Are we speaking the same language?

Do you feel like you and your partner are talking different languages when it comes to money?

In intercultural communication research, we talk of two different ways for communication problems to occur – miscommunication, where communication occurs but is misunderstood, and communication breakdown, where communication ceases.

If you’ve ever studied French, you may have heard of ‘false friends’ or ‘faux amis’ – words that look and sound the same or similar in two languages, and are thought to be equivalents (‘cognates’), but actually have different meanings in each language. For example, ‘bras’ in English is a form of women’s undergarment, but in French, it means ‘arm’. ‘Monnaie’ in French means specifically ‘change’, not ‘money’ generally.

Such misunderstandings occur between other languages as well – 手紙 literally means ‘hand paper’, and in Japanese signifies ‘letter’, while in Chinese means ‘toilet paper’!

Because you and your partner may have different money personalities, resulting from a lifetime of relating to money in a certain way, it is possible that when you say ‘money’ or ‘budget’ or ‘save’ or ‘risky’, your partner understands these words in a very different way, and vice-versa, without the other party realising that miscommunication has occurred.

On the other hand, some couples avoid – consciously or unconsciously – talking about money at all. Greg Smith’s book Unlock the Secrets of your Money Personality contains a quiz to discover how much you know about your partner’s finances. Here’s a small sample that I’ve modified:

  1. Do you know how much your partner earns per week?
  2. Do you know how many credit cards your partner has? Do you know what the limit is? How much they owe?
  3. Do you know what health insurance company your partner is insured with? If they have life insurance, and who the beneficiary is?
  4. Do you know how many bank accounts your partner has and how much they have in cash?
  5. Do you know if your partner has a will? Do you know if you are included?

When difficulties lie in miscommunication, the best way to repair the situation is to keep talking. Successful intercultural communicators aren’t necessarily those who speak multiple languages fluently – they’re the people willing to learn. They ask questions, check their understanding and ask for clarification.

If you feel like you’re speaking a different language to your partner when it comes to money, ask questions, and try to be specific in your communication – ‘When you say ‘stop wasting money’, what kinds of things do you think we are currently wasting money on?’ ‘For you, how much is ‘too expensive’? What kind of electricity bill would you be happier with?’ Start with the assumption that you both want to work together as a team for the best outcome.

When difficulties lie in a lack of communication, the best way to repair the situation is to start talking! Successful communicators do just that – communicate.

If you feel like you don’t have enough finance-talk with your partner, think about how you will approach the subject. The best way will depend on you as individuals, and your relationship, but there are a lot of ways to try. You could…

  • play a game that includes money (like Monopoly or Jones in the Fast Lane) and observe each others’ money behaviours.
  • discuss a finance-related goal (like buying a house, or your next holiday).
  • go out for dinner (this is one of my favourite strategies. Discussing your financial goals in a restaurant is great because
    a) it’s something to look forward to and transforms what most couples dread into a nice night out and
    b) it’s much less likely that you’ll raise your voices out in public!)

28CommunicateAre you and your partner speaking the same money language?

Today’s featured image is a book in the library of one of the bilingual schools I’ve been volunteering at in Fiji.


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