How to communicate around money

Money is an emotive subject. Most people struggle to talk about money – whether it’s their salary or how money makes them feel. It’s almost a taboo subject, which means that any discussion on money is filled with prejudice, emotion and reactive opinion.  Most of our beliefs and patterns around money are learned in early childhood and this has two really important implications. Firstly, in most relationships it is extremely unlikely that both partners share the same beliefs around money. So there will always be plenty of scope for conflict. Secondly, the way we behave around money directly influences our children and our self-limiting beliefs and patterns will become their self-limiting beliefs and patterns. In the current situation, where we are forced to live in close proximity to each other with little or no ability to interact externally, existing fault lines in our relationships are magnified. So it’s vitally important that we develop ways to communicate around money that don’t result in conflict.

Money worries are affecting everyone. But our relationship with money – how we feel about it, how it makes us feel – is rarely discussed. We don’t understand what drives our own behaviour and we definitely don’t understand other people’s behaviour. Money behaviours are mainly driven by emotion and this means that when we finally do raise the subject, it’s because we have been triggered by something. When we are triggered, our lower brain takes over and ‘discussions’ quickly turn into arguments. And because money is so tied into our emotions and self-worth, arguments about money tend to be the most vicious of all. Both parties quickly become reactive and, because the underlying issues are belief based, there is no easy resolution and the same arguments get played out again and again. One of the best ways the break this cycle is for each person to acknowledge the emotional responses that these discussions trigger, and so each person can become aware of the effect they have on each other. This can be very scary as it makes us feel vulnerable. Trying to develop healthy communication around emotive subjects is a bit like clearing a path through a minefield. There are potential flashpoints everywhere and it takes time and concentration. And it is likely that you will fail many times. But, with practice you will learn how to move forward and ‘clear’ the trigger points. Greater understanding reduces judgement and, as well as being beneficial for your relationship, you are showing your children how to have healthy communication around money.

Humans are not born with survival skills but with the capacity to adapt to any environment. This means that each child wires itself from its own early experiences. The infant brain is designed to learn from anything and everything that is going on around it and much of that starts by being alert to the social world. Children look to us for guidance on how to understand the world and behaviour is information – so they learn from what we say, but mainly from what we do. When we argue and fight, we send confusing and negative messages to our children about money. And because a lot of our behaviour around money is subconscious, we are not aware of the impact we are having. Because of the way the brain works in childhood, these messages and memories are stored together and money becomes associated with emotions like conflict, guilt, anger, and fear. In effect, children translate what they see and hear into unconscious rules about life, including internalized messages about money. And because their higher brains are not fully developed, they have less ability to regulate the emotional impact of what they see and feel.

The current situation is a perfect storm for producing conflict around money. For the sake of ourselves and our children we need to understand our relationship with money, and learn how to communicate around money in healthy ways.