Conversations about money can be tough, but there are ways to cope with negative reactions from your partner.
People often have conscious and unconscious ways of responding when they are in high-pressure situations, and this can play out in their relationships.
An automatic negative response may make it difficult for you and your partner to make much progress when talking about money. By talking about the ways you and your partner react, you can diffuse tension and negativity before it has a chance to slow you down too much.
There is a big difference between an initial negative reaction and financial abuse. If your partner isn’t willing to talk to you about these issues they could possibly be financially abusive. Read about the warning signs of financial abuse here.
There are four common ways people can react negatively: withdrawing, blaming, escalating and invalidating.
Some people withdraw when faced with a difficult conversation, they feel it is easier to just not have the conversation at all. They may do this because they feel like they are being attacked or put down.
This can leave the partner wanting to address an issue feeling like their partner doesn’t care, or is angry with them and giving them the silent treatment as punishment. Withdrawing may be an unconscious reaction when a situation is getting tense.
The situation may not be obviously stressful , some people will habitually respond like this, even when their partner thinks that the tension level isn’t very high.
Some people need to process things internally and might need some time out for a while to work it over in their mind. This is different to withdrawing to avoid a conversation. This need isn’t right or wrong. The important part is to recognise your partner’s need and make it part of the solution.
Try having an initial conversation and then arranging another time to talk more when your partner has had time to think things through.
Financial issues arise in every relationship. Financial difficulties require strong conversational muscles; avoidance or withdrawing in the long term will never improve the situation, and could even make approaching the situation more difficult later on.
If you and your partner have been together for a while you both might have certain ideas about how the other behaves, and that can become an expectation. Old arguments can loom large, and long-term resentments can be a real barrier to effective active listening.
Many couples get stuck pointing out excuses for their financial problems, rather than focusing on solutions. Even if someone is clearly at fault for creating a mess or has made poor financial choices, pointing those mistakes out may do more harm than good.
It is important to look at the bigger picture and work out how to come up with an agreed plan to set things back on track. Conversations are much more productive if they are solution-focused, rather than problem-focused.
Conversations are much more productive if they are solution-focused, rather than problem-focused.
Brainstorming is a great way to focus on solutions rather than problems. Think of something that you’ve been meaning to find a more workable solution for. Write the problem down, along with what a working situation would feel like, and then list a few possible solutions. Narrow your list down to one to three best solutions, talk over the pros and cons, pick one and take some action on it.
Importantly, not only does brainstorming ideas together bring out the best possible solution, it will bring you and your partner closer together. You will feel closer to each other and have a stronger sense of dual ownership when you work together on finding and implementing solutions.
When faced with a tricky topic some people will react by escalating the emotional level of a discussion. This may be because they feel threatened and are afraid. Being argumentative is their way of coping with an uncomfortable situation.
Escalation can be a reaction to feeling trapped, attacked, blamed or guilty. A person who escalates needs to realise the effect their reactions are having on their partner and on the conversation. Escalation occurs when the conversation jumps the topic-rails, and starts to get personal.
If your partner escalates conversations there are a few ways you can try to bring the conversation back on topic like taking a break so things can calm down, asking them to stick to the original topic or explaining the effect their behaviour is having on you.
If it is you that is prone to escalation, try to understand that this is what you are doing. Take some time to understand why you feel attacked, guilty or insecure and try to move beyond that towards a solution.
Invalidating is when your partner dismisses your feelings or point of view on a certain topic. Everybody deserves to have their thoughts and feelings recognised and respected especially in their most intimate relationships. If your partner invalidates your thoughts or feelings, they’re not giving you the respect you deserve.
Some of your or your partner’s perspectives may be proven wrong, but that doesn’t mean the feelings you had weren’t valid at the time. Your feelings might change in the future, but right now, you think and feel how you do, and you want your partner to meet you there, understand, and support how you are feeling.
Often coming to an agreement on an issue will not be easy, especially when you don’t share the same emotions and beliefs. Invalidation derails the conversation and keeps couples from achieving some form of shared understanding.
Often coming to an agreement on an issue will not be easy, especially when you don’t share the same emotions and beliefs.
When someone feels like they are not being listened to or respected, they will shut down quickly. Everyone has different worldviews, preferences and opinions. If you’re partner is dismissing your point of view try to explain to them why you might feel that way, and how it makes you feel when they invalidate your experience.
If you think you might be invalidating some of your partner’s opinions, try to remember that just because someone’s viewpoint is different to your own it doesn’t mean they are wrong or less worthy of your time.
If you are scared to bring up money because of how your partner will react, or they are consistently giving you negative responses, they may be financially abusive. Financial abuse is a form of family violence and is really serious. You can read more about the warning signs of financial abuse and where to get help in our Relationships and Money section.