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Finding a middle ground when couples disagree

Matt Pais

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When spouses fight over financial planning, advisors can get caught in the middle. But there are simple ways to handle the conflict.

MAYBE individuals in a family have different views of their expenses. Maybe they don’t have the same understanding of what you’ve presented. Either way, how do you navigate a meeting in which clients are arguing with each other?

During a recent recording of the MDRT Podcast, members shared strategies to manage these situations and ensure everyone reaches a positive resolution.

Brandon Green, ChFC, CLU, 10-year member from Houston, Texas: In the old days, we were taught the ping-pong concept. When one spouse disagrees with the other, if that ball goes across the net three or four times, you’re pretty much going to lose control. I had a situation where the spouses were arguing about how much coverage was appropriate. Finally I stepped in and said “Is it OK if I ask a question?” The client said, “So you’re a marriage counselor?” I said, “No, but if it’s OK, let me talk to your spouse. I think I might be able to solve this for you.” He smiled at me and said, “OK, go ahead.”

I turned to the wife and said, “What if we had X amount of coverage?” And she said, “I just want to make sure I’m OK.” “What if we had Y amount of coverage?” And we go down this process of doubling and tripling and quadrupling the coverage and at each point, her response was the same. I turned to the husband and said, “Tell your wife it’s going to be OK.” He turned to her and said, “Honey, with everything else we have in place, the other coverages, this will be enough. You’re going to be OK.” And she looked at him and said, “That sounds great.”

Dana Mitchell, CLU, CFP, five-year member from Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Most conflicts I’ve seen between couples in the office surround understanding what it costs to run the household. One person may look after certain expenses, and the other looks after different expenses. I think that sometimes there is not a clear understanding of the full picture. And then that’s where “Oh, we don’t need that amount of coverage” or “We need more coverage” comes from.

To manage that, when we do the initial plan, we do a budget and know what their spending is like. We can go back to that and say, “We did a budget when we did your wealth accumulation planning; this is what you’ve got right now, this is what you’re willing to save. If that X amount is what we have insured, then we’re going to have to cut this budget down. So let’s just sit here and talk about this amount in a meaningful way and cut the budget down to see if that amount of coverage is right.”

When you bring it down to real numbers, it diffuses that argument and brings attention to what’s needed and what’s cut. Then you’re talking about real things. Because when you talk about cutting the amount in half, that can happen on paper but what does it mean for the real picture? Do both people understand that?

Everett Revere Foxx, five-year member from Glen Allen, Virginia: I think it goes a little bit to what Brandon was saying. They’re not really understanding each other at that point and what the overall goal of that plan is. So I will ask both of the parties, “What’s most important to you at this point? Because maybe I’m not understanding or maybe your spouse is not understanding what’s really important to you.”

In that case, maybe I am a marriage counselor, I don’t know. I think they just want to understand each other and their goals. Then I’m mediating, but at the same time, if we’re all heading in the same direction, we may have to compromise just a little to make everyone happy.

Green: When you first get in the business, the role that I see most advisors take on is really more of a cop. “You need to do this. These are the consequences if you don’t.” And slowly we move from that function to more of a coach and then ultimately a consultant. It’s really understanding, as you get more seasoned, when do you stand in each of those roles? Every situation is a little bit different, and sometimes all within the same meeting you might have to fill every single one of those roles. 

Hear the rest of the conversation at


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