How to Involve a Disengaged Spouse in Household Finances
Written by: Harmony Wagner, CFP®
As financial advisors, we often work with married clients where only one spouse participates in the investment and financial planning discussions, and the other spouse is what we might consider “disengaged” from those topics. Even when one spouse does not seem interested in engaging in household financial matters, it is valuable to involve both parties in these conversations. Here are some ways to make progress when you feel that your spouse or partner is disengaged from the finance conversation.
In this article, I will discuss the following strategies for involving a disengaged spouse in financial discussions.
- Invite that person to the conversation.
- Identify topics of interest and/or concerns.
- Partner with a trusted financial advisor who is skilled at involving both spouses.
- Work towards financial organization.
Invite that person to the conversation.
Occasionally we work with clients who would describe their spouse as “uninterested” in any financial topics, only to learn that their spouse simply felt “uninvited” to those conversations. While it is common for couples to have one person who naturally handles financial management for the household, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the other person is apathetic towards the subject. Often, extending an invitation to participate in these conversations can be all that is needed to convert a seemingly disengaged spouse to an engaged one.
For some couples, especially those for whom money matters have historically been a source of conflict, it may be helpful to have an outside person, such as your trusted advisor, extend that invitation to your spouse instead, by requesting his or her presence at an upcoming review meeting for example.
Identify topics of interest and/or concerns.
Some people may not have any interest in learning about investments or taxes; however, they may feel more connected to areas such as estate planning, long-term care planning, charitable giving, or gifting to children or grandchildren. If you discover that your spouse or partner has a strong interest in one or more financial planning topics, you can focus on those to help them feel more connected and inspired by the conversation. On the contrary, while your spouse may not feel strong priorities or interests, he or she may have serious underlying concerns when it comes to finances. For a couple where one spouse has a pension without any survivorship benefit, the other may worry about what would happen to them if the pension owner were to pass away early in retirement. For a person who witnessed the financial effects of parents going into a nursing home without proper planning, he or she may be concerned about experiencing the same thing. Identifying each individual’s concerns and/or interests is a great way to bring both spouses into an active financial planning discussion.
Partner with a trusted financial advisor who is skilled at involving both spouses.
Financial advisors who are adept at connecting with disengaged spouses typically embody several qualities. First, you will want to work with someone who can speak knowledgeably on the areas of highest personal priority (i.e., estate planning, long term care strategies, planning for future generations, etc).
In addition, your advisor should be able to speak in easily understood terms on subjects that may be intimidating. Investments and tax planning are important elements of financial advisement; however, for a spouse who has historically avoided financial conversations because they were uninterested or intimidated by these subjects, it can be demotivating to hear technical jargon or boring details. Your advisor should be skilled at discussing these important topics at a high level without being condescending.
Finally, you will want to find an advisor that both you and your spouse can trust. Topics such as legacy planning, money values, and financial fears, are some of the most intimate discussions in life. It’s key that both parties have the opportunity to build a relationship with the advisor so they can speak openly and honestly and can feel comfortable reaching out to that advisor on their own if and when they ever needed to.
Work towards financial organization.
If you try to get your spouse engaged and are unsuccessful, you can still set them up for success by getting organized financially, so that if anything happened to you, your spouse or partner will know where everything is, and more importantly, who to contact for assistance. This may look like a binder or an online folder containing information about financial accounts, logins and passwords, and advisor contact information, along with copies of important documents such as wills, trusts, powers of attorney, etc. It may also be beneficial to involve another trusted family member, such as an adult child or sibling, who is aware of the location of that information as well so they can assist the surviving spouse with navigating personal finance on their own if the situation arises.
Even if your spouse or partner is not interested in learning about household finances currently, don’t give up hope. It’s not uncommon for a life event, such as the birth of a grandchild, a change in health status, or having to help a loved one enter long term care, to change someone’s perspective on getting involved. Keep the lines of communication open and positive, as you never know when a previously disengaged spouse may change his or her mind.
Financial planning, especially under a holistic framework, is so much more than maximizing investment performance. It encompasses all the elements that allow couples to align their wealth with their personal and family values. For that reason, it is incredibly important that both spouses be involved in the conversations to make their own individual priorities and values known, and so both have the chance to build a strong relationship with their advisor to build a good foundation for down the road when one spouse has passed.
If you are seeking a trusted advisor who can partner with you to involve your spouse in financial matters, please contact our team for a discussion.