My friend Susan enjoyed a highly successful career as a consultant in the medical field, in a business that she built from the ground up. When she retired after 35 years, she expected to spend time traveling and golfing with her husband. But he had already grown into his own golf routine, having retired some years before her, and she didn’t seem to fit into his schedule. After 45-plus years of marriage, Susan suddenly found herself very alone.
I suspected that her ex-husband was actually resentful of her career. She was self-admittedly a workaholic. She excelled at her work, she was well known and recognized in her field, and it gave her tremendous satisfaction. This was a hard cycle to step out of. While she was traveling to see clients, he was building a life of his own.
I don’t know if better communication could have solved their issues, but at least she wouldn’t have been blindsided the way that she was when the marriage ended in divorce. Financially, she landed on her feet. Emotionally, she was devasted.
The rise of “gray divorce” is very real. I’ve heard from multiple colleagues recently about marriages that suddenly and unexpectedly upended after decades of marriage. In many cases, infidelity was involved. And while infidelity may be cited as the reason for a split, it’s often a symptom of a deeper issue.
It’s also easier to say, “He cheated,” than to say “I was a workaholic for 35 years, my husband resented me for it, he left me emotionally years ago, but I didn’t know how truly hurt he was until it was too late.”
“Sex and money are known to present challenges in relationships, and can absolutely affect our clients’ financial wellness.”
As a financial advisor, it’s unlikely that I will have a conversation about sex and money with my clients during a periodic review. But sex and money are known to present challenges in relationships, and can absolutely affect our clients’ financial wellness. What to do?
These tough conversations are a big reason that I launched a podcast, FRESH OFF THE VINE. Growing up, many of us were taught that it’s not polite to talk about money (Sex, that wasn’t even something our parents said out loud.), so we didn’t. But then we find ourselves in the world, in careers, and in relationships, and we need to talk about money. But we don’t know how, because we never did.
As advisors, we may be comfortable talking about money, but it’s in the mathematical sense. It’s retirement contribution limits and tax deductions and compound interest. Nowhere in our licensing is there a segment on navigating highly sensitive relationship dynamics that are ignited by money.
Similarly, this is exactly why Dr. Joy Lere, a clinical psychologist, leaned into behavioral finance: She realized that money was consistently coming up with her patients, regardless of the presenting issue. She joined me recently on the podcast to share insight into why couples may use sex and/or money to play “emotional show and tell,” plus strategies to get couples on the same page. It’s as close as you can get to 30 minutes of free therapy!
Most advisors aren’t trained or certified to provide therapy, but we can share resources and point our clients in the right direction. Depending on the relationship you have with your clients, this might be sharing an article or a podcast, or it might be sharing the name of a therapist. Before it comes to sharing the name of a divorce attorney, here are a few tips you can share with clients from Dr. Lere.
We can all work to become more financially self-aware. Ask yourself, “What am I bringing to the table —what experiences, beliefs, values, assumptions, habits do I hold? What is my partner bringing to the table? How are we similar and/or different?” Recognize that we all bring different stories and baggage to the table. Instead of dwelling on the differences and challenges, work towards “building an empathy bridge … and a shared vision.”
So let’s say you have clients arguing about how much to spend on a summer vacation. Try using some of these tips to help them refocus the conversation. Find out what is most important to them — is it spending time together as a family, creating traditions, unplugging? If they can agree on a shared vision, it will be easier to make decisions together.
We’ve all seen clients (or ourselves) fall into the avoidance death-spiral at some point. You know, the one that begins by avoiding a stressful issue, only to have it fester and grow into an even bigger issue, leaving one feeling so ashamed and overwhelmed that they don’t know where to begin. How can we help clients break this vicious cycle?
When it comes to addressing money issues, try suggesting a monthly date to stay connected. Make it productive by opening up issues that have been neglected, like money. Dr. Lere suggests using a tactic called “temptation bundling.” This is where you combine two activities, one that you need to be doing but find yourself procrastinating on, and another activity that you truly enjoy.
This monthly date could be opening a bottle of wine or going for a hike on the first Friday of the month, and having a conversation that is geared towards understanding and being empathetic. You might ask one another, “What brought you joy this week? What was hard? How can I help you in the week ahead? Is there anything left unspoken that you would like to talk about?”
As Dr. Lere points out, “money is a way that couples communicate other things.” Your client may be overspending on Amazon, for example, because she is angry and feels neglected by her spouse who seems to be more devoted to working all hours of the week. This is an example of how we use money to play “emotional show and tell” because there is a lack of effective communication. If your clients are struggling with similar issues, encourage them to focus on telling, not showing.
Dr. Lere also notes that “all dynamics are co-created,” so it is important that you hold yourself accountable and not just lay blame elsewhere. Lastly, be thoughtful of time and place for conversations on hot-button issues. It’s difficult to have these conversations if emotions are running high; you want to “strike when the iron is cold.”
Click here to access the full episode with Dr. Joy Lere.
Karen Coyne, CFP® is the founder of Clarity Planning, an independent financial planning practice at Raymond James. She is also the podcast host of FRESH OFF THE VINE™, and loves to explore the myriad of ways that finances intersect with so many other aspects of our lives. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Clarity Planning offers investment advisory services through Raymond James Financial Services Advisors, Inc. Any opinions are those of Karen Coyne and not necessarily those of Raymond James.