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Marriage, Money, and the Role of the Advisor

How to navigate clients through financial tensions

Morningstar Staff


Everyone’s got an emotional relationship with money that’s complex, lifelong, and rarely examined. And a close romantic relationship or marriage brings together not just two people, but also their money habits.

But how and when should an advisor start addressing these issues? Does an advisor even have a place confronting these tensions?

Advisors who have couples as clients probably have noticed the tensions, the disagreements, the arguments when it comes to marriage and money. These tiffs can be opportunities to add value, to make sure the arguments focus on what’s important.

Helping married clients through financial disagreements

“Financial disagreements are—according to some studies—the strongest predictor of divorce,” said Morningstar behavioral economist Sarah Newcomb, Ph.D., author of the new book Loaded: Money, Psychology, and How to Get Ahead without Leaving Your Values Behind. “And this is not financial hardship, but financial disagreement. People can have financial hardship, but if they’re better at communicating about money and they’re hurting each other’s feelings less when they do communicate about money, they’re still more likely to stay together.

“People need to be able to have productive arguments about money. Your clients should learn how to have the arguments that, at the other side of the argument, they’re closer to a resolution than where they were when they started. These are productive arguments that bring them closer together—even though it’s ugly and it’s uncomfortable to have those conversations,” Newcomb said. “I think this is where advisors who learn some negotiation skills can really excel. When advisors learn how to help people argue more productively, they can be there as a mediator to help them argue about money.

“Advisors may be thinking, ‘I’m not a marital counselor. I’m not licensed here. Leave that for their marriage counseling.’ The problem with that is that most marital counselors do not understand money,” Newcomb said. “Your clients end up with a marital counselor who can’t help them have their financial arguments and a financial counselor who can’t help them have their financial arguments. They’re hiring all these people to help them stay together, and neither expert is delving into the very things they need help with the most.”

This blog post is adapted from the white paper, “Financial Turning Points: Relationship, Marriage, and Divorce.

Read the full paper "Financial Turning Points: Relationships, Marriage, and Divorce."

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