Two Brains May be Better than One When it Comes to Your Family Finances

We’ve all heard of the book entitled, “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” by author John Gray and we’ve likely experienced major differences in how our spouses think and react during discussions.  A recent WSJ article, Differences in How Men and Women Think are Hard-Wireddiscussed the results of a brain scan study done at the University of Pennsylvania, which is showing scientists just how different the genders really are.  The brain scans show male brains have more neural connections within each hemisphere (front to back), while women’s brains have more connections between hemispheres (right to left).  These scans suggest that men may be better wired for more focused tasks requiring attention to one thing at a time and women may be better wired for multitasking and analytical thought.  While scientists continue to examine and disagree on the intricacies of the human brain, gender, and how this may ultimately translate into thought and behavior, I take a different approach to these findings.

While we may not all agree on specific genders having superior abilities in particular areas, I do believe that for most couples, each spouse brings a particular set of strengths to the table.  In having these strengths, it is sometimes easy for couples to take the approach of “divide and conquer” in particular roles in the family.  One may handle the organizational aspects of the family, while another deals with the dollars and cents for the family.  What we sometimes see as a result in the area of the family’s finances is one spouse being entirely involved and engaged, while the other spouse takes a hands-off approach and may be completely ignorant of all things financial.  In many cases, the uninvolved spouse takes this approach because they have the ultimate trust in their spouse.  While I am thankful there is this level of trust between spouses, I would caution that this approach may present some difficulties for an uninvolved spouse in later life.  Additionally, it may be shortchanging the breadth and depth of your planning, by not engaging that second brain, which research suggests is wired and connected differently.

First, because life is uncertain, having both spouses involved in financial conversations helps ensure that in the event of an untimely death, there will be no financial surprises.  I have seen the impact an untimely death can have on an uninformed spouse when suddenly thrust into the role of primary financial decision-maker.  Worse yet is when this happens and the deceased spouse also left a financial mess for the survivor to sort out.  This doesn’t mean that one spouse can’t still take the primary role of financial guru, but it should not be occurring in isolation of the other spouse.  Second, by having both spouses involved and engaged in their financial decision-making and planning for the future, your family is benefiting from multiple perspectives and different viewpoints.  This can serve to elevate the discussion with approaches and options which may never have been considered without the second spouse present.  Because each spouse brings different backgrounds and biases to their thinking, as well as any neural connection differences which may exist, the conversations are enhanced and deepened with the engagement of both spouses.

If you are a trusting partner who has always deferred all things financial to your spouse, I encourage you to engage in these discussions and learn.  Know what your family’s financial situation entails.  This does not show a lack of trust on your part; it shows a desire to participate fully in the future well-being of your family.  And as research is showing, it may be that a second perspective added to the discussions can be a very valuable asset to your financial future.