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Communicating (or Not) During Tough Transitions

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“One of the things that Sudden Money techniques help us do is structure meaningful conversations,” said Peggy Frye, who completed Certified Financial Transitionist training through the Sudden Money Institute in 2013. She gave an example of the son of a wealthy client who, on the heels of a disastrously expensive divorce, decided to marry again. His father suggested preparing a prenuptial agreement this time.

“The son was very uncomfortable bringing this up with his new fiancée, who came from less affluent means, so he asked if I would moderate a discussion between the two of them,” Frye explained. “I structured what [SMI founder Susan Bradley] calls a ‘meaningful conversation.’ This has three parts: First, why are you doing this? What difference will it make if we get this right? Second is the method: How will we do this? Third: What is the best outcome we can imagine from doing this?”

The method Frye used was to ask each of them for their earliest money memories. What came out of this was a horrible story about the fiancée’s financial trauma brought about by secrecy.

“Hearing these stories brought us to the third part: the outcome,” Frye continued. “The outcome for this couple was a discussion about honesty and transparency, and an agreement about living within their means. It didn’t lead immediately to a prenuptial agreement, but I’m confident it will get there as they build trust with open communication.”

During other difficult transitions, an advisor may want to coach a client to be less open—at least for a time. In fact, Frye pointed out, a “decision-free zone” can be a useful tactic not just for a client, but for anyone going through major life changes. A case in point was a friend of Frye’s brother, a new widow who was distressed by the many demands various family members were making for items from her late husband’s gun collection.

Frye said, “When I introduced my brother to the concept of the ‘decision-free zone’—making only critical decisions now and waiting on the others—he relayed it to his widowed friend. That gave her the support she needed to tell everyone she wasn’t going to make decisions on anything for quite a while and helped her regain her peace of mind.”

A simple solution—but, Frye added, “People in a stressed situation usually aren’t thinking clearly. They don’t realize they can say that!”