On the list of things that cause trouble between spouses, money is thought to be right up there at the top. So in honor of Valentine's Day, and to help keep the love alive, Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp are dedicating this episode of Motley Fool Answers to questions at the intersection of marriage and finance.
They reveal five fascinating tidbits, starting with a dive into the commonly held belief that money is the biggest source of tension in marriages. Then, they bring you some advice you can act on: five research-supported suggestions and strategies that will help you avoid being that couple with constant conflicts over cash. Plus, there's a "What's Up, Bro" segment on the right and wrong ways to respond to the current market correction and a fun discussion about what's behind lovesickness.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on Feb. 13, 2018.
Alison Southwick: This is Motley Fool Answers, and while it may not sound like it, this is Alison Southwick and I am joined, as always, by Robert Brokamp. We're both really sick.
Robert Brokamp: We are. I'm not quite as voice-impaired as you are -- at least I don't think I am. You sound great, by the way. You sound great!
Southwick: Some people today have said that I sound sexy. Some people have said that I don't sound sexy at all, so anyway...
Rick Engdahl: Both can be true.
Southwick: Thanks. Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, so today we're going to talk about managing money with your schmoopie. All that and more on this week's episode of Motley Fool Answers. I guess. I'm on some drugs. We'll see how this goes.
Southwick: All right, Bro, what's up? I have been pretty much in a coma for the last week, and so did I miss anything?
Brokamp: Not too much. The market has just continued to keep going up, as it has, for the last eight years.
Southwick: Oh, that sounds great!
Brokamp: Oh, kidding about that, actually.
Southwick: Oh, nuts. What happened?
Brokamp: Yeah, what happened? I wrote on February 2nd an article for my Rule Your Retirement service about how great January was. It was the best January for the S&P 500 since 1997. The best January for the Dow since 1987. Things were looking really good for this year.
I also pointed out that there were two rough days at the end of January, and it broke a streak of days where the market did not have back-to-back losses of more than 0.5%. That streak had been going on for over 300 trading days -- twice as long as the previous streak. It just went for a long time where you didn't have back-to-back losses. But I also pointed out on February 2nd that one streak that was still going on was that we did not have a day where the market dropped 3% from the previous close and that streak was an all-time record, as well.
That was on February 2nd. What happened on February 5th? The market dropped 4%. Since then the market has sort of gone down continually -- up and down, here and there -- but now to where we are in correction territory, meaning that the market is down off 10% from its high. I think it's shocking for people because for the most part it has been an incredibly non-volatile market. A very smooth ride in this bull market, and so the last week or so has been a little shocking for people.
Southwick: I appreciate that you said the market is off 10%. Well, you said it was 4% and then when we're in correction territory it's off 10%, because the headlines were Dow suffers largest point drop in the history of human suffering. But the Dow was so high...
Southwick: ... that yes, you're going to see a large point drop, but in the grand scheme of things, the percentage drop was not as bad as the headlines maybe made it sound.
Brokamp: So, a thousand-point drop does sound very bad, but when you have the Dow doubling in a little bit more than five years, it's not quite so bad. From a percentage standpoint, it was something like the 103rd or 104th worst day since 1900. That's still pretty rough, but that's not as bad as the worst day ever.
Southwick: How should our listeners feel?
Brokamp: First of all, they should feel like this is normal. This is what the market usually is like. According to American Funds, from 1900 to 2016 a stock market decline of 5% has, on average, occurred three times a year. You can expect a 10% drop about once a year and a 20% or more drop every three and a half years, but we haven't seen it in a decade. This is just what happens in the stock market, so people should accept that this is what happens.
Now, as always, it's never too late to rebalance. If you're in a situation where you need the money in the next few years, if you're getting close to retirement, or you're in retirement, it's not a bad idea to take some money out of the stock market. Don't worry that it's down 10%. It's still not too late to rebalance, especially since even despite this 10% drop, by most measures the market is still overvalued.
The good news about what has happened over the last several weeks is one of the many reasons people think the market has gone down is because interest rates have gone up. That can be bad for companies, but it can be good for other types of investments. For example, the one-year Treasury, the most boring investment in the world, now yields almost 2%, providing a yield it hasn't yielded since January of 2008. So, in other words, the safest investment in the world is now offering the best returns it's had in a decade.
