Even in a perfectly healthy relationship, a discussion about money can quickly turn into a fight about money. In fact, money is the top cause of most relationship arguments. To keep your financial conversations calm and collected, avoid "basement thinking".
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Basement thinking happens when you're in a bad place emotionally, making you automatically defensive about everything. You may interpret everything your spouse says as an attack.
This type of thinking can ruin any topic of discussion, not just money. But basement thinking comes easier with money, because there's usually so much emotion attached to those conversations. Maybe you're worried about paying next month's mortgage. Maybe you're afraid you and your spouse won't have enough saved for retirement. Maybe you can't afford to save as much as your spouse, and you're resentful. Worry, fear and resentment are pretty common emotions when dealing with money.
Financial writer Carl Richards suggests ending any money conversation immediately when you notice basement thinking is triggered:
A small break or a good night's sleep can make all the difference and restore our energy. The higher our energy, the higher our thinking and the better the potential outcome. When we start or return to these conversations with the right energy, we tend to end up focusing on the possibilities, not the obstacles. Instead of negative emotion overwhelming the discussion, we find ourselves moving away from "my way" or "your way" to the idea of a third, better way. But that can't happen if we let basement thinking sabotage the conversation.
It's a concept I've dealt with in my own relationship. My partner and I often have perfectly calm money discussions, but once something hits a nerve, we become defensive and the conversation inevitably goes south. During those moments, it's best to try them again later so money doesn't become a big, awkward elephant in the room. Richards has more insight on this, so check out his full post.
The Wrong Place and Time to Have a Money Conversation [The New York Times]