Happy Marriages and Financial Planning

by Kathryn Hauer, CFP®, EA

Couples in happy marriages do lots of things together. Sometimes one of those things is to visit a financial planner. I’ve noticed in my career as a financial planner that couples who hire me seem to fit in the top percent of happy marriages. It doesn’t seem to matter if they are well prepared or ill prepared for retirement, if they are savers or spenders, if they’ve been together two years or twenty, or what socio-economic class they are in. When two married people sit in front of me hearing my ideas for their financial future, almost without exception, they are a pair who are happy with each other.

Sarah Chandler, in her Investopedia article, “Top Tips for Handling Married Couple’s Finances,” says that she’s “seen so many different couples handle their money management in so many different ways [and] here is no one “right” answer.” Her sentiments are very true, and the pairs of people I see handle their finances in different ways, but they are similar in several common ways.

Sharing Goals

A major reason for meeting with a financial planner is for reassurance that the couple can have a good retirement together. Usually they want me to run the numbers to see if they are going to be able to travel the world or offer comprehensive pet therapy to the elderly or send the grandkids to Catholic school or start a German pretzel business or do some other thing together that they’ve been dreaming of for years. They are very defined in what they want to do together, and they’re visiting me to see if that activity will fit in their financial frame.

Listening

Usually within a couple, one member tends to be the dominant talker. You can spot which one it is pretty early. However, with happily-marrieds, the talker is careful to listen to the quieter person when they decide to offer an opinion, The less voluble person also listens to the other in a comfortable way, not with the muffled disapproval you often see with couples who are not in sync and in which the dominant person has little respect for the other person. When they begin to see that their joint goal is possible, they might get excited and talk over each other, but that core reverence for the other person is always there.

Mutual Bragging

Both spouses tell stories about each other that reveal strengths and positive qualities. One will talk about how marvelous the other is at cooking or art or running, and later in the meeting the other will tell a story about how clever or talented the spouse is. These couples honestly think they are married to the greatest spouse on earth! Occasionally, I privately marvel at what seems like misplaced admiration to me, but the spousal emotion is genuine and is yet another confirmation about how much these two like each other.