So, for money you need in the near term to protect, the one-year Treasury is a great solution. You can usually get them commission-free from your broker or directly from Uncle Sam at Treasury.gov. I think that's the way to play it. Protect what you need in the near term, but just accept that 10% declines are part of normal business for being a stock investor.
Southwick: What's the worst thing that someone should do amid this volatility?
Brokamp: Thinking that they can move money to the sidelines and wait until things calm down. You hear variations like that all the time. "I'm going to move money to the sidelines until things calm down a little bit."
Southwick: Which means cashing out your stocks and getting a larger horde of cash.
Brokamp: Right. You basically have to know when things have calmed down in the stock market, and good luck with that. Nobody really knows.
Southwick: Yes, a lot of the headlines were like this drop was spurred by inflation fears, or the drop was spurred by some sort of ETN [which I don't want you to bother explaining right now] going haywire. To what extent does it even matter? As an individual investor, you can't really impact that or have an effect. Should you just be like, "Ick! It did it because it did it?"
Brokamp: Right. First of all, no one really knows why the market goes down. And even if you could figure it out, whatever that event was you're not going to be able to predict it before everyone else can and cash in on it.
Southwick: You're not that smart.
Brokamp: Exactly. There's a lot of talk, too, about how much of this is due to computers and all the high-frequency trading. Anywhere from 50-70% of trading on any given day is actually done by computers. Are you going to outguess what all those computers are going to do? Probably not.
Hold onto good companies. Hold onto good dividend payers if you're retired. Know that whatever the situation is going on today, 10 to 20 years from now you're going to be happy that you held on.
Southwick: So, basically your advice is take money out and don't take money out of the market.
Brokamp: Take money out that you need for the next three to five years [or seven years if you're a little more conservative], but any money that you do not need for any time period getting close to a decade or longer you're going to be happy that you held on.
Southwick: So, tomorrow is Valentine's Day.
Brokamp: I love it!
Southwick: Bro, what are you going to do for your schmoopie?
Brokamp: Classic. We'll probably go out to dinner. We're at this point where our kids are teenagers and we are appreciating the fact that pretty soon they're going to be out of the house. I think what we'll do is try to do something with the kids.
Southwick: Aw! That's nice.
Brokamp: Yeah. We like our kids. How about you?
Southwick: Every Valentine's Day I make my daughter and my husband Rice-A-Roni meatballs that they really love.
Brokamp: That's so romantic.
Southwick: It's so romantic. But Hanna looks forward to it for weeks. So, yeah, some Rice-A-Roni meatballs. And Ron really loves his beer Advent calendar that I did for him for Christmas, which I did similarly for Rick. So, I got six mystery beers for him to unwrap every day. And Hanna really likes it too, because she gets to unwrap it.
Brokamp: You are very thoughtful.
Southwick: Sometimes, yeah. I don't know. Whatever. So, nothing super exciting. Maybe Ron will get me flowers, maybe not. It's cool. It's kind of a made-up holiday anyway.
You have been taking financial therapy classes, and I don't know if your professor planned this on purpose, but you had a lot of reading to do these last couple of weeks around couples and cash.
Brokamp: Yes. I'm getting my graduate certificate in financial therapy from Kansas State. It really was coincidental that for this last class I'm taking I had to do a bunch of reading on couples and their cash. And as we were talking about what to do for this episode, I thought, "Well, certainly after reading the 10 to 20 articles that I plan to read, I'll be able to pull out a few tidbits." So, what I found out was Five Things to Know...
Southwick: Tidbits is a funny word!
Brokamp: Tidbits! You don't like tidbits?
Southwick: No, I just think the DayQuil is kicking in. I'm sorry! Keep going.
Brokamp: Well, it just gets better from here!
Southwick: Let's get some love and money tidbits. Tidbit No. 1.
Brokamp: All right. So, "Five Things to Know About Marriage and Money" and then "Five Things to Do About It."
No. 1, I guess my first question was we all hear that money is the No. 1 reason people get divorced. The No. 1 cause of conflict in marriages. My first question was whether that is really true. So, No. 1 is whether money is the No. 1 source of tension in marriage. The answer is probably, but the results weren't quite as conclusive as I thought they would be.
