How I Take Care Of Couples In Financial Planning
Posted by: Joseph Kuo | March 6, 2023
Whether we like it or not, money is very often intertwined with our personal values and feelings, including our own personal senses of freedom, security, and accomplishment. As difficult as it can be for one person to figure out what they want financially, this dynamic gets more than doubly complicated with couples.
Many conflicts between couples boil down to disagreements over finances. Imagine these scenarios:
- One person wants to use money to enjoy their lives now, while the other wants to save for the future.
- One parent wants to ensure that their children graduate university without debt, while the other parent prioritizes investing in their business.
- One person is burnt out and desperately wants a sabbatical from work while the other wants to spend some more money to remodel the house.
Why would an otherwise committed couple have such conflicts? Differing family backgrounds and experiences growing up shape each person’s unique view of the world and personal attitudes toward money. What one person knows and accepts as a “no brainer” might be completely unacceptable to their partner. Thus, each side can easily snap to judgment in a discussion when hearing the other side’s viewpoints.
The Dynamic Between Couples In Financial Discussions
Each person’s approach to money and to relationship finances can also be influenced by other factors including:
- Financial knowledge. Does one person work professionally in a finance-related field? That person might feel that they are better informed to make financial decisions for the couple.
- Financial role in the household. The person actually handling the finances might feel like they should have final say.
- Anticipated earning potential. Is one person at the beginning of an increasing earnings trajectory? That person might feel like they have a greater stake in long term money decisions. On the other side of the coin, the person making little or no income might feel like they don’t have a say.
- Amount of wealth each person brings into the relationship. The person bringing in the greater amount might feel like they should have final say on finances. Conversely, the person bringing in no money might feel that they have no say.
It’s not just that one person feels they should have a greater say due to one of these reasons. Sometimes the opposite is true: one person assumes they have no say because they are not at least equal in these factors. This dynamic can lead to a “self-fulfilling prophecy” where one side feels like they have no say but still want a say in money matters as part of being a couple.
My Approach To Financial Planning For Couples
Couples are generally together because they do have similar values. However, each person has their own beliefs about how to realize those personal values. Over time, most people come to conflate the two.
To resolve financial conflicts, it’s necessary to separate them back out. I accomplish this key task by having a candid conversation with the couple to understand each person’s values through their descriptions of what they want and what they fear. I facilitate the conversation using motivational interviewing techniques.
My goal is to gain clarity and build common ground for both my own planning knowledge and for the couple between each other. The latter is also why I don’t talk with each person separately. We have the conversation together, but with each person agreeing to stay silent while the other person is talking. This way, while one person is talking to me and I am asking questions to understand, the other person gets to hear their partner’s perspective without it feeling like a personal attack. The focus is on understanding each other, not on who’s right.
Once we are able to drill down to the how and why, we often come to a realization: It’s not that my partner doesn’t care. It’s just that they have a different way of getting to the goals that we both want. This gets us to a consensus of the couple’s vision—the “what”. Then, we are able to have a more productive conversation on “how” we might get there. From that, we can build a financial plan that both persons will agree on.
Financial Planning As Therapy?
I’m not a therapist or relationship counselor, but over the years, many client couples have mentioned to me that meeting with me on financial life planning feels like a form of couples therapy. Successful financial planning does require a lot of thought and communication, which can feel quite therapeutic.