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The situation

You’re advising a new couple and neither person is following your recommendations, straining your relationship—and probably theirs. You’ve spoken primarily with one spouse, but you suspect the partner is undermining your advice when they’re together at home. How do you handle it? By learning what’s important to each person.

First, make sure you know each spouse’s goals and volatile issues. You may have to meet with them separately, and then summarize both spouses’ concerns at a group meeting.

At that meeting, establish some common ground and delve into points of contention.

ASK

What goals do you both agree on?

NOT

Can I just work with you and leave your husband out of the loop?

ASK

When working with an advisor, what works best for you?

NOT

Do you have a problem with me?

ASK

Is there something I can do to make amends?

NOT

When are you going to get over this?

ASK

Seems like my recommendations aren’t fitting with your plan. What am I missing about your situation?

NOT

Why aren’t you listening to my recommendations?

Also, watch body language. How relaxed are they when you ask questions? If they cross their arms and move away from each other, they’re not on the same page.

Then find out each person’s investing knowledge. One spouse may have a firm grasp of the markets and the household finances, so she does all the talking; while the other looks bored. Your job is to explain concepts in terms they both can understand, and you can’t let the first meeting end until you’re reasonably comfortable that’s happened.

Show how each recommendation helps each spouse. One might be concerned about cash flow, while another is thinking about retirement. Demonstrate how a particular asset allocation achieves both goals. Reiterate the point until they demonstrate buy-in. They may look at each other and nod. Then ask if you can move forward with the recommendations.

If you sense one party doesn’t like you, discuss what would work from now on. If the couple needs more time to ponder recommendations, give them a week to make a decision privately before re-conferring with you. The condition: once they decide, they have to stick with it. That way, you’re not chasing them for a response, and you don’t make recommendations they’ll just reject later.

Talk to the spouse with whom your relationship is stronger and ask for input. Say, “Your husband and I aren’t hitting it off. Any suggestions on how to handle that?” Her response should give you a starting point for future interactions, and will be more useful because she knows how they deal with conflict.

Originally published in Advisor's Edge