There is research that found, for example, that 70% of all divorces cite money as the reason. There's research that shows that couples that fight on a weekly or daily basis about money are more likely to get divorced than people who have a few disagreements over the course of a month.
Southwick: How often do people fight?
Brokamp: Well, some people fight a lot.
Southwick: Why fight, period?
Brokamp: That is a good question and we'll get to that, later. So, there is a question of whether...
Southwick: I just can't imagine fighting with my spouse twice a week about anything. I don't know.
Brokamp: Rick, how often do you fight with your spouse?
Engdahl: What is fighting?
Southwick: You guys are such lovely, beautiful people that I can't imagine the Engdahls fighting at all.
Southwick: I cannot imagine that. I can just imagine them being like, "You know what, honey? When you leave your harps and your guitars out, I feel like maybe we should jam for a while." And then you guys just play some folk songs and smooch.
Brokamp: Can you fight when you have a harp? I don't think it's possible.
Engdahl: This is probably too much of a story, but we have a friend [a friend of mine from college] up in New Jersey. She had a daughter who was about five or six at the time and this was before we had kids. They were coming to visit us for the first time. We had been up there, before, and played our music, and blah, blah, blah.
Southwick: That's the tone that they fight in, by the way. That was it.
Engdahl: They came down, and when the daughter entered our house, she looked around and she was a little bit crestfallen. She was a little disappointed. And she said, "I thought your house would be full of flowers and incense."
Southwick: You enter the door and your wife places a flower garland on your hair.
Engdahl: Like we live at the Renaissance Festival.
Southwick: Drink some herbal tea.
Brokamp: I can totally understand that.
Engdahl: A couple of fairies blowing bubbles.
Engdahl: It turns out that's not exactly how we live day-to-day.
Southwick: Oooh! It's more like a metalhead situation going on in the Engdahl house.
Engdahl: We'll stick with your imagined view of what our lives are like. It's a nice picture.
Southwick: All right. That was a bit of a digression, but...
Southwick: It seems like that would be a lot to be fighting about anything, let alone money.
Brokamp: Yes, it's true and as I'll talk about a little bit later, there's some question about whether money is the real reason people are fighting, or if it's just that people are fighting, and money is the thing they've decided to fight about. Other studies found that one-third of couples who receive marriage counseling reported having financial issues as one of the problems.
But there are studies that found there's not really a very strong connection between money and conflict, or money and divorce, which again gets to this point that maybe it's not really just about money. And another interesting part about this is studies have found that arguments about money are a little different in that they tend to be more intense, they often last longer, and they often retread old topics. Old topics keep getting brought up. So, there is something about money that is important or contentious [when it comes to] marriages.
No. 2, though, is that money and marriage is not all bad news. The fact is on average for most people being married is good for your financial well-being. Married couples have higher incomes than any other family forms, meaning higher than people who live on their own or people who are living together but are not married.
People who are married tend to have higher levels of investments. Higher levels of wealth. Less debt. They're more likely to be saving for retirement and there's some belief about making that commitment. That public commitment about getting married makes people more likely to invest. More likely to buy a house. More likely to do things that will pay off over the long term vs. people who are single or people who are just living together and they're like, "I don't know if I want to buy a house with you quite yet." That's the good news.
No. 3. What determines whether a couple is going to fight about money or not. The truth is money can buy happiness to a degree in marriage. There's plenty of evidence that shows that couples with higher incomes, higher levels of wealth, less debt are more likely to be happier. More likely to find satisfaction in a marriage and less likely to fight about it.
One interesting study I found said that income -- once you incorporate other measures of financial well-being -- isn't actually important. What it really means is what you do with the money that you make. So, even if you're not making quite so much money, if you are saving it and staying out of debt, you're more likely to be happy and less likely to fight about money.
Another study found that couples who engage in sound financial practices [budgeting, saving, getting enough insurance] are more likely to be happy, even compared to other couples of the same level of financial wellness and wealth. People who are doing these good day-to-day financial chores are more likely to be happy.
One thing I would say, though. It does get to a point where all that stuff doesn't really explain happiness. For example, the difference between a couple that makes $25,000 and a couple that makes $50,000 [means] a big difference in their overall satisfaction because they're not going to be experiencing so much financial stress. The difference between a couple making $200,000 and $225,000 is not going to be so much. So, at some point, money doesn't really explain the difference.
