Sex, Conflict and Investment Style!
Greed, envy, self-delusion and lust, or a simple desire for wealth, when investments are to be made, men and women bring to the fore their own particular attitudes and beliefs which they believe to be right. Each according to his or her nature perhaps, but in a relationship how do you overcome innate behavior to make joint financial decisions that will not only produce a decent return but that you can both live comfortably with under the same roof?
As relationships mature, people get more set in their ways. This is an inevitable consequence of living with someone over a long period where you fall into comfortable patterns of behavior, with more time, effort and commitment to the relationship having been expended – what psychologists term sunk cost. Styles therefore, become more fixed. Yet, as the honeymoon becomes a distant memory there is a greater tendency to see the imperfections in your partner. Characteristics or personality traits that you previously admired may give you pause for thought if you believe these are now at the root of your lack of investment success. For example, there is a heightened feeling that you could have done better if only you weren’t held back by your partner who’s constantly thwarting your success by being so casual about financial affairs and letting things slide.
That’s a situation where a personal feeling is directed outwards to your partner. They are the cause of your poor investment performance, you believe, but they may be totally oblivious to the effect they’re having. Alternatively, your partner’s concerns may be directed towards you, their feelings resulting in an attitude where they are less likely to see your way of doing things as valid. You, on the other hand, may not feel you have to change at all.
Dovetailing with this is the occurrence of frictions. In one couple, a partner tries to maintain their individuality, while in another couple, a partner attempts to impose their will on the relationship or on choices that are to be made. Overall, your different styles produce discontent with each other’s way of handling investments. As you’ll see from the following lists, you both could have negative or positive style characteristics, which give rise to friction. Which ones do you think apply to you and your partner?
Besides a strong feeling of being threatened, the upshot of all this is that you can believe that either your lack of success as an investor is a result of having to conform to the wishes of your partner, or your partner believes your poor investment performance is a result of not listening to their advice or doing things their way. When any of these situations arise, conflicts can increase to a level where there is deep resentment at each other’s failings. In turn, this makes the assessment of financial opportunities much harder.
Nevertheless, nature may have more to do with financial conflict than first appears. Research conducted by Terrance Odean and Brad Barber using data from 35,000 households’ shows that men trade 45 percent more than women. The trouble is the researchers also found that the men earn returns that are 1.4 percent less than the women earn. Such male overconfidence may be the result of a false belief in one’s own investment prowess, but it, nonetheless, leads to antagonism in a relationship – especially so if losses keep mounting up.
Success is a matter of compromise. And the way to begin to minimize the chances of conflict is to appreciate and accept your partner’s different investment style. The lists below show a variety of ways in which you and your partner differ. Try and identify your main characteristics and how integrating more with your partner could enhance these. Remember that men and women only have a tendency to have these characteristics and that they are not absolutes. Indeed, both men and women may embody characteristics in their personal investment style from both groups.
No one style is best. All have attributes that are useful. For example, sometimes it’s good to be cautious and safety-conscious while at other times it’s appropriate to take risk. The main point is that successful investment is about balancing your psychological tendencies to allow you to make the most rational decisions possible. Within a relationship, you also have to balance your innate tendencies with those of your partners. When you achieve this, you may well find that not only does your integrated style moderate any extreme tendencies you or your partner have but you may develop a combined investment approach that is different from either of your personal ones alone. Hence, as you learn to appreciate each other’s styles, you may, for example, become more technical in your combined approach. In this way your investment outlook can be developed in new directions. In other words, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Because all styles have important characteristics, the important thing to remember is that you cannot and should not attempt to eradicate your own investment style in favor of your partners’; nor should your partner try to change themselves to be like you or indeed totally change you to mimic them. To attempt to be something you’re not is in effect attempting to squash your personality, which again, provides the impetus for conflict. Compromise with your partner, certainly, but maintain your unique financial outlook and enjoy your interest in investing.
Escalating investment styles
Opposites don’t always attract and sometimes men and women form relationships with partners who have character traits they have and admire in themselves; forming, for example, a relationship with someone who is similarly cautious by nature. Here, sooner or later, one partner takes on the dominant role, becoming a more strongly cautious type than the other. Leaving aside any issues of control - where one partner seeks to dominate the other and which will also produce conflict - this is a recipe for tensions to reach boiling point as each partner escalates the characteristics of their own style. This natural anchoring reaction is an attempt to stop a partner swamping out what each believes to be their unique defining personality traits and attitudes.
Whether a same style partnership or a different style partnership, a reason your personal investment style can become stronger is because women look to maintain individuality in the midst of intimacy. Hence, women may want to use their own money for investment if it’s their own earned money, rather than making it part of the family finances. Whereas men consider money invested to be for the family. For men, money has a protective role where the man is the source of the protection; he brings home the kill. In financial terms, a man’s intimacy in the relationship is developed by sharing their investment returns with their loved ones. Men often find it incredibly difficult to accept that when a woman wants to maintain financial independence and make her own investment choices, this isn’t a denial of faith in her man or a loss of love. Women, on the other hand, find it hard to accept that a man’s doggedness about being the financial provider and making the investment decisions, as well as how they handle risk, is of fundamental importance to how many men define themselves. Overall, wherever intimacy or individuality is threatened in some way - a man can’t make the profits he wants or a woman’s ideas or financial contributions are dismissed by her partner - conflicts develop.
A psychonomic approach to investment points the way to dealing with conflicts between you and your partner. It’s all about harmonizing your internal market – your personal internal characteristics – with the external market – the financial markets and its constituent investors. These individuals are all acting for their own reasons and your partner represents one of these individuals – or at the very least, a major external influence on your decision-making.
Once you realize you’re having arguments about investment choices due to style differences then you’re in a position to do something about it – to create psychonomic harmony. The key therefore, is to acknowledge that there’s a problem and then to take action. Here’s how:
1. Be aware of your feelings and anxieties
Consider whether your investment situation is making you feel: depressed, resentful, helpless, envious, fearful, guilty, excited, stressed out, or any other emotion. Share these feelings with your partner so they understand what’s bothering you.
3. Avoid arguments
4. Decide on common goals
Talk with your partner about the things you want your investments to achieve. Whether, for example, you’d spend your profits on the same things or what you’d both really like to do with the money. Talk about your financial fantasies; you might find you share more than you think.
This, though important, is a somewhat loose method of assessing your investment goals. To be more precise, you also need to prioritize several other factors. Compromise if necessary, but decide how relevant the following factors are to each of you:
All these factors - and any others you might add of your own - feed into your combined strategy and whether you’d both go for, say, mutual funds, large capitalization stocks, or index investing.
There may be other factors that will become apparent as you talk more to each other about your attitudes to investment. And, though all these factors can be a source of conflict in a relationship, you may well find that they’re not so much of a barrier to successful investment as you previously thought. Above all, look for commonality in your financial approach and remember… it’s a partnership.
Jonathan Myers is a leading exponent of investment psychology and behavioral finance. His recent bookProfits Without Panic: Investment Psychology For Personal Wealth, is published by Nicholas Brealey.