According to a survey conducted by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), financial matters are the most common source of discord in marriages. The survey found that financial matters are the source of three arguments per month, on average, among married couples.
Seeing eye to eye on financial matters goes beyond just making spending, saving and budgeting decisions. You and your spouse should also try to make sure you’re on the same page when it comes to your investments — or more specifically, how much risk you’re taking in your investment portfolio.
Risk-Taking vs. Risk-Averse Spouse
Problems can arise when one spouse is risk-averse while the other spouse is more of a risk-taker. Often times the risk-taking spouse is the dominant voice when it comes to making financial decisions, which can cause the portfolio to be comprised of riskier investments. If the markets fall and the portfolio suffers a loss, the risk-averse spouse could panic and insist on selling positions while the market is down. This kind of short-term, panic-induced behavior can negatively impact long-term investment performance.
Another potential problem when spouses aren’t in agreement about portfolio risk is friction in the marriage. Even if the risk-averse spouse doesn’t insist on selling positions during a market downturn, he or she is likely to get upset about the losses. This can lead to blame, fights and arguments — none of which are conducive to a healthy marriage.
Practical and Emotional Sides of Risk
It’s important to distinguish between the practical and emotional sides of assuming risk in a portfolio.
On the practical side, couples that are relatively young can usually afford to assume more risk because they have more time to make up potential short-term losses. That’s why many experts recommend that young couples construct a portfolio that’s weighted more heavily with riskier securities like equities and high-yield bonds, and then dial back their risk as they age and get closer to retirement.
But there’s also an emotional side to risk — this is where the proverbial “can you sleep at night” question comes in. Regardless of practical considerations, some spouses simply have a risk-averse personality. For them, constructing a portfolio that’s weighted more heavily with riskier securities just isn’t something they’re comfortable doing, regardless of their age.
Open Communication is Critical
This is why communication about security selection and risk aversion is so important. If married couples don’t talk openly about this, either the risk-averse or risk-taking spouse might take control and make all the investing decisions. Then if things don’t work out, the other spouse might lash out and blame him or her, leading to an ugly fight and/or emotional investing decisions that hurt long-term performance.
You and your spouse should sit down with your investment advisor and talk openly and honestly about your feelings toward investment risk. In doing so, a risk-averse spouse might understand that with a long-term investing horizon of 20 to 30 years, assuming a little more risk might be a good idea. Conversely, if you’re close to retirement, a risk-taking spouse might see that dialing back risk is probably a wise move.
There might also be ways to compromise and meet in the middle when it comes to risk management. For example, you might choose stocks or stock mutual funds that are more conservative, thus offering a less-risky way to still gain exposure to equities. You can have a more aggressive portfolio but dial it back a little, helping the more risk-averse spouse feel more comfortable and “sleep better at night.”
Advice for Both Spouses
If you are more of a risk taker, remember that your risk-averse spouse can provide a balancing effect and thus help you keep risk in check. If you don’t need to have a portfolio heavily weighted in equities, then why construct one like this and cause undue stress and pressure on your spouse?
Meanwhile, if you are more risk-averse, you need to remember that constructing a portfolio that’s too conservative can also be a problem. For example, if you invest all of your assets in low-yield money market accounts, it will be very difficult to achieve the returns necessary to meet your long-term investing goals.
Facilitating Open Discussions
At ACG, we help couples have these kinds of discussions so they can see eye to eye when it comes to portfolio risk management. During our meetings, we make sure that both spouses have an opportunity to talk openly and honestly about their feelings toward investment risk.
This is the best way to avoid misunderstandings that can lead to arguments that put marriages in jeopardy and lead to poor investing decisions based on emotions, rather than a long-term investing plan. To learn more, please give us a call.