How to avoid family conflicts over money

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Christmas is the time of year when there are more family arguments than any other time, because we spend more time together – and money is in the top three subjects to cause the argument. Here are a few simple guidelines to avoid money causing a major rift with people you care about.


The first thing to bear in mind is that arguments about money are never about money.


If it sounds odd, it is important to remember that we never want money. You cannot eat money, it’s not a particularly economic fuel, and money can’t transport you anywhere, or serve any other practical function than to get the things that money can buy. For some of us it might be that we want money to pay for our children’s educational fees or costs, and broken down once again, this translates as us wanting money to ensure our children’s future wellbeing and happiness. Other people may want money for a holiday somewhere hot and beautiful. Once again, this translates to wanting money to widen our life experience, to help us to relax, or to enable us to spend quality time with people we love. At other times, we need money for more basic, urgent needs — to pay the mortgage, so that we can retain shelter, and not have our life completely turned upside down by having to move to a smaller house or less desirable location. Or it could be even more urgent: we need money to prevent ourselves becoming homeless or to buy enough food.

When you think about money in these terms, it is easy to see why so many arguments are caused by ‘finances’, particularly with people we love, which leads to the next point…


We’re more likely to have big arguments with people we love


It’s a dark thought but we all know that if someone is murdered, the first people the police question are closest family. Some of us may jokingly agree that we’d merrily murder our spouses or in-laws! But it’s also true that these are the people we are most likely to have arguments with. The level of intimacy that comes with a close relationship means we’re more honest and more likely to say all those terrible things we are really thinking, that we’d never voice to more distant acquaintances. Also, our feelings are more intense: we fight so much, because we care so much.

There are many more reasons why we fight we those closest to us, but when you consider that money really represents our ability to meet our most basic needs and wants, and that our family are those we are most likely to lash out against, you can see why money plus family is a potential tinderbox for arguments.


So how can we avoid a disagreement turning into a bigger rift?


The first step is to identify what the money you are arguing about really represents to you and to be honest about it. Is it a means of getting out of debt and therefore easing anxiety and worry? Understanding what is driving your own feelings is the first step.

The next step is to try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. To you the fact that your sister wants a bigger share of the proverbial pie to enjoy a fancy holiday when you need it to pay off your extortionate credit card might make you feel that her need is trivial. But a holiday, as Serenity Life Planners often point out, is important for people for many reasons. It may be her only chance to spend time with her kids and husband, they may have troubles they aren’t sharing with you that mean this break is important. Trying to step back from the situation and make excuses for them can be helpful — but genuinely play devil’s advocate by yourself. Being objective is really important to stemming anger and destructive conversations.

If the situation merits it, you may need to seek impartial advice from a legal professional or mediator, but if you think the situation can be resolved without this, meeting in a neutral space and writing down the key points you want to make in advance is a good way to get a helpful conversation going. Also make a note of all the good things about the relative you are conflicting with, and some of the good memories you have together.

Ultimately, for most of us, good, loving relationships will always bring more value and meaning to our lives than money. Be aware of what you have to lose and balance that against what you have to gain if you win the money but destroy the relationship. You can always turn to your Serenity Life Planner to talk about your life plan and how the financial situation affects this and if there are any workarounds.


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