THE BLOG

Mute About Money

04/24/2015 03:43 pm ET | Updated Jun 24, 2015

Money competes quite well with sex for the position of the No. 1 no-talk topic in our society. Friends, relatives and significant others typically do not speak openly about money. We can begin to understand the taboo attributed to money-talk by asking several relevant questions. What is money? What emotions does having a relationship with money stimulate? What does it take to have a clearly defined relationship with money? What will it take to make money talkable? What happens in a significant relationship when money is not talked about?

What is Money?

We can think of money as energy. Whether energy is electric, nuclear or a fossil fuel product, it is power. An ancient definition of the word "power" is "able to." Obviously, we are "able to" generate a myriad of outcomes, some very advantageous to the general welfare while others are highly destructive. However, power is often generally viewed as taboo.

Sources of Taboo

Power

Because money is energy and therefore a source of power, it easily becomes a taboo topic. When someone is described as "into power," it is implied that that person's motives are likely inherently unprincipled. It appears that we have become a society that perceives the acquisition of power as generally involving some form of abuse. The ineffable quality of power drips onto money, making it unspeakable.

Money could be made more talkable if we consider three expressions of power that come from the ancient definition, "to be able to." The first is "able to abuse the energy of money." That might be the case as money is spent on weapons of mass destruction or supporting a campaign of genocide. A more modest example of abuse might be generating unmanageable debt. Clearly, what constitutes an abuse of money will be determined by our values.

The second expression of power is abdication. In this case, the energy of money is available, but we refuse "to be able to allow it to flow freely." We hoard the energy or become miserly.

The third expression of relating to the power of money is stewardship. In this case, we are "able to remain custodians of the energy of money." Stewardship of the energy of money is navigated by remaining curious about the status of the energy. Is fear presently impacting my relationship to the energy of money? Am I willing to remain mindful of the amount of money flowing to me and from me? How generous am I with the amount of money I possess? How much money is enough? What am I willing to do in order to generate the energy of money? How can I best hold the difference between how I relate to money and how my partner does?

The lack of talk about money in most significant relationships is often due to seeing the partner's relationship to money as very different than our own. Very seldom do couples see one another as mindful stewards of the power of money. They see the other as either abusive or abdicating, and therefore as a threat to their chosen way of relating to money. They become convinced that talking about money can only lead to a power struggle, attempting to recruit one another to their preferred way of handling money. Avoiding talking about money becomes the avoidance of an anticipated conflict that will not be resolved.

Greed

Money is often confused with greed and when that happens, it becomes a taboo topic. As energy, money is neutral. Greed is an insatiable feeding frenzy, aimed at unlimited consumption. Money may be a way to express greed, and money is not greed. We are all touched by greed because Capitalism, to some extent, depends upon greed in order to properly function. The thinking is that the more we are into consumption, the more we spend and the more we are willing to work in order to support our spending.

One way to separate greed from money is to take an honest inventory of the role of greed in our lives. It can be challenging to look at how we get into unnecessary consumption as a way to address a deep soul hunger. If we carry feelings of not being enough, then our voracious consumption will likely not adequately address our hunger. The seduction of greed is "If I acquire a lot then I will be a lot." We will need to examine our self-loathing and what it means to reclaim an abiding self-love. This level of self-support may call for a clear definition of what we believe to be success and daring to face the illusion that our acquisitions can feed the soul's hunger.

Success and Failure

In a Capitalistic economy, success is regularly tied to affluence. Of course, clarifying what amount of money constitutes affluence remains vague and ambiguous. Hence, to talk about money, we run the risk of being told that our current financial status falls quite short of being successful.

Relationship Consequences

When members of a significant relationship decide not to talk about money, there are several inevitable consequences. When we do not talk about finances, it is likely that one person in the relationship takes responsibility and control over funds. This accommodates the need to remain mute about money. The responsible partner can easily slip into resentment because of the burden of being responsible for family money. That partner can also feel entitled to make financial transactions covertly.

The deferring partner runs the risk of becoming resentful due to losing control over spending and investing. Because the acquiescent partner feels less entitled to make financial decisions, they can also become prone to making covert expenditures. Sooner or later, someone's secret spending is discovered, and trust becomes the overarching agenda in the relationship.

When trust becomes the issue, the partner in charge of finances often becomes more controlling and rigid about financial decisions. Distrust can easily slip into other areas of domestic life such as parenting and faithfulness. Ultimately, it serves us to begin talking about money and to be honest about the fears accompanying money talk. Money can simply become an area of diverse beliefs and attitudes, asking us to honor our partners and ourselves. The goal may be to become a collaborative team aimed at managing the energy we call money.