Doug Lynam cartoon

The biggest challenge I encountered during 20 years in a monastery was too much drama. I know that sounds odd, but it’s true. Money drama pulled the brothers apart. We lost the ability to talk to one another openly, honestly and without recriminations or guilt about the main issue — money — that drove every decision in our lives.

It should be no surprise that money is a leading cause of stress in relationships and a primary cause of divorce.

As the economy falters, many of us need to have difficult money conversations with a significant other but are hesitant to do so. Here are some tips on how to have “The Money Talk” that I learned through my own mistakes:

1. Time it well. Try to schedule The Talk when you both are relaxed, rested and at ease. A difficult conversation at the end of a long workday isn’t likely to be productive. Don’t ambush your partner — let him or her know in advance what you want to discuss.

2. Meet in public, if possible. Where you have The Talk matters. Parks or coffee shops are good, but any quiet place where you and your partner cannot shout, run away or storm out is helpful. A public location helps keep the tone civil and avoids emotional escalation.

3. Share gratitude first. Before you jump into the hard stuff, what do you love about this person? What are you grateful for in the relationship? The Money Talk is challenging, so make it easier by reminding yourselves what you value and cherish about each other.

4. Watch your tone. One of the fastest ways to shut down your partner is to attack. The Money Talk needs to be a discussion, so try being kind, respectful and compassionate. I’ve also found it helps to be vulnerable. Your partner is certainly feeling vulnerable, too, so put them at ease by sharing your feelings without judgment.

5. Stay on topic. You are looking to build a better financial future, so let go of the past. Focus on the goals you hope to achieve and avoid blame for past mistakes. If you make The Talk into a barbecue where you roast your partner, even if you are correct, don’t expect him or her to come back to the table again. Do you want to be a team that works together, or do you want to be right about everything? You probably can’t have both. Keep the conversation focused on the present and future. Forgive the past.

6. Create action points. Have clear tasks and actionable goals where you hope to reach consensus. Look for baby steps you can both agree on to build trust. For example, can you agree to block out one hour each week to discuss the finances together and put it on your calendars? It’s a start.

7. Walk the talk. The only person you can change is you. The goal is to build a life together, so you need to work on your issues as well, not just cast blame or aspersions. If your mistakes come up, try to lead by example and own them without drama or recriminations — then quickly move on. This can encourage your partner to do the same.

8. Provide a reality check. Be completely honest about the financial reality as you see it. Better to have a hard conversation now rather than a hard separation later.

9. Never lie. Just don’t go there. It doesn’t end well.

10. Get help. Finally, if you are completely bogged down and can’t see a way forward, find a counselor, financial adviser or clergy member to help moderate difficult conversations. A neutral third party can provide you both the safety and space needed to be more open about what you feel, even over a video chat.

The Money Talk may be among the most difficult conversations you’ll ever have. Even now, I struggle to follow my own advice, so don’t lose heart if the actual conversation veers wildly off-script. If it does, take a deep breath, refocus on your goals and keep trying. Your future is worth the effort.

Doug Lynam is a partner at LongView Asset Management in Santa Fe and a former monk. He is the author of From Monk to Money Manager: A Former Monk’s Financial Guide to Becoming A Little Bit Wealthy — And Why That’s Okay. Contact him at douglas@longviewasset.com

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