I have learned a lot in over 35 years of doing this. And I am still learning. But I can give you something I have learned which constitutes the greatest financial advice you will ever receive as it relates to dealing with money with your partner. No matter what needless package arrives, what cockamamie get-rich-quick scheme is suggested, or what conversation you are about to have for the umpteenth time, if you want to stay in relationship with your partner then never roll your eyes.
The eye roll is the ultimate action of contempt and, as Arthur C. Brooks writes in his book, "Love Your Enemies," "No contempt is ever justified, even if, in the heat of the moment, you think someone deserves it." Once the eye roll occurs, the conversation is over.
While money is neutral, our responses to money are complicated. What is obvious to one is more obscure to another. The most important thing we can do with our partner around money is create opportunities for conversation.
While Brooks' book is mostly about politics, there are some financial planning applications. One of the challenges that couples with money conflicts face is that when they are misaligned, each person tends to think that their position is right. Brooks describes, "motive attribution asymmetry [as] the phenomenon of assuming that your ideology is based in love, while your opponent's ideology is based in hate." With money, while our partner is not our opponent and we are talking spending rather than ideology, we still ascribe motives to their behaviors that we feel are less pure than our own.
The answer to this asymmetry is to understand the collective vision and actions a partner can take to move in that direction. Once the vision is understood, there still may be disagreements over the tactics involved. For example, one of our client couples was retiring. Their vision was to be able to spend time away from Minnesota in the winter. One wanted to buy a second home and one wanted to rent. There are advantages and disadvantages to either choice, but the conversation needed to focus on the most appropriate tactic rather than, for example, devolving into why one person never takes big risks. By spending more time on their areas of agreement — where they want to be, what type of place they want — they could come to a joint decision.
While you and your partner may not agree on everything, start by agreeing to lose the eye roll.
Spend your life wisely.
Ross Levin is the chief executive and founder of Accredited Investors Wealth Management in Edina.