What does explain it? This comes to point No. 4. Being financially compatible is important. There's a couple of studies that classify people as either tightwads or spenders, and my first reaction was I haven't heard the term tightwad...
Southwick: Tightwad, yeah.
Brokamp: ... in a long time. But, basically, do you see yourself as a tightwad or a spender, and see your spouse as a tightwad or a spender.
Southwick: It seems like it's a spectrum. Do I have to put myself in one or the other?
Brokamp: And you're right. It is a spectrum. And the most interesting thing about the spectrum is opposites often attract, so what they found was people who were tightwads were often attracted to the spenders and vice versa, especially if they were not satisfied with their own attitudes. Let's say you were a spender, but you knew that you probably are spending too much. You are more likely to be attracted to someone who is a tightwad, and vice versa.
The problem is that although you might be attracted to each other, once you get married that can be a problem, so the greater the distance on that spectrum of tightwad to spender, the greater chance that you're going to argue about money and there are going to be problems down the road. And there was also another study that analyzed people's materialistic tendencies. It found that when people had a higher score of materialism, chances are they were going to be less happy being married.
Southwick: All right, tidbit No. 5.
Brokamp: No. 5. If it's not about money, it's about... Want to take a guess?
Southwick: I don't want to say sex on our show, because I don't think we've ever said that word on our show.
Brokamp: You said sexy earlier in the show.
Southwick: Yeah, but that's like different than saying sex. I've done it again! What is it? Just say what the answer is!
Brokamp: It is the byproduct of sex -- kids.
Southwick: You just made it worse!
Brokamp: At least according to one study.
Southwick: Oh, kids!
Brokamp: Kids. Kids. This is one of those studies that found...
Southwick: I think Rick can't breathe, he's laughing so hard. Are you going to be OK, buddy?
Brokamp: Anyway. So, one study had a hundred couples keep a diary and write down all the times they had any sort of conflict. And money was No. 5 and No. 6 on the list depending on whether it was the husband or the wife. No. 1 was actually kids, and the next was chores, then communication and leisure. But this study also confirmed, again, that while money wasn't the most common contentious issue, the fights about it were more intense and they lasted longer.
Another study found that women with children living in the home were twice as likely to report being a money-arguing couple, and then another study [the tightwad-spender study] found that for men [not women], but for men who had three or more children, they were more likely to find themselves engaged in financial arguments. The point, here, is not that you shouldn't have kids. The point is, I think, that if you are married, you should make sure that you are on a firm, financial setting and you're comfortable with the relationship before you have kids.
Southwick: So, that was five tidbits. And you said you had five other things.
Brokamp: Five solutions.
Southwick: Your intro was not really promise heavy. It was kind of nebulous, so five solutions.
Brokamp: Five solutions. There are five takeaways with more action-oriented types of things. No. 1 is the boring stuff can lead to marital bliss. There was a study that looked at 64 couples who identified themselves as having great marriages and looked at their financial habits.
It basically came down to  one partner tended to handle the financial day-to-day stuff, but with a lot of communication and trust from the other partner  they did not have much debt, and they made that a priority to stay out of debt, and  and very related is they lived below their means and they were frugal. So, just taking care of those basic financial tasks can increase the chances that you'll be happily married.
No. 2 is to share the power and the decisions. One of the issues with money is when you look at where the problems come from, they come from power, and the imbalance of power can come from several things. It can be a difference in income. Difference in age. Difference in education or financial literacy.
But basically, it's often where one person feels like the other person is not treating them fairly. In fact, some of the studies have indicated that couples that fight the least are the ones that are more equal in terms of their incomes, and that having a big disparity in income can cause problems. Not all the time, but it's just an imbalance of power, so to be aware of those things so that each person feels like they have input, control, and they're treated fairly.
And No. 3 is communication is the key. Some studies have found -- at least one in particular -- that all the fights about money are not really about money. These people do not communicate well and working on communication is a big part of it.
Some of the things that I came across as particular pieces of advice is when you look at marriage and the studies of marriage, one of the big names out there is a guy named John Gottman. He has found that the happiest couples have a five to one ratio of saying nice things to each other vs. negative things.
