Here’s a great story illustrating some very common communication issues that arise as couples begin to discuss retirement-related issues:
Tammy’s husband, William, was rushed to the hospital with chest pain that turned out to be a mild heart attack. After the initial shock, fear and, finally, relief, Tammy realized that if William had died, she would have been overwhelmed, not only by the grief of the loss but also by all the things they had not talked about.
She did not know anything about their portfolio of stocks, bonds and other assets, and had no idea where William kept their will and other important legal documents. Every time she tried to bring up the subject, William said that he was taking care of things.
Tammy was angry that her husband wasn’t responsive to her concerns Meanwhile, William didn’t understand why his wife was worried, and he tried to reassure her. Tammy wasn’t satisfied, but she didn’t know how to get William to understand her feelings.
Are you ready to start a conversation with your partner, but don’t know how to bring it up? One of the best ways to engage your partner is to let them know how you feel about an issue and ask for help in working toward a solution together. It opens the space for joint problem solving and minimizes defensive reactions.
For Tammy, frustration mounted when she felt William wasn’t listening to her concerns. If she started a conversation with him by saying, “You never listen to me when I talk,” William would probably become defensive, possibly even patronizing. But if she said, “I need to learn more about our portfolio so that if something happens to you I won’t be lost,” it’s more likely that William will be able to hear what Tammy is feeling and respond more positively to her request.
Here are a few steps you can take with your partner to open the communication valves so that you can effective discuss your retirement vision:
1. Start the conversation with an agreed-upon topic.
Set a time limit for the conversation, and agree to no blaming or shaming.
2. Communicate clearly.
Clear communication starts with using “I” in your statements rather than “you,” which can be interpreted as blaming.
3. Be a good listener.
Listening is an essential part of effective communication that takes skill, discipline and practice. Being a good listener is more difficult than you may think, but it is one of the best ways to show your partner that you want to hear what they are saying.
4. Bring up difficult issues.
Some issues are more difficult to bring up than others. When you have something on your mind, think about why it’s important to you, what you’re feeling and the pros and cons of discussing it with your partner.
5. Importance of Compromise.
Knowing how to compromise is an important communication skill. It’s not unusual for couples to have different viewpoints or areas of disagreement. Compromise is not about “right” or “wrong.” Instead of becoming polarized in a “win-lose” struggle, a “win-win” solution can be achieved when both partners are willing to make concessions for the good of the relationship.
6. Engage in problem solving.
Creative problem solving can be an opportunity for growth and sharing responsibility. It’s a way for couples to work together as a team to achieve positive outcomes and benefit the relationship.
Communicating effectively is probably the single most important factor that predicts successful relationships. When couples can talk together without blaming and without being reactive and defensive, chances are they will have conversations that result in more positive outcomes.