How We Often Get Working with Couples All Wrong

One of the questions we hear – a lot – is this.  How can I work more effectively with couples?  

It sounds like a reasonable question. However, with a little digging, the real question emerges. How can I get both partners to engage equally in discussing their investments or financial plan?

And it’s not that it’s a bad question. I just believe it’s the wrong question.

Different Question; Different Results

Let's reframe the question.

  • Instead of asking how you can get couples equally involved in their finances, ask what it means to communicate with them when they choose not to be equally involved. They are, after all, adults who can choose to make that decision.
  • Instead of asking how you can encourage couples to be more involved in the investment conversation, ask how you can make the agenda so compelling to both of them that they want to be involved.

By re-framing the question, of course, you’re faced with a new challenge. How do you change your client reviews to focus on issues that are compelling to both partners?

But if you get it right, I promise you it will be a powerful experience for your clients. And if that’s the case, they’ll not only be loyal, they’ll likely tell their friends about the experience.

Getting Personal

Some time ago, I shared some insights from my own household that might inform how you think about conversations with couples. At the risk of oversharing, here goes.

  • While one of us knows more about investments, we don’t really think that’s a problem. We have different strengths.
  • While we aren’t equally interested in, or knowledgeable about, investments, we’re equally invested in the future those investments will fund. This is our life we’re talking about.
  • Because discussions about our future often get mixed in with discussions about investments, we don't talk about the former nearly enough. And that’s a shame.
  • While we’re equally invested in our shared future, sometimes we find it hard to craft a meaningful joint vision for that future. Yes, we find it hard to communicate about some things.
  • Creating a shared vision, defining our priorities as a family and feeling inspired about the future we are trying to create is really, really important.

So if we aren’t that unique (and sadly, I suspect that’s the case) then the best path is to focus on what's common between us (our future, our families, our values and our priorities) rather than on what is different (our interest in investments).  

Stop trying to get both partners more interested in your agenda. Change the agenda.

So What’s Next?

With that in mind, here are some considerations as you think about working with couples, shared through the eyes of a client, who happens to be one half of a couple.

1. Help us create a shared vision

Set the stage for the relationship by helping us talk about what it is we want to create for the future. I know you aren’t a psychologist but we need the work we do to reflect this vision. And we’ll thank you for it.

2. Focus on progress against that shared vision

Create agendas that focus on what we’re trying to achieve (our vision) rather than just the tools we’re using to get there (investments). I do understand that you need to focus on the money and the investments as well, but this has a lot to do with positioning. Are we coming in to talk about progress against our vision or are we coming in to talk about the market? It’s ok that you work more directly, and more often, with one of us once we have that clear vision in place.

3. Help us improve on the things that really matter to us the most

While one of us might appreciate that invitation to a conference call on global markets, you might be best to focus on the things we both care about, like our families, or travel or just about anything else. If you can help us teach our son about money, we’ll feel more ‘appreciated’ than if you help one of us understand a complex investment topic.

4. Help us document and share the important details

There's one big (and very real) problem that faces couples like us and it has to do with understanding what happens if the other person isn’t there to make decisions. Some time ago, one of us had to go in for a serious operation and it prompted a very difficult conversation about who to call, what insurance was in place and what needed to be done if things didn’t go as we had hoped. Can you help us share that information easily? Can you be the person we rely on if something terrible does happen?

Engaging partners isn't that hard, as long as we focus the conversation on what they both care about.

‍Thanks for stopping by.

Related: From Multi-Generational Planning to Multi-Generational Support