And he also has a basic framework called the "harsh start-up." Are you going into a conversation with something negative or a criticism? A study followed up on that and found that couples that begin conversations with these harsh start-ups are more likely to argue about money, not resolve the issues, and then have problems down the road.
No. 4 is to get financial help. When you have a couple that can't agree on money, it's often helpful to get a good financial advisor or, as now I'm studying it, it could be a financial therapist.
Southwick: They could just call you up on the phone.
Brokamp: I'm not quite a financial advisor yet. One interesting thing that I learned reading about these studies is that you've got to find a good financial advisor. There's evidence that when a couple comes in to see a financial advisor, the financial advisor more often talks to the man than the woman. You want to have someone who is obviously treating both members of the couple as equals -- not giving more deference to one than the other -- because maybe one person is the main breadwinner or something like that.
And if part of it is a relationship issue, having a financial advisor is good because you get that objective advice, the objective opinion. If you and your spouse cannot agree on how to handle a financial issue, getting a good financial advisor can help that. But if you're having problems with your marriage, that's not going to solve that and that's where you need to get some sort of marriage counseling, as well.
And the last piece of advice, at least that occurred to me, is to teach your children well. As I was reading through all these studies, I was thinking that my wife and I have tried to do some things where we teach our kids about investing. About staying out of debt. We've told them about the studies about people who have high credit scores and married people with high credit scores are more likely to be happy.
I never really thought about handling your money well as being good for your marriage. It's going to increase the chances that you'll live happily ever after as much as possible. But a whole, new emphasis on the importance of teaching kids about how to handle money.
Southwick: I think going forward, whenever we're going to say kids, we should just say sex byproduct. We've been teaching our sex byproducts to be more financially responsible.
Brokamp: Or SBPs for short. And I should say that in everything I talked about I could have referenced many studies to all that, but if you want to read more about this, the best place to go is the Journal of the Financial Therapy. It's online and it's free. So, check that out. You'll find lots of great articles on this topic.
Southwick: SBPs. So, there you have it. Five little tidbits about couples and cash, and then what you can do to be better with money. What's your next class going to be for financial therapy?
Brokamp: This is the last class. After this class [which is basically about relationships and money] I get my certificate. I have graduated.
Southwick: And then what?
Brokamp: I don't know. I think I'll just sit on it for a while. I'm happy with my job, here, at The Fool. I'm not going to go out and become a financial therapist, but it's nice to know. It emphasized for me that money management has so much to do with behavior management and psychological issues [that are tied into money] that I think I'll just have a greater appreciation of it and probably find more ways to include it in my writing and maybe in our podcast.
Southwick: Or maybe in the show, so stay tuned.
Southwick: Are you suffering from anxiety? Insomnia? Trembling? Nausea? Heart palpitations? A sense of euphoria or intrusive thoughts of longing? Congratulations! You might be suffering from love sickness.
Southwick: We are sick, and it's Valentine's Day, so let's talk about the oldest ailment in the book, love sickness. You guys, think about the last time you really felt those butterflies in your stomach. Remember? Bro, you were surrounded by nuns, I believe. Do you want to explain to our listeners why?
Brokamp: Well, there are many possible answers to that question, but because I was at the seminary at one point. I don't know what you mean.
Southwick: Because you met your wife while teaching at a school.
Brokamp: Yes, that's true.
Southwick: A Catholic school.
Brokamp: Yes, that's absolutely right.
Southwick: I wasn't there but, apparently, I remember it better than you do.
Brokamp: And I remember when I taught religion with two nuns.
Southwick: There you go. And Engdahl, I believe you were at the top of a mountain singing songs on your guitar when you met your lovely wife.
Engdahl: I'm pretty sure it was Edelweiss, right?
Southwick: Yes, you were singing Edelweiss. How did you guys meet?
Engdahl: We had mutual friends and I was actually hosting a song circle in my living room. My friend had gone to see [my future wife's] art show, and she also sang some songs there, so he said to her, "You should come to this song circle that I go to." We met in my living room.
Southwick: Oh, that's so sweet. Gosh! OK! So, here we go.
Engdahl: And the best part of the story is that we were all these songwriters sharing our new songs, and getting feedback from each other and all of that, and this new girl shows up with this beautiful voice and these wonderful songs. Like there was serious competition to walk her to her car when she left. There were like five of us walking her to her car.
