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Avoid 1 Fight These Holidays? – How Couples Can Talk About Wealth

Photo by Attentie Attentie on Unsplash

In 2013, a study in the Journal of Family Relations found that the single greatest predictive factor for divorce were arguments about money.  (Study here).   There is no doubt that intra-relationship conflict about money is like playing Russian roulette with several chambers loaded. 

Discussions about money are loaded with both the good and bad each partner brings to the relationship.  On the positive side, wealth and its uses often make explicit a person’s core values and priorities.  On the negative, wealth can surface painful issues from one’s past.   Even relatively neutral considerations like sensible estate planning to manage future tax liabilities can be fraught with hidden or not-so hidden fault-lines.  Just recently, I spoke with one family where the matriarch and patriarch felt like their estate plan was moving wealth to future generations to such a degree that it was harming their ability to accomplish their own financial priorities.

So how to wade into and through such uncertain territory?

First let me caveat by saying that I am not a therapist (nor have I played one on TV or stayed at a Holiday Inn Express recently).   Many of these dynamics would be best addressed in that sort of forum.  As a strategist and advisor to families, I work with them regarding how best to move forward – i.e. what is the best path for success and how to get there.

From that perspective, what I would suggest is that much marital conflict regarding wealth has its roots in the fact that neither party in the relationship have wrestled their own issues regarding wealth to the ground.  As such, we should not be surprised when our own issues and insecurities come face to face with our spouse and the results are highly combustible. 

In my forthcoming book When Anything is Possible, I walk through the need for each person to navigate their own Financial Identity before they can begin to make decisions regarding wealth.   Building a joint identity cannot be fully completed until each individual has made substantive progress to that end.  The challenge in relationship is that we are faced with the task of building the plane while flying it.

Unearthing or Articulating Your Wealth Identity

To articulate a Wealth Identity, I have found it helpful for individuals to utilize a tool I have developed called the Money-Self Framework (“MSF”).  While certainly not rocket science, the MSF is an attempt to systematize in a single diagram all the various facets of life that could impact your thinking regarding wealth.

Only once each partner has worked through the framework and questions, can they begin the challenge of building a path forward together.  By identifying key areas before an emotionally charged moment occurs, dialogue can take place with hopefully lower emotional stakes.  As well, it allows each person to place issues with the right “owner” – i.e. what are my issues?  Your issues?  And our issues? 

If you are curious to learn more about the concept of Wealth Identity – visit my book website where you can download a free chapter on the topic of Wealth Identity.

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