Money may talk, but many of us find it extremely difficult to talk openly and freely about it, according to relationship and financial experts.
While religion and politics are the cliche topics to avoid, money can provoke equally feisty conversations.
Even something as simple as asking a friend to repay $20 can be awkward, while arguments over inheritance can split families.
Relationships Australia (New South Wales) director of operations Joanna Quilty says it is estimated that money issues are the driving force behind 90 per cent of divorces.
“I think our relationship with money is quite complicated, and it can be very personal, and I think that’s why it’s a troublesome area, where it’s often hard to negotiate,” Ms Quilty says.
A study of 4500 couples in the US, published in 2012 in the Family Relations Journal, found that money arguments, more than any other marital disagreement, are the biggest predictor of divorce.
The study also found that money conflicts are often longer and more intense than other types of marital disagreements.
A survey conducted by Relationships Australia in 2011 asked respondents if financial problems were more likely to keep couples together or drive them apart. An overwhelming majority (71 per cent) said money tiffs and the associated stress and finger-pointing, split couples.
Not only a source of conflict, money is downright awkward.
Behavioural strategist Dan Gregory, a regular guest on ABC’s The Gruen Transfer, says money is one of the “hot button topics” that can set families at each other’s throats, destroy relationships and even ruin lifelong friendships.
Mr Gregory, co-author of Selfish, Scared and Stupid, says these three qualities, common to us all, may explain why talking about money is so tough.
He says under the guise of generosity people often lend money when they don’t really want to and are left expecting repayments from others that they know are not reliable.
“Because we’re living in this delusion, we make the entire situation more complicated, awkward and less pragmatic and clean that it should or could really be,” Mr Gregory says.
Australian Association of Relationship Counsellors president Guy Vicars agrees that money can be an emotional powder keg.
“One of the things that gets in the way of talking about money is not the content of it, but the emotions that go with it. People can get very uptight very quickly,” Mr Vicars says.
Defensiveness, stonewalling, aggression – these are just some of the heated feelings that money can give rise to, Mr Vicars says.
The good news is…
Speaking about the unspeakable can be healthy, especially for couples.
“Any sort of conversation where emotional hotspots get touched, if you can work your way through that you are always developing and strengthening your relationship,” Mr Vicars says.
The opposite is equally true, Mr Vicars says. “If you don’t talk about those things, it gets worse. The longer you leave it, the harder it gets the next time around.”
Just do it
No matter how tricky to put into words, money conversations must be had. An example of one of these awkward, but necessary, talking points is retirement.
Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees CEO Tom Garcia says talking about retirement can seem daunting, especially for the young, but the best outcomes are achieved by talking sooner rather than later.
“Discussing whether you share the same financial goals is a good starting point. For example, do you plan to travel overseas or retire early? A conversation now can help make these goals more realistic,” Mr Garcia says.
Budgeting is another must-have conversation.
“Having a sometimes difficult, and often neglected conversation about budgeting is key to many better financial outcomes,” he says.
What can you do?
The experts interviewed by The New Daily provided these helpful tips.
Don’t leave it until it’s too late: We often leave these discussions until a crisis or major problem blows up, which is the worst time. Don’t wait until you see what your partner has put on the credit card and you’re furious. Bring up the issue when things are calm and everyone is relaxed.
Open up: Start by volunteering your feelings, and ask for your partner, friend or family member’s input.
Set a time limit: Thirty minutes is a good rule of thumb, so you don’t get worn out and cranky.
Listen carefully: Hear them out fully without commenting, passing judgement or getting defensive, and repeat it back to make sure you heard it right.
Compromise: That’s what relationships are about – coming to a solution that works for everyone.
Use neutral language: Don’t go on the attack.
Ask for help if you need it: If things spiral out of control, bring in a mediator to help you work through the issues.