Frustrated With Your Partner? Here’s Your Task

I often find when I talk to clients, they’re frustrated with a specific financial trait that their partner has.  Lately I’ve been saying something different to these clients, and hopefully it is both useful and true.

When you find yourself frustrated with something your partner is doing, there are two things you need to be able to do:

1 – Believe that they could act differently

2 – Talk to them like an adult about what’s bothering you

These are both deceptively simple, but quite challenging in real-life practice.  Yet if you can do these two things then you have a chance for real progress and change.

Believe that they could act differently.  If you believe that something is going to happen, you start to look for clues that you are right, and set up a situation that is bad for everybody.  You’re frustrated with your partner before they even do anything, and you’re setting up a negative feedback cycle that could sound something like the below statements in your head

  • He always just spends whatever he wants and doesn’t talk to me about it.  
  • She is so cheap!  I can never spend money on anything, she’s always going to get mad at me.
  • He doesn’t care about saving money for ________, he’d rather just spend it on meaningless things.

If that’s truly what you believe, you’re going to look for evidence that you’re right.  And most of the time, you’re going to use whatever you find to support that evidence, even if it’s a stretch (be honest, you’ve done it). If you really want to set the stage for your partner to act differently, you have to believe that they could.  Imagine them acting differently, and look at the activities that have recently struck that nerve with you about their financial habits.  Can you see yourself responding to them differently if you imagine them with the opposite financial trait?  Try this for a few days or a week and see what happens.  If you’re like me, you’ll learn that it’s really easy to slip back into old ways of seeing them, and if you are brave enough to hold the space to imagine them acting differently they’ll start to make small subtle changes that you will feel appreciate of, rather than criticize.

Second, you need to have an adult conversation about it.  Start with that picture of them in your head and talk about the thing that is bothering you.

  1. Tell them about the behavior is bothering you.  Use “I” statements to share from your point of view.  “I feel like I can’t ever spend any money without you getting upset.”  Let your statement be about what you are feeling, and let them respond.  
  2. Tell them about how you are working on seeing them differently.  Can you share an example of a time where they made a different decision, and how it made you feel?
  3. Ask them to tell you what they’re feeling, and really get into their perspective to understand it.  Stephen Covey talks about going beyond active listening to empathic listening.  Can we really understand where they are coming from?  What has happened in the past that has helped to shape their beliefs and perceptions about money?  I love to have clients talk about what money was like when they were growing up. It really gets at our core early lessons around money, and usually has a residual effect on how we interact with it now.

Give these new actions a try and explore what it could do for you and your relationship.