The lines are drawn. The savings account passbook lies between you, mute witness to the debate. Arms crossed, you stare at your (usually beloved) husband across the table. "A new dishwasher," you announce. "A new set of golf clubs" he retorts. "Huh!" you exclaim, "How can you be so selfish! At least I didn't say a new outfit." "Selfish? Excuse me!" he yells, "I do believe our dishwasher works just fine. You just want the new one for all the fancy features." "You just want new golf clubs to show off with, there's nothing wrong with your old ones," you zing back, "and don't yell at me." "I'm not yelling at you," he shouts. "Yes you are!" you shoot back, starting to cry. "Oh, jeez, don't start that," he implores. "I can't help it," you wail. "I hate it when we argue about money," he says, "Ok, fine, do whatever you want. Who cares, anyway?"
As your husband leaves the room, you don't feel so good. Oh, you won - you'll be able to get the fancy new dishwasher you saw on TV that practically loads itself, but the price was too high. Now there will be days of discomfort between you and your husband, silent hostility that no one wants to admit is there, and all over what? Money! Or rather, how to spend it. What to do with that darned little pile of savings you both worked so hard to scrape together. You almost wish you hadn't bothered, given how miserable you both now feel. There must be an easier way to resolve your differences when it comes to how to spend your mutual dollars.
And indeed, there is. It's unusual for two people to agree all the time on how to spend their joint income, so arguments about what to do with it, especially when it comes to big-ticket items, happen a lot. But they don't have to. You see, arguments happen most often because of a lack of understanding. It's not that you don't understand what each other wants ("new dishwasher," "new golf clubs" - not rocket science!), but you don't understand why the other wants it, what the meaning of that thing is to them, how it matters to them. Unfortunately, we tend to react first ("You want what?!!"), then defend and criticize, all of which put a major damper on calm explanation.
Next time you find yourself at odds regarding a purchase, before you launch into that all too familiar argument, take a deep breath and ask, for example, "Help me understand what new golf clubs would mean to you." Resist the temptation to use a sarcastic, demanding, or otherwise negative tone of voice. Ask genuinely. Try to really understand. Your husband may say, "Well, the ones I've got are old." That's not terribly helpful, but it's a start. You might then say "OK, I understand that the ones you have are old and that you'd like new ones, but what is it about new clubs that matters to you?" Your husband may look at you strangely for a moment, but in all likelihood, he'll go on to tell you, "Well, golf is more than relaxation, it's kind of a networking thing. You know I meet people on the links, and business is talked about, and those connections can end up being pretty useful. And frankly, when I'm carting around my obviously out of date golf clubs, I think people think of me as out of date. Makes it hard to network the way I'd like to." Well, he may have a point. Certainly, this approach opens up the possibility of discussion as opposed to argument.
You could then let your husband know what a new dishwasher would mean to you: not having to practically wash the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, settings that would allow you to include pots and pans and features, all of which would give you more time to help the kids with their homework and do other tasks that you can barely get to before dropping exhausted into bed. It would mean more quality time with the kids and more rest for you. Once again, knowing the meaning that a new dishwasher would have for you would allow for a legitimate discussion instead of frantic power plays to get your way.
Understanding the meaning of things makes it possible to consider more alternatives. More alternatives almost always lead to better, more mutually satisfying decisions.
**** HAPPY GUIDE ****
Noelle C. Nelson, Ph.D. is a respected psychologist, consultant, speaker and author. Her most recent book is "The Power of Appreciation in Business (MindLab Publishing, 2005). For more than a decade, she has helped people live happier, healthier lives--at work, at home and in relationships. website: http://www.powerofappreciationinbusiness.com/