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Couples, Conversations, and Money

❝Any worthwhile conversation starts with listening. -Simon Sinek

I'm doing homework in my living room with the TV on in the background. I'm in college, and I'm pretty busy between school and work. Since I'm so busy, I believe it's necessary to multi-task. I'm trying to eat dinner, do homework, and watch television all at the same time. This proves to be unsuccessful because I don't really know what's going on in the program.

Then I hear one of the characters say that he not only wasn't on the same page with somebody else, but they weren't even reading the same book. I had to take a break to ponder the statement. I have not heard this before, but I think it's powerful.

Fifteen years later, I'm still thinking about this statement. It represents how people have different assumptions and core beliefs. I can't be on the same page with somebody if I'm not reading the same book. I can't find common ground with somebody if I don't share the same core beliefs and values.

Fortunately, I believe there's more common ground than we think. We are reading the same book and are close to the same page, especially with loved ones. The idea that we're reading from different books is tempting, but it's a story we make up in our minds.


If I may state the obvious, money is stressful. Money is the most common source of stress for people in the United States and a top cause of conflict in relationships. In addition, money is a taboo topic in our culture, so nobody talks about money.

We end up in a situation where we know exactly how stressful money feels for us, but as we look around, it does not look like anybody else is stressed. Not only do we not talk about money, but often people will use their money to signal status. That means that it feels like we're the only ones experiencing financial stress while everybody else has their stuff together. The irony is that everybody else thinks the same thing about you.

Because money is so stressful and outward-focused, it's easy to observe. At least it seems easy. Because of this perceived easiness, we tend to use money as a benchmark. It's easier, we think, to see how much money someone has than it is to see how happy they are. Money becomes the proxy for happiness, even though it's a poor proxy. This perpetuates the taboo about money because as soon as we open our mouths to talk about money, we open ourselves up for judgment.

It's the same in our relationships. It's hard to talk about money in general, but it can sometimes be more challenging to talk about money with those closest to us because of our fear of judgment.


Financial psychology pioneer Ted Klontz boiled human needs down to six basic needs. According to him, our six basic needs are belonging, autonomy, safety/security, significance/purpose, connection, and self-expression. Every behavior we partake in is an attempt to meet one or more of these basic needs.

Combining this idea with the fact that money is stressful, we understand that money is a common trigger for emotional flooding. With emotional flooding, the thinking part of our brain takes a break because the subconscious part of our brain works faster without it. Its job is to get out of stressful situations by any means necessary, including dirty fighting techniques.

Understanding this will help you take a different perspective if you and your partner happen to have a disagreement about money. Fights about money can often be quite nasty. Simply asking yourself the question, "is it more likely that my partner is trying to hurt me or that my partner is stressed out and the need isn't being met?" can help diffuse a potential fight.

Most of the time, you'll find that you are on the same page; you just didn't know it.


Misunderstandings are common when we talk about money. The paradox here is that when we are not on the same page, it makes it more likely that we will drift further apart rather than come back together on the same page.

This happens, in large part, because most of us are terrible listeners. When the speaker is talking, most of us are either thinking of what we're going to say or completely lost in thought, not even paying attention. This is even more challenging with people we know very well because it's easier for us to assume we know what they will say. Paying closer attention to what the speaker is saying will significantly help your communication, especially around money.

This is the aspect of communication that most people think of when they think about listening, But there's more to it than that. Even if I heard exactly what you said, I still have to interpret what I think you meant by what you said. And even if I perfectly interpreted the words that I heard, there's still one aspect of listening that is totally out of my control. You have to be able to articulate what you're thinking.

A good listener, then, helps the speaker say what they think. You can do this by offering what's called a reflection. Check in to see if you are on the same page. When you reflect back exactly what the speaker was thinking, the speaker will feel heard and understood. If you reflect back something that isn't quite right and the speaker corrects you, you are helping the speaker articulate what was on their mind. It also has the great benefit of getting you on the same page rather than relying on assumptions.


It's all too common for people to hold grudges, especially with their partners. This may take the form of silent treatments, sarcasm, or avoiding the situation. What people don't know is that there is an underlying assumption baked into these tactics. The assumption is that there will always be more time. We can always make things right later on. But that's not always the case.

We tend to avoid the fact that our lives will come to an end. Even those of us who recognize and celebrate the fact that life will end, there tends to be a fear of thinking about it happening sooner rather than later. We all must die, and the amount of time we have is unknown. There is a lot of regret that comes with leaving things unsaid and not getting an opportunity to voice your opinion.

Author Bronnie Ware writes that one of the top regrets of people on their deathbed is that they did not communicate their feelings to loved ones. Recognizing that every day you have is a gift helps change your perspective. It helps you design your life in a way that you will experience the fewest regrets possible.


You and your partner are on the same team. You may indeed have disagreements, but in those disagreements are areas of agreement. There is common ground. Try to figure out where you two agree and articulate the things that you have in common. Then, you can try to articulate the areas where you have disagreements. Try to understand why you have disagreements. Does it stem from different values? Is it because of different Money Scripts? Or are the disagreement more minor than you initially thought?

Sometimes it can feel like you and your partner are not on the same page, but even if you're not on the same page, you're still on the same team. Learn to seek to understand your partner rather than to simply convince your partner of your point of view.

I'm willing to bet that you are closer to being on the same page than you think.

You only have one life. Live intentionally.

Until next time,


If you know someone else who would benefit from reading this, please share it with them. Spread the word, if you think there's a word to spread.

Related Money Health® Reading
References and Influences

Ben-Shahar, Tal: Being Happy

Ben-Shahar, Tal: Happier

Haidt, Jonathan: The Happiness Hypothesis

Klontz, Kahler & Klontz: Facilitating Financial Health

Klontz, Horwitz & Klontz: Money Mammoth

Klontz, Brad & Ted Klontz: Mind Over Money

Lindsay, James: Life in Light of Death

Manson, Mark: Everything is Fucked

Miller, William: Listening Well

Peterson, Jordan: 12 Rules for Life

Reivich, Karen & Andrew Shatte: The Resilience Factor

Rosenberg, Marshall: Nonviolent Communication

Solomon, Greenberg & Pyszczynski: The Worm at the Core

Yalom, Irvin: Staring at the Sun

Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at while writing this post. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.



About the Author

Derek Hagen, CFA, CFP, FBS, CFT-I, CIPM is a speaker, writer, and coach specializing in financial psychology, meaning and valued living, resilience, and mindfulness.


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