While I typically present about love and money, it could easily be stated as loving money. Guiding couples through the love and money discussion may just end up with a scenario of the couple loving their money story—“loving money.”
For individuals, money has reportedly been the top stressor for the past decade (with the exception of last year when politics took over the number 1 spot; APA, 2017). For couples, money is the consistently the top source of conflict (Dew, Britt, & Huston, 2012).
Theoretically, when faced with potentially stressful situations, individuals first evaluate whether a real threat exists…i.e., does the conversation have the ability to reduce relationship satisfaction? If so, the person then begins to evaluate available resources. For instance, have they experienced a similar situation in the past and have some ideas of what works/doesn’t work? Do they know how to broach the conversation of money with their partner? If resources are insufficient, stress results. With heightened stress comes more negative communication, which can stand in the way of developing a purposeful long-term financial plan.
Through research we learned that facilitators (including those trained in therapy and those trained in financial counseling and planning) can effectively reduce stress through money conversations revolving around core beliefs and values, emotional dimensions, and cultural influences and how these influence the couple’s relationship.
What does “effectively” really mean?
Developing curriculum to develop curriculum is fine. Publishing papers to publish papers is fine. But, to publish research that guides and informs curriculum and then researching the curriculum to publish results is what we call empirically-informed curriculum.
With the help of many students and volunteers and a willing and able funding agency, I was able to do just that. We know from research that what happens early in the relationship related to money conversations is highly predictive of later satisfaction and divorce (Britt & Huston, 2012). We also have evidence, through research, of various aspects contributing to relationship satisfaction and divorce through the years. We built those pieces into the curriculum and tested it with some willing couples. They completed a pre-test, post-test, and three month follow-up test. Results showed that couples experienced a reduction in the stress finances put on their relationship and increased happiness with their finances, communication, and household responsibilities. Even more importantly, given the impact stress has on the relationship and ability to accomplish long-term goals, we found that stress reduction was sustained three months following the conclusion of the curriculum.
We modified the curriculum based on couples’ feedback and recruited new facilitators—a Certified Financial Planner® professional, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and an undergraduate family studies student—who had no previous exposure to the curriculum. We wanted to know whether they could produce similar results just by following the curriculum. Great news! “It worked.” In other words, across all facilitators, couples experienced a reduction in the stress finances put on their relationship and increased happiness with their finances and communication. Like the initial test, stress reduction was sustained three months following the conclusion of the curriculum.
Incorporating empirically-based curriculum and programming is simply best-practice. It’s not time or cost effective to do something simply because we think it works. Offer programming that you have evidence will produce positive results for your clients. This will ultimately attract new clients and retain existing clients.
Note: To access the curriculum, please contact the funding agency, brightpeak financial at https://spotlight.brightpeakfinancial.com/catalyst-love-and-money-guidebook/
Guest Contributor: Danelle Rymsza, brightpeak