How to Identify and Work with a Couple's Personality Differences

The following is an excerpt from Drs. Richard Peterson and Frank Murtha's book, MarketPsych: How to Manage Fear and Build Your Investor Identity.

A financial advisor we know worked with a married couple who were frequently bickering about each others’ budgeting and spending habits. The couple had argued over money issues since before they were married, and their advisor wanted to help them smooth their communication.

Usually their arguments went along these lines:

Husband: My wife won’t stop spending. She has no idea how wasteful she is being, and it makes me sick to think of all the money she is squandering. She just doesn’t get it.

Wife: He pesters me constantly about money, and it seems like his main focus is controlling me. We have plenty of money, I stay within our agreed budget, and I’d really like him to back off.

Their advisor wanted to see if he could gain any insight into their personalities. He asked them to take MarketPsych’s investment personality tests and report back to him with their results. Perhaps, he mused, he could smooth their communication about financial issues if there were some glaring discrepancies.

It turned out that both partners had high conscientiousness scores on their personality tests. In itself this is unremarkable. But what the advisor noticed of interest was that the husband’s score was “extremely high” while his wife’s was “high.” As they discussed their scores and the husband once again implied that his wife was wasteful and irresponsible, their advisor pointed out to the husband, “You know, your wife has a high score on conscientiousness. She follows the agreed budget, and she takes care of her financial duties. Maybe you’re being too hard on her because you’re extremely high in conscientiousness. No one will ever match up to your high standards. In fact, is there anyone you know who handles money to your satisfaction?”

The man paused and contemplated. “Well, I guess you’re right,” he said. From that day forward he was more accepting of his wife’s financial behavior, and while he had trouble agreeing to all her spending, he was able to stop “monitoring” her account statements. And most importantly, the couple no longer bickers about money.

Sometimes simply gaining insight into your strongest personality traits, and understanding how they color your views of the world around you, is enough to make lasting change.

As a financial advisor, have you ever worked with a couple and bumped up against a topic of conversation (whether inadvertently or not) and noticed tension? How did you deal with it at the time? We purposely built functionality for couples' divergences into Insights to help you, the advisor, by providing the tools necessary to successfully navigate these areas of disagreement.