How to make sure that talking about money will not turn into blaming yourself and others Aleksandra Mijakoska-Siemion talks to professor Agata Gąsiorowska, psychologist.
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Prof. Agata Gąsiorowska – psychologist from SWPS University, deals with economic psychology. Author of "The Psychological Meaning of Money."

How to talk about the household budget?

Calmly.                

That is probably the hardest part.

It's a bit similar to telling someone to calm down when they're very agitated.

Can we even talk about money without emotions?

It is crucial to realise that money is simply a tool in the economy. That it is not something that can give us success, happiness, self-satisfaction or love. That we need it to buy different things, pay bills, and that's it. Then, it will be easier to look for solutions based on tasks.

When a lot of people lose their jobs or get their salaries cut, it is hard not to get emotional over money.

In such an extreme situation as this, a rational attitude to money is essential. Especially when we are talking about a household budget that needs to be estimated coldly, what is necessary, what we need to give up, and whether we should eventually look for additional work.

It is difficult not to worry about what we will do if we won't have enough money to last us the month. We cannot combine these two levels in one conversation – the emotional and the practical. Because then the conversation about the fact that you have to gather receipts, what to sacrifice and what pile to shift to, will soon turn into blaming each other, into looking for guilt in yourself, into looking for accusations in what your partner says. Very often people who attach emotional importance to money are people who experience all kinds of deficits. For example, they have low self-esteem, a high level of anxiety, or a sense of lack of control over reality.

Of course, in a pandemic, anxiety intensifies, so emotions around money do too.

Physically, we are experiencing anxiety and we are suffering from a loss of control. Right here, right now.

The question is what we are going to do about it, because we cannot function in constant anxiety. American psychologist Tim Kasser noted that each of us has internal and external aspirations. Money or popularity is an external aspiration. Internal aspirations are, among others, social support and close relationships, faith or spiritual values. Studies show that these internal aspirations are much more important for achieving mental well-being than those external ones.

But if we are in a state of anxiety and we do not want to use a social resource because, for example, we are afraid to reveal ourselves and ask for help – paradoxically, we use the attribute of external aspirations, which is the need to have money. And if we can accept support and ask for help, then material goods will not be an overriding problem for us.

It takes time to learn.

Everything takes time. When a child first walks, they will not run the marathon right away.

But the changes brought about by the pandemic do not wait. What should be done when a woman suddenly starts earning more than her partner, so that money does not become a source of tension?

Define the problem well – whether it is about the fact that we have less income as a household or that the partner feels bad because the other person earns more. In the latter case, budget planning will not solve the problem. When someone feels that by earning less, they lose independence – or worse, they lose control over the other person – we don't have a financial problem, but rather a relationship problem. A problem that has only now become apparent.

We like to treat money as a cover for a lot of problems instead of talking about them. It is easier and simpler. We take the responsibility off our own shoulders and dump it on the money.

What behaviours are fair and what should we avoid?

It is fair and desirable to communicate specific problems and seek solutions. For example, if a person has lost their job, their partner who has kept their job often feels that the unemployed person is not doing anything. Because when we are at work, we just don't see what the other person is doing. And yet, the job seeker looks at offers, sends their resume, calls, checks the possibilities. It is worth having that in the back of your mind. Then it's easier to put an end to the conflict and move on to a factual discussion: whether to cut back on some of your expenses, or maybe dip into your savings, how much to spend, what to spend it on, or whether or not to look for a temporary job.

It is similar to the situation in which a woman is on maternity leave, takes care of a new-born baby and hears from her partner that she does nothing at home – because the cleaning is not done, the laundry is not done.

Meanwhile, this mother does not have an easy time, often does not even have a moment to eat a sandwich. Which is why, instead of attacking, we can try to help our partner. We can offer to read their resume, look at the offers.

But then, one person will still be in a position of power relative to the other.

Again, it depends on how we communicate on a daily basis. If we can treat each other with respect, as partners, then we will behave like this in difficult and stressful situations. If we are honest with each other on a daily basis, the question about reviewing a CV will not be of an evaluative nature, but rather a supportive one.

I have the irresistible impression that all of our problems stem from a lack of communication skills.

And rightly so. The ability to communicate is the most desirable and at the same time the most difficult skill.

“Tenderness and freedom. Let's build balanced relationships” is a campaign run by Kulczyk Foundation along with “Wysokie Obcasy” and “Gazeta Wyborcza Foundation”.

***
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