The three words we use to diffuse money arguments

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Sometimes we describe rich & REGULAR as a love story because we committed to pursuing Financial Independence when we realized money was the #1 cause of divorce and we wanted to take that off the table. So for the last 7 years, we’ve been talking about money with each other…and with anyone else who’s down to hear it. 

As the natural spender, I’ve done some detailed research on the exact number of conversations you need to have about money before it becomes easier, and that scientific amount is hella. You have to have HELLA conversations with someone to understand their underlying money beliefs.

I’ll be the first to admit that leading these chats is an uncomfortable form of intimacy. It’s essentially a trust-fall where you reveal and your partner reacts. One of our money friends [Erin Lowery] refers to this as getting financially naked and it’s one of the best ways to accurately describe just how vulnerable these conversations can make you feel.

Our earliest conversations revealed how much Mr. r&Rs upbringing in 1980s Brooklyn informed the way he viewed money. For him, these conversations were a reminder that money was innately elusive; that money was something those people had and that he would never be one of them. I grew up in a completely different environment and was raised to believe money was plentiful. Naturally, in heated moments, our different upbringing led to conflict.

But through the years, I’ve learned that even when it takes the form of an argument, a money conversation is not something you can actually win.

As tempting as it is to try and win a fight about money, that attempt usually backfires because it’s too easy to slip into using bold generalizations like “everybody, always, and never” or even worse, making someone feel shamed.  Mr. r&R knows all about that and he’ll be the first to say it wasn’t his proudest moment. On the other end, I’ll be the first to say that conversation helped to lead us where we are today.

But after that little scuffle, all of our other disagreements started the same way. He would ask something like “when and how much?” and I would respond with “right effing now and whatever TF it costs“. I would feel attacked by his questioning so I would resist his message and fight back.

Then one day, he dropped the three words that would forever change how we talk about money in our home. No, not I love you but…tell me more.

Saying 'tell me more' is a signal you're listening and an invitation for the other person to just keep talking. Click To Tweet

Recently my Dad was experiencing severe leg pains. For months, he wasn’t receiving the correct treatment describing a pain in his leg but we recently found out, it was actually a bulging disc in his back. Since leg pain can be caused by nerves in your leg or nerves in your spine, trying to work backward from the symptom to the cause is complex. He had to keep revealing information until the doctors narrowed down the source.

For my Dad, it felt like a burden, but it was worth it.  All he had to do was keep talking. 

Money fights are a lot like pain management. Sometimes you have to sift through the symptoms to determine the cause. Click To Tweet

We see lots of people who love each other choosing to observe interactions and making mental notes but not actively talking about them. What we’ve learned is that arguments about money are valuable opportunities to learn more about how a person close to you thinks about money.

Simply saying tell me more encouraged me to take conversational risks because I ran out of all my usual lines. It moved the conversation forward in a healthy way so that we could arrive at new truths together.

So if you’re at your wits end with your husband, wife, partner or family member. Just keep talking.  Ask them to ‘tell you more’ and do your damnest to just listen. You might learn something about them that they would’ve otherwise never shared with you and you’ll both be better off because of it.

Mrs. r&R

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6 comments

  1. Another insightful article into this timeless love story. Thanks for sharing Ms. R. You two are really lifting up this conversation that is so important because it leads to harmony in our relationships thus in our families and maybe one day to our society. Gotta start somewhere and I can’t think of a better place.

  2. I LOVE this. I think I will start using it when my husband and I discuss maybe anything that is contentious ! 🙂 Thank you. PS – found you via the NY Times. Awesome piece.

  3. Thank you for spreading your black girl magic (BGM)! It is so wonderful to hear about black couples making a difference in the FIRE arena and sharing your experiences. Marriage requires vulnerability and I recall the conversation with my husband when I said I had $150k in educational loan debt. (big eyes go here)…Needless to say, it took almost 8 years for us to “unpack” that and discuss what that means for our lifestyle, my career and his ability to retire 6 years ago at the age of 45, after a 23+career in law enforcement. Not quite 50 yet, I still work, and its all good. But now “our” money goals are aligned and we can talk about FIRE and our “next episode”, which will include a smaller lifestyle, possibly a new career for me and living on an island (BTW, we are DINC’s). Thanks for sharing. Tomika

    • That is amazing! Congratulations on the progress you’re both making. We look forward to watching your story on House Hunters Caribbean!

  4. New reader here…great post! This phrase piqued my interest: “I grew up in a completely different environment and was raised to believe money was plentiful.” Can you “tell us more” about it, or link to another post, if you’ve already discussed your upbringing & your family’s financial philosophy?

    • Hi Em!

      We’ve not directly addressed that but we sprinkle in that perspective throughout all of our posts. I would recommend checking out our Choose FI episode and an upcoming Bigger Pockets episode (coming soon)

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