From the January 2012 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

Helping Couples Get More in Sync

Sidebar to "Get Real"

How can couples communicate more effectively about retirement issues? In “The Couple’s Retirement Puzzle,” Taylor and Mintzer provide these guidelines:

  1. How to start the conversation. For example, agree to talk together and focus on listening to one another; start with an agreed-upon topic; set a time limit; agree to not blame each other; agree to disagree; don’t bring up past issues unless they are absolutely relevant to moving forward; don’t make assumptions; and remember, it’s not about who’s right or wrong, it’s about being understood.
  2. How to communicate clearly. Use “I” statements (e.g., “I feel sad when you say that,” instead of “You make me upset when you say that”); avoid saying “always” and “never”; express your thoughts and feelings clearly, honestly and simply; be aware of your tone of voice and body language; don’t blame your partner for your feelings.
  3. How to be a good listener. Stay present; keep focused on what your partner’s saying; don’t interrupt; don’t make assumptions without hearing your partner completely; make eye contact; listen, rather than focusing on your next response; be aware of nonverbal cues to how your partner may be feeling; try to hear and appreciate what they’re saying even if you don’t agree; avoid being judgmental and defensive.
  4. How to bring up a difficult issue. Let your partner know there’s something important you want to talk about; find a time to talk where you won’t be interrupted; be clear and specific about your feelings; be open to hearing your partner’s perspective; set a time limit for the discussion.
  5. How to compromise. Approach the conversation with a positive attitude; be open to what you can agree on; be clear about what’s most important to you and why; try to understand what’s most important to your partner; recognize that you might have different points of view; compromise is not about right or wrong; rather than staying stuck in your position, look for a win-win outcome; don’t give in just to make peace.
  6. How to problem-solve together. Make a list of points that are most important to each of you; take turns sharing, listening and hearing deeply; don’t waste time and energy on things you can’t control, but focus on what you can control; make a list of similarities and differences between your lists; talk through the pros and cons together; take time brainstorming what you both would like.

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