The Hardest Topics For Couples To Talk About Often Have The Highest Stakes
Most of the hardest topics for most couples to talk about have the highest stakes. In particular, money and death are hugely consequential both materially and emotionally. Emphasizing the importance of talking about these difficult topics, Tribeca Therapy was featured in an article “When Death Happens: Planning For The Unexpected” in HerMoney.
In the article, writer Melanie Brooks explores how couples can get organized with financial and estate planning before it becomes critical, from finding life insurance to sorting out digital assets. But first, she spoke with our director Matt about how to even broach talking about money and death in a relationship, which are part of the, Matt notes, “certain sets of things that adults who want to have healthy relationships need to talk about.”
Talk About Tough Stuff Removed From The Time When Couples Are Most Afraid
This requires, as Matt explains, creating a culture in your relationship where these tough topics can be confronted. And that means any tough topic. While sex, money and death raise distinct issues for people, at the heart of it, the DNA of having these conversations is the same. It means we’re tasked with pushing back against avoidance and denial, managing shame and embarrassment, containing fear, exposing cultural and value differences, being on our game with listening and being curious, and controlling strong reactions so they don’t derail the conversation.
One of the challenges in talking about either money or death is when the most critical decisions in these arenas need to be made, we’re likely simultaneously in the thick of heavy emotionality–grief most of all. Because of this, it’s important to talk about these issues removed from the time when we’re most afraid. You’re in the best shape to talk through the hard stuff when you’re healthy and/or when money matters are going okay.
Put Hard Conversations On The Agenda Rather Than Out Of Mind
How can couples create this culture in their relationship? Breaking the seal, so to speak, on talking about all the hard stuff really requires leadership from whichever partner can step up and do it. Often people ask me if there’s a subtle way to raise this, and my answer is a firm no. The very nature of hard conversations means they’re going to be, well, hard. It’s really about reversing the mechanism that says, “Yikes, that’d be scary to talk about,” and, instead of putting it out of mind, putting it on the agenda.
One way is for couples to have a rule: We’re not going to not talk about the hard stuff. In fact, successful couples, when there’s something that comes up, just make a point of going there. And when do things come up? When it happens to your parents, your friends, your friends’ parents, a couple on TV, or a news story.