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Reacting vs. Responding to Financial Disagreements

Michael Ravodin

Is money a very volatile subject in your home? Whenever the topic comes up, do you often feel yourself getting mad?

If so, you may be reacting to your conflict rather than responding to it.


Reacting is reflex. Put your hand on the hot stove and you’ll get a pretty instantaneous reaction – you’ll pull your hand away. It isn’t a thoughtful or contemplative action – it’s totally reflex, because your mind and body have been trained that hot stoves are bad 100% of the time. So pull back…now!

The first time your spouse did something financially that you found disagreeable, you probably didn’t react instantly, because it was a new experience. “Hmmm…Sweetie Pie bounced a check. How cute! I’m sure she didn’t mean to. She was probably thinking about me and it got her distracted…so understandable! Hey Sweetiekins…come see what you did…”

Years later, after the check bouncing has become a pattern, you no longer respond with understanding. You react in frustration. “Seriously, another bounced check?!? What were you thinking? Oh wait. I forgot. You don’t think, do you?”

It gets ugly quick.

When negative patterns of financial behavior become so repetitive as to be predictable, we can tend to react when something happens, rather than respond.

And the more we react (and the less we respond), the worse it gets. We jump to conclusions that may be incorrect, but our emotions are so amped up we can’t even see that. Thus, we close the emotional door to any kind of constructive resolution.

So before you simply react, try the following steps to help you respond:

1. Don't assume. You may think you know what happened, but you don’t. Ask for an explanation of the facts as your spouse sees them.

2. Feelings or truth? If you can feel anger welling up inside you, ask yourself if you are reacting to the truth…or just your feelings about the truth.

3. Choose to listen. When the reflex is to give vent to your emotions through nasty words flying out of your mouth, keep a lid on it. Make the choice to listen first and speak later.

4. Don't take it personally. “Why is everyone else in the world narcissistic … but me?”

Let some of the air out of your ego and realize that your spouse isn’t always doing (or not doing) things because of you. Unless you know for sure that an action was aimed at you, don’t go there first. It may have been a mistake, but it also may have had nothing to do with you. So stop acting like somebody did something to hurt you on purpose.

Reacting in anger will make you feel better now, but worse later. It’s just not a useful long-term strategy for your meaningful relationships.

Responding in love to financial issues may actually feel worse for a brief period but will foster harmonious relationships with those closest to you in the long run.

It will take some practice but make a promise to yourself.

Stop reacting. Start responding.

Byron is a Certified Financial Planner and Managing Director of the Planning Group at Argent Advisors, Inc.
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