A guest blog with some useful advice on talking about tricky topics from 2020 member Laura Gilchrist of Peacebuilders
I knew that my husband and I needed to talk about money, so I brought it up. It did not go well. We had an argument that left an atmosphere. Although we discussed one topic, there were several other key areas left undiscussed and we got to bed late, both rather deflated by the whole experience.
This used to be a familiar scene when it came to talking about money. So where were we going wrong?
Firstly, timing. My husband is a morning person and I am an evening person. It was after 9.00pm when I initiated the conversation, so it suited me perfectly but not so much my other half. He starts thinking about heading to bed at around 9.30pm, so I was not respecting his natural rhythm.
Tip 1: if your topic is a thorny one, pick your timing carefully. Set aside a specific time to talk and avoid times of day when you’re hungry, tired or stressed out by a big life or work event. Nowadays, my husband and I prioritise having our money conversations in the daytime, so we’re starting from a good place.
Secondly, both of us became defensive quickly. This meant that we stopped hearing each other. We each had an agenda about what we needed to discuss and were trying to ‘win’ at that.
Tip 2: Take it in turns to state briefly at the start what is important to you so that you can work out an agenda together.
Thirdly, we didn’t practice active listening. Driven by my internal sense of urgency, I focussed on making sure that my husband heard me and forgot to really show that I was listening to him. He followed suit.
Tip 3: Listen actively, which means summarising what you’ve just heard the other person say. This lets them know that you are really listening and checks out your understanding from the start.
It sounds like common sense, right? But start doing it when you’re in a tense situation with your partner and it’s harder than you think. If your other half is struggling with this, try an encouraging, “Can you tell me what you just heard me say? I just need to check that I’ve communicated it properly?”.
Nowadays, my husband and I talk about money less frequently but with more purpose and focus. It’s still not easy, but we are definitely hearing each other more.
In the early days of our relationship, I remember once asking a very good friend to just sit and watch while we talked about money. It was one of the best conversations we ever had.
Having a third party present can really help to change the frame of the conversation and create a way forward. I have worked with couples to support them in talking through those thorny issues, often in just one or two sessions. Though these sessions, those involved have learned about themselves and developed skills for discussing those tricky topics in the future.