How a Money Conversation Can Transform Your Relationships

Finding the courage to discuss this taboo with others can powerfully heal many of our deep-seated fears and improve our self-worth.

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In the age of digital media, many people seem quite comfortable sharing intimate details of their lives: whom they are voting for, how they look upon waking in the morning (and with whom), the contents of their closet. But who freely shares how much money they have in the bank, how much they get paid, and how much credit card debt they owe?

As a culture, we’re scared to talk about money. It’s primal. Money means survival. Without it, we may die. Talking about money can threaten our sense of inner worthiness (“I don’t have enough” or “I have too much and should be sharing it more”), and that can trigger our ancestral fight-or-flight response.  It’s that fight-or-flight response or fear that keeps us from talking about or mindfully engaging with money.

But, will that path of avoidance or reactivity bring you freedom and spaciousness? I fell in love with meditation practice when my teacher said “Mindfulness is meant to illuminate all topics, not just the comfortable ones.” The benefits of practice come from inviting all feelings to visit and shining the light of awareness on the scariest ones.

It’s that fight-or-flight response or fear that keeps us from talking about or mindfully engaging with money.

Particularly at this time of financial uncertainty and loss, how do we bring our full and open receptiveness to all that is arising in our financial lives? The COVID-19 pandemic, though an uninvited guest, bears gifts of more time and less travel, the ability to discern value beyond money (like the importance of friendship, our health, and our sense of humor), and the recognition that we can live with less. With fewer distractions, this moment offers a boundless opportunity to deepen our connection to our closest friends, work colleagues, family members, and ourselves, to cultivate a freedom in the midst of upset, shame, numbness, or guilt—whatever is arising. The courage to be present with and to voice our discomfort with money has the potential to liberate all of us.

The Gift of Money Vulnerability

Recently, a participant in my weekly mindfulness group mentioned to me that she was struggling with money as her restaurant business was reeling during the pandemic. I encouraged her to share with the whole group during her check-in. She hesitated because she didn’t wish to be perceived as begging for money. When she finally felt ready to be vulnerable and share her money secret, the group responded with compassion and love. Some of us sent her notes of support, others sent her money. While she may not have wanted to appear “needy,” the truth is that she did, indeed, need money.

Ask yourself: Is there a conversation with a friend, child, parent, sibling, business partner, boss, that you think about initiating, but keep avoiding?

Speaking about her money challenges was beneficial for all members of the group: Her openness gave others the opportunity to strengthen their generosity muscles, while she herself felt their support, knew that she mattered to people, and ultimately received much needed help with her bills. It also buoyed her confidence to find a job. It’s unlikely it would have happened without that Courageous Money Conversation (CMC). Of course, she is heartbroken with the potential loss of her restaurant, but she has a reserve of newfound energy with which to tackle the uncertainties ahead. Her wisdom is now much more available to her as she moves from paralysis and fear to acceptance and action.

The Call for Courageous Conversation

Here’s a list of hypothetical conversations that could unleash vitality and lead to a transformed relationship with the other party, and with money itself:

  1. Tell your boss that, based on the value that you’re producing, you need to earn more money. If you don’t have this conversation, your resentment might affect the quality of your work. At the very least, you might ask: What do I need to do by 12/31/20 to get a __% raise for 2021?
  2. Explain to your adult children that you’re going to leave them less money than they might be expecting. Or, that you’re going to leave one child more than the other because of their different circumstances. From my experience, not having these conversations often has deeply painful unintended consequences. Having this conversation with your children will make it much more likely that they both understand you aren’t playing favorites.  When my clients have had the conversation in advance of death, it has been neutral at worst and connecting and empowering at best.
  3. Tell your friend that you can’t afford to chip in for a friend’s birthday gift.  This, again, is a chance for real intimacy with your friend, and to lower the stress to your body and to your wallet.
  4. Talk to your parents about the likelihood they will run out of money if they don’t change their current lifestyle (or that they can spend more and not worry about leaving their money to you). This is an opportunity for intimacy and straight talk about the future.
  5. Tell your spouse that, despite the appearance of unity, you don’t feel like an equal partner, and you want to make financial decisions jointly.  Have honest conversations about the gifts you want to give to charities or political candidates. Again, not having this conversation will likely lead to more resentment and a further erosion of connection.
  6. Tell your business partner that you want to take a sabbatical or reduce the overall expenses of the business. 
  7. Depending on the age of your kids, let them know that you must work together as a family to trim your grocery spending, clean the house yourselves, or start earning money (which incidentally can be one of the most edifying experiences for a teenager, or a child who can do chores to help out their neighbours).

Ask yourself: Is there a conversation with a friend, child, parent, sibling, business partner, boss, that you think about initiating, but keep avoiding? Of course, there may be times when a CMC doesn’t go as planned. But, when I look back at my and my clients’ lives, I can’t name a time when an intentional well-planned money conversation didn’t produce more positive than negative outcomes. It’s a risk with outsized potential rewards.

How to Have a Conversation About Money

Next, here are four tips for how to have that conversation:

  1. Write down your positive intentions for this conversation. Maybe it’s to get closer to your children, spouse, work colleague or friend. Maybe it’s protecting the financial wellness of your parents or yourself, or making you feel aligned with your pay and your output.
  2. Roleplay the conversation with someone you trust. This should be a neutral person who will be much more objective and probably offer you some sound suggestions for what to say and not say. Experiment by asking the neutral person to reply with your biggest fears of how the actual person might respond. When you debrief after the roleplay, listen to their feedback as well as to the feelings and intuition in your own body. (I’ve also found that sometimes, just doing the roleplay can make an actual conversation unnecessary). 
  3. Schedule a time to speak with the person without interruption. Let them know the amount of time you need, so you don’t feel rushed. Ideally, meet in a quiet and comfortable space.
  4. Start the conversation by saying something you appreciate about them. Next, say your intention and how you’re hoping that this conversation produces something positive for both of you. Stick to starting your sentences with the word “I” instead of “You.” In other words, say, “I’m concerned about you running out of money,” instead of “You’re terrible with money and almost broke.”

Having a CMC, like any conversation, might not produce a specific outcome, but it can heal and energize any relationship. It can also help you to feel powerful and effective with money.

Letting go of our fearful taboo around discussing money matters is one way we can use the pandemic to our advantage. Let’s shine the light of mindfulness on what’s actually happening in our relationship to money, and use that light to deepen relationships and liberate ourselves from old money behaviors. Mindful Courageous Money Conversations offer a surprising gateway toward personal growth and transformation.

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