• State of Our Union: How We Talk About Money

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    He and I rarely argue over money. Instead, we deal with the big issues in a “State of Our Union Address” a few times a year. Every few months when we have a quiet moment, one of us will propose that it’s time for a State of Our Union address. We’ve been doing this for years. We take turns discussing all the big picture issues, like money, values, sex, goals, and relationships. This week we had a State of the Union Address and of course finances came up. Here’s what we discussed.

    Issue: Our consumption does not always support our values. We value environmental and social responsibility, but consumption hurts the environment and uses people. We discussed the range of consumption (from monks who own nothing to millionaires who own a lot) and agreed that maybe we are higher on the scale than we should be. We’ll look for ways to consume less.

    Issue: While we are slowly achieving our long-term goal of eliminating our debt, it doesn’t feel like we are making much progress because we haven’t set up short term goals. We’ll work on setting short term goals so we can feel successful along the way.

    Issue: We didn’t know each other’s plans for retirement and goals for net worth at retirement. We discovered that our plans for late retirement are in synch, which means we’ll have longer to grow our net worth.

    For couples who fight about finances, these issues might sound tough to tackle. But these discussions help us learn about each other and work together, which strengthens our relationship. Here’s how we get through it:

    We often start with a non-threatening, open-ended question.
    He started our Address with, “Have you ever thought we consume a lot?”. This enabled me to form my own opinion and see his perspective, so I felt unhurried and respected.

    We use open body language.
    We usually sit cross-legged, facing each other. These talks can go on for hours, so we usually move around a few times – maybe we start in the kitchen, then move to the couch, then lay on the floor. We try to stay at the same level (both sitting or standing) so we feel equal. If feelings get hurt, we comfort each other by holding hands or giving back rubs.

    We create a comfy environment.
    We might grab a blanket or some snacks, or bring the cats over and pet them while we talk. We turn off the TV and lower the lighting.

    We talk respectfully. We don’t yell or talk over each other. We try to frame things as, “This is the situation” rather than “Look what you’ve done!” We give each other time to think before answering. We gently remind each other when one of us has dragged in the kitchen sink, so we can stay on topic.

    We keep it open. We agree to continue the discussion later if we get too emotionally exhausted. Then we actually do continue the discussion later.

    We hug it off. At the end, we always have a good hug. It helps diffuse any tension.

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