Dear Mrs. Riches:
My husband and I have very different approaches to money management. He's the fearful conservative; I'm the entrepreneurial risk-taker. For the duration of our seven-year marriage, he has been in charge of managing our long-term financial dealings (investment and retirement accounts), while I manage the short-term (bill-paying and balancing the checkbook). I have to say that, after looking at our portfolio's performance, I think he's done a rotten job. By staying so safe, he's made us miss out on some big opportunities. I haven't said anything for fear of hurting his feelings, but I'm getting to the point where I'm about to let loose with all the nasty thoughts. Any ideas before I say something I regret?
Dear Getting Itchy:
Let's be real: It's easy to point out all the glorious might-have-beens and ignore that risk is, well, risky. It may well be that your portfolio would have skyrocketed under your management, but you'll never know for certain. It's also possible that you would have lost a lot of money in the process of aiming higher. No matter how successful anyone is, there is always the one that got away.
For the sake of your marriage, I'd give up on all the what-ifs and finger-pointing, even in your head. Use all of that energy to focus on the future. Though it's clear that you and your husband have different money-management styles, instead of seeing that as a drawback, view it as an asset. In fact, studies suggest that, even when different styles are involved, it's the couples who work together (and therefore balance each other out) who come out ahead.
One thing is certain: Wrestling the reins from him is sure to backfire, as it may well come across as a lack of trust or a downright condemnation. You will vent your displeasure; he will feel attacked. No one will win. Instead, use those fabulous communication skills and work to renegotiate your agreement about how to handle the long-term finances. Try something like this: "I would love it if both of us could be more involved in our overall financial health. Let's make a date to talk about how we can work together on both the bills and on our longer-term goals." Or start the conversation off by referring to an article like "4 Rules of Asset Allocation" by The Motley Fool's own Rex Moore. Invite your husband to take a look, along with you, at how well your current portfolio follows the rules.
If the two of you are still at odds, despite the genuine attempts to forge a partnership, it's time to bring in an expert. Sadly, there aren't too many marital therapists out there who are expert at helping couples with money issues; likewise, there aren't many financial advisors who address underlying emotional dynamics. To decide which type of professional to consult, you'll have to be honest about what's going on. Is it truly just a matter of style or is there larger, unresolved emotional baggage that is undercutting the marriage? If it's not obvious, just pick a place to start. A financial planner (a fee-only planner would be a good choice here) will help you develop a financial roadmap that addresses risk tolerance and recommends a plan for asset allocation. If, despite the plan, you are still seething about money issues, get thee to a marriage and family therapist.
Want to get your money conversations off to a great start? Try:
- Don't Let Money Kill the Mood
- The Motley Fool's Guide to Couples and Cash
- A Financial Manifesto for Couples
Fool contributor Elizabeth Brokamp is a licensed professional counselor who regularly talks money with her honey, Robert Brokamp, editor of The Motley Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.