Let’s get straight to the point—knowing how to talk about money is one of the most important skills for you to master as a couple with a stepfamily.
Why? Because conflict about money is the most common reason why couples split up. In fact, financial infidelity is more common than sexual infidelity. When we don’t know how to effectively navigate financial conversations, we tend to avoid them, which can often lead to secrecy or a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach.
This can cause a great deal of unintended harm to a relationship, especially when there are so many important issues to address when it comes to your family finances.
- Prenups, postnups, and cohabitation agreements
- Blended family estate planning
- What documents to have and when to revisit and revise them
- Beneficiary designations and the mischief they can cause
As a certified money coach with over 17 years of experience working with ultra-high net worth families on their complex financial and estate planning, I have learned a few distinctions that make all the difference for couples to have financial health and well-being.
A typical conversation about money will start out focused on the CONTENT – what you want to address, such as:
- Who is going to pay for what?
- How much do we need to save?
- How do we combine finances in a stepfamily?
- Doesn’t child support cover their school supplies?
- We don’t have enough to pay the credit card bill this month, what do we do?
Unfortunately, these conversations often devolve into arguments because no one ever modeled for us how to have them effectively.
What can make all the difference is to focus first on the CONTEXT behind what is being discussed, including:
- Why is this important to the person bringing it up?
- What are the underlying emotions behind this topic?
- What values do we each have about money, life, and family that this conversation will further our ability to express?
Power of Context First
Context here refers to the beliefs, values, emotions, and expectations that are driving the way we approach the topic of money.
A context-focused conversation requires personal awareness, respect, patience, curiosity, and granting legitimacy to each other’s perspectives.
Sometimes we may have strong feelings about something without understanding where those feelings are coming from. When emotions start to emerge, slow down and take some time to discover what the underlying concerns are.
Shifting from Content to Context: An Example
Marsha approached her husband Brad about the unequal amount they were spending on their respective children’s school clothes and supplies. She felt irritated and upset about how his kids were getting preferential treatment when he was already paying child support and their mother was also providing them with similar supplies.
He got immediately defensive and said it wasn’t his fault that her kids’ dad didn’t provide her as much child support and that her kids were her responsibility. They ended up in a fight and never resolved the issue that Marsha initiated.
After receiving a few sessions of money coaching, Marsha recognized that she had a core value rooted in some painful childhood memories that ALL family members needed to be treated equally.
Brad, on the other hand, had an ingrained core value that blood ties need to be given greater emphasis and priority, so to him, it was fair that his children received more financially from him.
With this awareness, Marsha and Brad then began to explore what family meant to each of them. They articulated their expectations for their stepfamily and how “yours AND mine” should be treated.
After defining their shared core values, they had a great conversation with some surprising areas of agreement and creative solutions for questions like, Where could things be equal? And, where do things need to be different?
If sitting down to talk about money has not been easy up until now, see if you can apply some of the concepts offered here to a relatively small financial issue. Don’t take on the big hairy ugly conversation first. Take some time to develop your skill with simpler more straightforward topics before taking on the tougher ones.
P.S. Ever encounter sleepless nights because you aren’t sure if you’ll make it to the next paycheck? Master Your Budget and Take Charge of Your Future.