The SMOOTH Way To Talk To Your Man About His Money

Financial tension is responsible for a large amount of failed relationships.  I advise my clients, and especially the female ones, that marriage is a business, a transaction, an investment. Romance is for the movies.  It’s 2013 and female breadwinners are on the rise, but they find themselves, quiet sadly, more likely to be cheated on and/or divorced.  It doesn’t have to be this way!  Many of my female clients have confessed to me that they can’t talk to their husbands about how much of the household income he spends, or about wanting him to make more money.  Female breadwinner syndrome doesn’t have to split happy couples apart. The problem has a unique solution: the SMOOTH Method for talking to your man about money.  It involves hard work, planning, education, and communication.  The conversation doesn’t have to be embarrassing, tense, or emasculating.  It can bring you closer together by teaching you to work better as a team.  Read this newsletter to learn the Do’s and Don’ts that you should incorporate into the convo, and it will help create stable, happier, more prosperous relationships that overcome adversity.

So here you are, you strove at a top graduate school and now you’re working at a prestigious firm, earning six figures and banking $10-15k per year in retirement savings while paying down those loans. You meet Superman and he sweeps you off your feet.  He’s got a great job, and even better, he’s diligent about taking out the trash and an expert at hailing cabs in the rain.  Things couldn’t be better.  You would think this scenario means you’ll live happily ever after – however, quite sadly, when you fast forward through time, the reality becomes that the more you win in the Boardroom the less you win in your marriage.

The emergence of the alpha female, while a welcome change, can really twist a marriage to the breaking point.  Currently 40% of American women are breadwinners,[1] but their overachieving doesn’t stop when the work day ends; women are still doing 25% more housework than men.[2] The worst part of being a female breadwinner is that your man is five times as likely to cheat on you.[3] The sad fact is that if you are out earning your husband you are 40% more likely to get divorced – and the female pays the alimony.[4]

The best way to avoid female breadwinner syndrome is to marry an alpha male.  Quite simply, if you can avoid a slouch deal, avoid it.  Make sure he is who he says he before you sign the contract.  Both men and women should take simple precautions to reduce risk. Every time a client informs me that he or she has gotten engaged, I congratulate with a referral to a credit check and a criminal background check website.

Let’s face it: people lose their jobs. There’s nothing that can rip that “S” from your guy’s strapping chest any faster, but it doesn’t have to devastate the household.  A marriage is a business; it’s not a fairy tale like in the sappy movies.  He’s your partner and you two have to work together to turnaround a broken business.  It’s an equal partnership.  The woman isn’t the cheerleader anymore. The guy isn’t the quarterback calling all the plays.  You’ve got to have a huddle and figure out the next play so you can win the game for you and for your family.  If you can’t talk about money with your partner, you are inevitably going to lose the game.  Here’s the SMOOTH method, the rules of the game for talking to your guy if you want him to earn more.

  • Stop bullying.  A man’s ego is a more delicate thing than many women realize.  Remember that making less, he’s already embarrassed.  Let’s face it: if you torch his ego, he’ll withdraw and that’s when the cheating happens.  Sharing your friends’ or your parents’ opinions about his low paying job or his spending habits is just going to form a wedge in between you and him.  After the resolution, he’ll hold it against the third parties forever – and against you.  Telling him to “man up” is not constructive.  You’ve got to make sure that the tone of the conversation is positive.  So don’t have the conversation right after you get a whopping credit card bill that reflects how he drank too much Guinness with his buddies last month.
  • Motivate.  If you are more successful than your guy, inspire him to win like you – that way you can have double the alpha earners in the household!  Positive energy is contagious.  Support him by telling him some of those success secrets.  When he makes more bread, knowing you were a part of him getting there, he’ll love you double.
  • Only focus on today.  Highly successful business people know they need to focus on what they can control, not what they can’t, in order to win.  Don’t dwell on the past.  Work together on a forward looking business plan that incorporates a budget, an income augmentation strategy, and a set of deliverables with a carefully strategized schedule.
  • Objective Officials.  You may need to appoint a referee to officiate the game. Reaching out to professionals such as financial advisors, tax planners, estate attorneys, etc. can help limit bias and emotional influence in your decisions.  Worried about the cost?  Think about the bills you’ll pay from the shrink or a divorce lawyer, or paying alimony indefinitely.  Numerous married men have come to me clearly stating that they intend to hire me to manage their money so that their wives blame someone else in the case of a bad market.
  • Take “you” out of the convo. Blaming isn’t going to get you to the win.  Marriage is a business; just like we have to watch our tone when we communicate with our coworkers in sensitive situations, we have to do the same at home.  Carefully choosing the verbs is key when you talk about money.  Depersonalize the possessive adjectives, and be specific when you ask for something.  For example, instead of “you’re not bringing enough bread home” or “your income is too small”, try something like “the total income would need to be 30% higher in order to make this come out the way we would like it to.”
  • Honesty. Don’t lie about your income, your spending, your debt.  Both partners have to put their pride aside.  The numbers catch up with you faster than you think. If you splurged, own up to it to your partner and move on.

[1] Susan Gregory Thomas,“When the Wife Has a Fatter Paycheck”, Wall Street Journal, July 27, 2012.

[2] Samhita, “Sixty Percent of Women are the Primary Breadwinner, But Still Doing Most of the Housework”, June 26, 2012.

[3] Yager, Jane. “Men More Likely to Cheat on Female Breadwinners,” Newser, August 17, 2010.

[4] Burke, Cathy, “Women’s Divorce ‘Curse’”, New York Post, September 10, 2010.