Say what you mean, but don’t say it mean – Andrew Wachter
How often have you heard, “it’s not what you say, but how you say it?” I can remember several times when my “tone” has gotten me in trouble. Intentional or not, our communication skills, or lack thereof, are responsible for a vast majority of our financial relationship issues. Often our communication issues come down to a lack of time to properly communicate. When we try to talk to each other when the children are awake, it is often fruitless. The screaming and interrupting children rarely leave us with a clear thought or conversation of our own.
Quality communication is routinely put on the back burner because life is busy. Life is complicated and it feels like slowing down to communicate would be a waste of precious time. Talking to each other may actually make us confront and deal with our issues, or it can be a way to reinforce our bonds. Refusing to deal with our issues or reinforcing our bonds, will slowly eat away at our relationship causing more harm than good.
My in-laws taught my wife a valuable lesson when she was a young girl. Her parents had “coffee time” each day which meant that neither my wife nor her sister was allowed in the living room while their parents were talking and enjoying coffee. They reserved this special time just to themselves before the chaos of the day enveloped them. My wife and I have tried to emulate and schedule this time but I will admit it is difficult. Being intentional about slowing down and communicating is extremely important.
If you do not have the time in the morning due to scheduling issues, schedule at least one date night per month for just the two of you. Do what you can to find a babysitter and make this happen, it will pay dividends in the future. These date nights will give you the much needed time to enjoy each others company and to talk about your goals and dreams. This is a good transition into finances so you both can get on the same page.
These date nights can be used to discuss and track your financial progress with each other and to speak openly with your partner about your debts. I am amazed at the number of couples who have separate checking/savings accounts and who hide debt from each other. As you can imagine, hiding debt from your partner is the perfect recipe for a disastrous conclusion.
I know several married couples who have separate accounts. They are each responsible for paying certain bills and does not know the balances of the other’s account. This separation of finances allows for guilt-free spending because one can spend or charge without the other one knowing. As long as the bills are paid, who really cares? Unfortunately, this separation has the potential for couples to hide debts from each other and to live separate lives. The unification of bank accounts coincides with the unification of the couple. When you have shared goals and dreams, how can they fully be achieved if the means to accomplish these goals and dreams are separated? Arresting your debt and building your future is about getting on the same page and working towards a common goal. Why complicate this with separate accounts – unless you can’t trust yourself or your spouse? If trust is the issue, then you have bigger problems than just your finances.
Combine your accounts and live as one – toward shared goals. If you want to spend without guilt, allocate and budget “fun money” each month for each of you, and be open and honest about your income and debts. Work together on this, you are missing out on an amazing journey together!!
Are you the Spender or the Saver?
I know either one or both of you are spenders. If you were both savers, you wouldn’t be reading this article or in debt! During your date night or coffee time, identify who is the spender and who is the saver. The truth is, the saver may be way too thrifty and needs to loosen the purse strings and the spender needs to cut back a bit. Compromise is usually necessary and it is not always a single parties fault in the debt crisis. Being too frugal and strict may have a negative effect on the spender causing them to rebel and spend even more. Be honest with yourselves and come to a common ground on your goals and direction and what is needed to get there. Without your spouse on board, you will never be able to reach your goals – make this communication a priority.
Strategies for Quality Goals and Communication
Goals come in two different forms – short-term and long-term goals. Some of you are visionary and can easily look 20 years down the road. Others of you have trouble seeing the end of the week. This is where quality goal setting is necessary. Long-term goals are realistic for you visionaries who can strive for this goal without being discouraged. Short term goals, 6 months, 1 year, 5-year goals are necessary for you other ADHD folks (squirrel!). If you can’t tell, I am very much the visionary one in my marriage…
Write down a few of your mutual goals that include both long and short term. This satisfies both of your goal needs while remaining on track to accomplish the big picture.
As I end this entry, remember why you two chose to get married. You loved (and hopefully still love) each other, and had common goals and values when you started. Get back to where you once were and fight for each other. You are a team and need to huddle up and finish the game. Proper strategy and execution are necessary to win this game called life. Again, it is ok to ask for help and I will be here to cheer you on. You can do this – ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!