For most couples, talking about money is not easy. That's because many of us never heard our parents talk about it in front of us when we were children. Or, worse, we only heard our parents argue about money.
It's no surprise, then, that few of us learn much about money and how to talk about it with our partners. Since we believe we don't know enough about it, we don't talk about it—or we think it causes fights so we won't go there. As a result, many young couples forgo important money conversations altogether, which can wreak havoc on the relationship down the road. Resentment, hurt, betrayal, anger, guilt, and a host of other negative feelings bubble up when couples don't talk about money.
Advisors working with young couples are in a prime position to help them have productive conversations about money. Short- and long-term goal-setting, sharing credit reports, developing a basic household budget together, analyzing net worth statements…these are all examples of topics and activities that can help couples get started with the discussion. These topics may sound routine or trivial to you as their advisor, but for a new couple, engaging in goal development and sharing credit reports may be difficult because it is the first time they have revealed any financial information to each other.
We all know relationships can be messy and, as I wrote in When Financial Therapy is the Answer for Married Clients, money is an emotionally charged issue. In order for couples to engage in money conversations in the first place, they need sound communication and conflict resolution skills. If these skills are not in place, a financial advisor should not get in the middle, but should instead refer them to a relationship therapist.
Couples also need to explore their shared goals, values and expectations around money. Gaining these insights together can strengthen trust, which is the cornerstone of every committed relationship. Although some of these topics might be better explored with a relationship expert, financial advisors comfortable working with couples can help them start exploring their financial lives together. Preferably, couples should have these money conversations prior to committing to each other; however, any time is better than never.
Getting a client couple to talk with you about their financial lives should help you develop a long-lasting, trusted relationship and help them avoid needing a financial therapist in the future. Your most important role in these types of conversations is to listen, rather than to advise. As one advisor once told me, there are three audiences anytime you're meeting with a couple – one partner, the other partner, and the couple.
Here are four questions to help get the conversation going with your client couples
- "Tell me about your vision for your future together." Alternatively, you might ask, "Imagine you have been married for 30 years; what do you want to look back on and say about how you managed your money together?" These questions help identify shared money goals and values for the couple. Responses from each partner can be compared and contrasted with emphasis on goals and values that they share.
- "How do you plan to manage money together?" This is a common question for couples early in their marriage to help decide who does what in terms of paying bills, completing taxes, making investment allocations, organizing financial documents, etc., as well as how they will make financial decisions, and whether or not they will keep their money in separate or joint accounts (or both).
- "What are your expectations for your partner with regard to money?" Everyone has preconceived ideas and expectations for how their partner should think, act, and feel. Whether these expectations are realistic is another story. More often than not, couples fail to articulate these expectations clearly to their significant other, leaving room for disappointment when these expectations are not met. Common examples of expectations are "I expect my partner to contribute financially to our household" or "When we have kids, I expect my partner to stay home with the kids."
- "What are your money expectations for yourself?" Just like having expectations for our partners, we have our own ideas about how we should think, act, and feel about money. When we look introspectively and behave or feel differently than we think we should, the dissonance may result in unfavorable interactions with our significant other. In other words, we may start arguments unintentionally because we spoke harshly to our partner as a result of being angry at ourselves for doing something we didn't think we should have done.
Your role as a financial advisor to client couples can be difficult. Stay out of the middle, but do your best to foster and encourage productive money conversations between the partners. It's one way to strengthen your clients' relationship — as well as your relationship with them.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author, who is not affiliated with Hartford Funds. The information contained herein should not be construed as investment advice or a recommendation of any product or service nor should it be relied upon to, replace the advice of an investor's own professional legal, tax and financial advisors. Hartford Funds Distributors, LLC.
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