Brokamp: And you won the competition.
Southwick: And you won!
Engdahl: Eventually. Eventually.
Southwick: Oh, that's so sweet! All right. So, remember those moments. You might think that you took one look at that person and thought, "I recognize them as an attractive human with a very symmetrical face," but according to science it's your subconscious playing matchmaker. Your subconscious processed their hair, their smell, their demeanor, their jawline or birthing hips and said, "Yup, this one is worth feeling pukey over."
Then comes the rush of hormones. All right, here comes some big words. Responding to cues from the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland releases norepinephrine, dopamine, and phenylethanolamine, which is a natural amphetamine also called the "molecule of love." We'll get back to that amphetamine part, by the way. Also, estrogen and testosterone. This chemical cocktail produces the euphoria of new love and all the shenanigans that go along with it, such as like punching guys in the kidney on the way to drop Audrey off to her car. I know you did it.
Infatuation begins to normalize typically six to 24 months into a relationship as the attachment hormones. Now we're talking about vasopressin and oxytocin, the cuddle hormone. They start to kick in. You're out of the cuckoo-crazy brain phase and into the let's make a baby brain phase...
Southwick: ... because vasopressin and oxytocin are also responsible for a mother bonding with her baby. Aw! This is where love becomes a warm, snuggly blanket.
So, even though love sickness has been around since the days of Solomon and well before [after all, he's the one who said, "Comfort me with apples, for I am lovesick"], it wasn't until 1979 that Dr. Dorothy Tennov coined a phrase for it: limerence.
Southwick: Have you heard that before? Yeah, I know. What a weird word. Limerence. It's like you have limerick and I don't know...
Southwick: Ants came together. So, what's the difference between love and limerence? Well, some experts believe that limerence is what everyone goes through with a new love. Others believe limerence is only those for extreme cases where you obsess over someone at the expense of your career, family, or health.
One expert described it as obsessive-compulsive disorder combined with addiction, because remember, we talked about phenylethanolamine, the natural amphetamine that gets released when you're in the infatuation phase. Apparently your limerent brain is the way a drug addict feels trying to get their next fix, except your next fix is the possibility of running into that certain someone at the water cooler. Limerence can last years -- even decades -- and it can be pretty destructive to your happiness and the happiness of those around you since basically you're constantly chasing a high, and that high is new infatuation.
Also, in googling and researching limerence, I found out that it's also a Norwegian luxury brand watchmaker on Kickstarter.
Engdahl: It's also how I feel when I come to record this podcast.
Southwick: Oh, schmoopie! So, there you have it. That's love sickness. We're sick. Tomorrow's the day of love. The science of love sickness. You can woo your schmoopie by reminding them what it felt like and all the hormones that were flooding your brain when you guys all met however many years ago.
Brokamp: Twenty-something years ago. It's been a while.
Southwick: Yeah, it's been a while, but we still love them. That's the show, I guess. I don't know. The postcards keep coming in thanks to our own Uncle Traveling Matt. If you remember Fraggle explorer on Fraggle Rock, he sends Gobo postcards from his adventures in the world. You've never seen Fraggle Rock, Bro. Rick, you've seen Fraggle Rock, right?
Engdahl: Of course.
Southwick: You remember Uncle Traveling Matt. Well, our Uncle Traveling Matt is 50 Billion Cent because he sent a card from Boston and India...
Southwick: ... so thank you for still sending those in. I appreciate it, because I stopped asking for them a long time ago. But 50 Billion Cent keeps sending them in.
Engdahl: Is he also the one who said that you guys should be Fraggles?
Southwick: I don't believe so, because that was a listener at a ONE event.
Southwick: He said that you were Boober and I was Red, which is so right. It's so right. You're such a Boober!
Brokamp: If you say so.
Southwick: Anyway, so yes, that's the show. It's edited lyrically by Rick Engdahl with flowers in his hair and fairies floating around the room. We can see them. Oh, again, that's probably the DayQuil at work, isn't it? Uhh. Woof. All right, so, yeah. For Robert Brokamp, I'm Alison Southwick. Stay Foolish everybody, and happy Valentine's Day! Mrrww.