Is Financial Planning As Good As Couples Therapy?

Is Financial Planning As Good As Couples Therapy?

“This has been more helpful than couples therapy!” is something that good financial advisors will inevitably hear in their work with couples.

It’s a powerful testimony, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise with more than 50% of marriages ending in divorce and most of those citing “disagreements over money” as the chief reason for the split.

Therefore, if you can help couples manage money better, it only stands to reason that more marriages will be preserved and fewer dollars will be spent litigating breakups, the combination of which leads to greater household wealth, health, and happiness.

But the benefits couples can derive from financial planning don’t stop with simple math. Here are three additional reasons that good financial planning can be great for couples:

1) Good financial planning has life planning at its center.

When was the last time you and your partner dedicated time to discussing the stuff in life that is most important to you, individually and collectively? It’s not your typical table talk over a candlelit Valentine’s Day dinner.

But good financial planning necessarily has life planning at its center. That’s because without a discussion of your “values, attitudes, expectations, goals, and priorities”—all words that I’ve stolen directly from the Certified Financial Planner™ handbook—your plan is not so much yours, but someone else’s.

Therefore, if you’re not having these types of conversations with your financial advisor, you’re missing out.

Advisory Note: Advisors, try to address your couple clients individually when gathering qualitative data, before merging it together. In almost every couple, there is a financial spouse and a non-financial spouse, and too often, the non-financial spouse becomes wallpaper in meetings. But regardless of their mastery of financial concepts, or lack thereof, their input into matters beyond the spreadsheets is no less valuable. And, you might be making them feel heard for the first time in an advisory setting.

2) A good financial advisor can act as an effective referee in what can be challenging conversations.

“He’s a spendthrift!” “She’s a miser!” Pick your stereotype, but we all know that financial conversations can be emotionally loaded. When you’re sitting there with an objective third party, however, it’s harder to throw your beloved under the proverbial bus.

Advisory Note: Advisors, please remember that this is hallowed ground, and you must not take sides. Objectivity must be preserved, and you’ll be better served by keeping the peace rather than making a point. It’s especially important to uphold the non-financial spouse’s positions because they are probably the ones whose opinions are underweighted on the home front. Yes, this is delicate territory that is worthy of receiving some dedicated research and training.

3) Tackling finances together is less likely to cause division.

“And the two shall become one…”1 may be one of the top wedding readings…but how soon we forget. Especially as those who prize efficiency, self-sufficiency, and the division of labor, we’re often too quick as couples to tear the to-do list in half and go our separate ways. Especially when dealing with money.

Therefore, the mere act of making money management a joint endeavor makes it a common cause, rather than the divisive wedge it often devolves into.

Advisory Note: Is it possible that your client experience may be a little less efficient when prioritizing the input of both members of a couple? Absolutely, but there’s also no question that it is more effective—yes, now, but especially if and when the financial spouse predeceases the non-financial spouse.

Yes, I fully understand that it’s a stretch to paint couples financial planning as a romantic endeavor, but of this I am sure: It will do a great deal to help preserve the romance in any relationship.