A new kind of marriage counseling

Marketplace Staff Nov 20, 2009

A new kind of marriage counseling

Marketplace Staff Nov 20, 2009


TESS VIGELAND: The biggest fight of my marriage was over a mailbox. We’d just bought our first house. I wanted something bigger than the mail slot. At Home Depot, I eyed something pretty and expensive. He picked up the plain, cheap black box. Yeah, I murmured, wouldn’t want to spend too much money, would we? The drive home was, well, unpleasant.

‘Course it wasn’t really about the mailbox. It was my implication that he was cheap. Turns out we needed it to happen so we’d actually sit down and have a conversation about money.
Did we need a therapist? Well, it wasn’t that bad. Did we need a financial planner? Probably. A combination of the two? Perfect. And a new clinic in Manhattan, Kan., is researching the idea.

Sylvia Maria Gross of station KCUR recently paid a visit.

Sylvia Maria Gross: Professors John Grable and Kristy Archuleta opened the Personal Financial Planning Clinic in January.

John Grable: So this is more the traditional therapy room.

There’s an armchair, a couch, and on a side table, a box of tissues.

Kristy Archuleta: Just the way they sit, tells you a lot about the situation. If they’re trying to sit on the arms of the couch, then that indicates they might not be getting along so well. If they’re sitting closer, you might think, “Oh, a little more promising today.”

The room next door is a more typical financial planner’s office, with a table, chairs and a laptop computer. Then there’s a room with two arm chairs and a big, flat screen TV.

Archuleta: This is his room — this is a very “man” room.

Grable: It’s not! This is…

Archuleta: Look at the TV.

Here, couples can fill out financial assessments side-by-side with remote controls.

Grable: So here’s the pie chart of the husband and the pie chart of the wife and then here’s what you look like blended.

Gross: Sounds a little like the Newlywed Game.

Grable: It is the Newlywed Game! But people love that.

If you look carefully, the rooms are all equipped with cameras and microphones. And hidden behind the front entrance to the clinic is a set of monitors and headphones, where researchers can study how couples respond to the different techniques and environments.

Grable: So that both Kristy and I can be here, looking from at different perspectives. This one’s going well, this one’s not.

They’re using this set-up to develop and test a set of procedures for a new type of service, which blends counseling with specific financial advice. So far, the clinic is only open one day a week. And since January, they’ve treated about a dozen clients, all for free. For some couples, it takes a couple of meetings before they can even start talking about their finances.

When Kristy Archuleta meets with clients, she dispenses some unusual advice, for a financial planner.

Archuleta: Maybe it’s go to a movie. Go out and eat some dinner together. Leave the kids at home, if you have kids and spend some time talking to each other about something else.

Grable: Most financial planners would fall out of their chairs even thinking about that recommendation. It would just blow their mind to actually do that.

Grable knows. He used to be that typical financial planner.

Grable: I could create a budget for you, cash flow, net worth, fund your retirement or your kids’ education.

But when it came to dealing with couple’s issues, he says he didn’t know what to do.

Grable: My general solution was to excuse myself from the room and let the couple go at it and knock on the door gently five minutes later and say, “Is it OK for me to come back in?”

Grable says many financial planners are not equipped to deal with couples who don’t see eye-to-eye on spending, insurance or retirement planning — major life issues.

Grable: Financial planners have no standard operating procedure. So every planner is doing it their own way, and they all think they’re doing it the right way.

Grable now heads the Institute of Personal Financial Planning at Kansas State University, which is one of only two schools in the country offering a Ph.D. in the field. And there, he began working with Kristy Archuleta, who teaches marriage counseling. She says that while financial planners may not know how to work with people’s emotions, therapists don’t necessarily understand money.

Archuleta: We’re going to look and we’re going to deal with those feelings and thoughts about guilt and shame and trust in the relationship. But once we work on those issues we don’t know how to take it any further than that; we weren’t trained. Many of the psychologists don’t know how to deal with their own personal finances, how are we comfortable dealing with somebody else’s?

Archuleta actually is comfortable with it. She has a joint Ph.D. in counseling and financial planning. Over the years, she’s developed strategies to help couples resolve conflicts, and then set up solid financial plans. Now at the clinic, she and Grable want to test her approach and develop a set of procedures that blend therapy and financial planning.

Grable: So if we can train students and practitioners to have the skills of both, wouldn’t clients be significantly better off in the long run? We think that this is the future.

This might be the only clinic of its kind, but Grable and Archuleta aren’t the only people experimenting with “financial therapy.” They recently met with 30 other practitioners to set up an association and will publish a journal next summer.

Grable thinks there’s an underserved market for financial planning, and if couples deal with some of their emotional issues around money, they might make better financial decisions.

In Manhattan, Kan., I’m Sylvia Maria Gross, for Marketplace Money.

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