensitive thing in many ways, one of the largest being money.  Many people, and especially high earning women, come to me for advice about how to speak with their spouse about financial topics that can be awkward to discuss.  Families can win this game through hard work, empathy, and carefully planned communication.  I advise them that marriage is an investment, a transaction, and a business.  A spouse is a business partner, and just as we have to communicate in a certain tone with our coworkers, we have to follow some rules for how we talk to our partners at home.

The general guidelines for discussing finance with your partner involve grammar and voice.  When you need to soften something negative, play it down using passive voice and eliminating use of first or second person pronouns such as “you” and “I”.  Speaking this way makes hard statements seem like less of a personal attack.  On the other hand, use strong verbs, active voice, and first person pronouns to play up something positive or hopeful.  I also remind people that most of your communication is conveyed through your tone of voice and body language rather than the words you actually say.

I also guide clients to minimize talk about your family’s money with people outside the immediate family (husband, wife, and children) other than trusted professionals.  Friends, in-laws, siblings, and parents do not need to know about your money.  It’s not always possible to keep this information private because these parties are sometimes brought into the fold inadvertently.  This is the very reason that people turn to financial advisors, tax advisors, lawyers, accountants, financial planners, etc.  Many married couples come to me because the judgment of an objective third party helps reduce financial tension.

I advise couples to avoid “cheating” on their spouses with their parents.  It only heightens tension when a couple accepts money from parents to pay the bills.  Banks exist for the purpose of making people loans so that they don’t have to ask their parents.   Many times a loan from parents can drive a wedge in between man and wife.  It aligns the partner with the parents and distances him or her from the spouse.  It can emasculate a man for his wife to allow her parents to contribute to a payment for a house, car, or supporting a child.  Loaning money makes parents feel that they have some control over what the money was used to buy, because essentially they own part of it.  Having parents involved in these transactions also exposes them to private information about the couple.  I advise clients to avoid using their parents as a bank unless circumstances are dire.

Here are some statements that can hurt if blurted.  The statement on the left is the hurtful version, while the one on the right is empowering for someone to hear.

Hurtful Empowering
“Now that you lost your job…” “We are working towards the next job”
“What – are you nuts? You had to buy the most expensive brand of toothpaste on the shelf.  We’re broke now that you’re not working and we can’t afford this.  It’s my money. I’m the one paying the bills right now.” “While I am sure that we’ll be in a better place soon, we’re in a little bit of a tough spot at the moment.  Don’t you agree that it would be logical to postpone buying the more expensive brands until we make a little bit more progress towards our goal?”
“You need to talk to me about this so I can get my ducks in a row.  Have you found a job yet? Are you interviewing – did you get that job?“   Nagging someone about finding a job is useless, because it’s embarrassing for the job seeker to talk about, especially at times when openings are scarce and rejection is high.  Let your spouse approach you with updates. “It will make this process easier if I could be in the loop as the transition progresses, as much as possible. I’d really appreciate that because things are evolving a lot for me too at the moment.  The ball is in your court but it would be make things a lot easier for me to get a heads up as there are developments with your job search.”
“That’s all that your job pays, for all that work?  I hardly saw you this year and that’s all you made for it?  It really is a recession.” “It would be useful to know how that compares to the average salary for the same role, so that we can figure out if this is the best return on time invested for our family. ”
To friends: “We can’t hang out at Donovan’s Bar every Thursday with you guys until Bob gets a job and starts bringing home some bacon because I’m not going to foot the bill for his booze. Don’t tell him that I told you, though, he didn’t want anyone else to know.  He’s really sensitive about this – you know how guys are about being broke.” To friends: “Look, we all know how in any relationship there are ups and downs.  We are in a little bit of a tough spot with money although we are working together on a solution very actively.  While we can’t spend money like it’s water at the moment, we thought up some other ways to chill with you guys that vibe with the budget.”
To parents:  “Bob lost his job so it looks like I’m the breadwinner.  Our household has to get by on my income, which is only 50k, so it looks like we’ll miss the Smith in-laws family cruise this summer.  It breaks my heart to have things this way.”    It is important when communicating with parents about family financial matters to align yourself with your partner and not your parents.  Resist the temptation to cheat on your spouse with your parents, no matter how badly you need to be coddled by them, or it’ll come back to haunt you later… To parents: “In any family there are ups and downs.  While there’s no need to be specific, incomes are not equal at the moment and this puts us in a little bit of a tough spot until we find a solution, which we are working towards actively.  While this is likely to change our ability to participate in the family’s cruise this summer, we have a few ideas about some other ways that we can still spend time together with the Smith in-laws that works with our budget.”
To children: “Dad lost his job so expect less money for allowance, forget about eating in restaurants, and by the way don’t expect a lot for Christmas.  I suggest that you get a job at the supermarket.”    It’s not entirely a bad thing for kids to see parents cope with unemployment.  Adopting a healthy attitude towards solving the problem can teach your children how to overcome adversity. To children: “Kids, there’s been a temporary change in our family’s income. Dad and I are going to work together to fix it as soon as we can.  While we are doing that, we all will have to be more thoughtful about the way we spend money.  It will be a little bit of an adjustment but the better we work together, are creative, and have an open mind,  the sooner we’ll reach a resolution.”



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