When Spouses Engage Differently With You

Client communication is one of the most important facets of the advisor/client relationship. We want to do the best for each client (and spouse when it comes to a couple), but what do we do when the couple gives mixed signals or cannot seem to agree on making a decision?

A special thank you to Randy Luebke for this week’s topic. If you have a topic, question, or idea you would like me to write about, please email me.

The Optimal Couple

The optimal couple to work with is one where we meet with both spouses/partners and there is a consultative and collaborative approach to making decisions. Not just among the clients, but also including you – the advisor. We discuss pros/cons, talk about the known and unknown risks, and make sure all parties understand the situation equally, and come to a conclusion that best reflects their goals and preferences.

Not only can this result in making smart decisions, but it also ensures you forge a trusting and advisory relationship with each individuals in the couple. In the event that one gets sick or passes away, it should be easy to continue working with the other individual with little risk of losing the relationship. Advisors can explicitly state that they encourage both individuals come to meetings and be part of the decision-making process…but don’t press too much on that.

The Delegator Couple

It is common to find a couple where one is the decision maker and contact person for the couple, and the other takes a passive role. While this may not be optimal to you, it may be optimal for the couple – and that is what really matters. Each spouse/partner may have different interests and strengths, and choose within their relationship, to “divide and conquer.” This is why you can encourage both individuals to come to meetings and be a part of the decision process, but not press it.

This type of situation could increase the risk of losing the relationship when the main contact passes away, but not by much. So long as the contact person respects and finds value in your advice and the relationship, it is highly likely that the surviving spouse continues the relationship with you. After all, if their spouse trusted you, they are likely to continue doing the same.

The Problem Couple

This couple, as Randy describes it, is when you have one contact person that you speak with, but the spouse/partner has veto authority. They are not delegating the decision-making to their spouse, rather have become a “back seat driver.” The spouse/partner doesn’t want to be part of the discussion but will have strong opinions that may be contrary to what you the contact person decide. What do you do here?

There is no easy answer. This is not a good situation. As I pondered this situation over the week, I came up with two viable solutions:

  1. Have a frank discussion with both individuals. If that is not possible, then put your thoughts in email and send to both individuals. Share with them your frustration of their “process” and how it puts you in a difficult (impossible) situation of providing excellent advice and guidance, and not having the ability to have a discussion about it with both decision makers. Ask what you can do to facilitate the three of you meeting together going forward. At the very least, you will see if they understand or care about the precarious situation you are in.
  2. You may need to fire the clients. If spouses/partners cannot agree on financial decisions, you don’t want to be in the middle of that. If they don’t care about the difficult situation it puts you in, then that tells you exactly how (little) they value you as a person. It only takes one person to file a complaint, and we live in a litigious world. When clients don’t take our advice, we have no other option than to cease being their advisor.

Ultimately, the decision is yours. But I hope this gives you some food for thought as you decide how to approach differing client relationships.

– JAY

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