At a farm conference a few years ago, I sat in on a presentation for women on how to deal with stress. It was an eye-opener.

The speaker asked for a show of hands on how many of the 100+ women in the room were feeling stressed. Almost every hand went up. When probed further, it became clear about 90% of them were stressed because they knew their husbands were stressed but not talking about it.

The women didn't know their husbands' problem. Nor did there seem any way to find out.

I talked to a number of men at the conference. For most of them, the stress was money; prices were down and they didn't know what to do. Many weren't sure they could make it another year but weren't talking to their wives about it due to fear, pride or maybe shame.

This created a doubly dangerous situation. The men couldn't benefit from their wives' counsel. Meanwhile, the women were frantic about what was bothering their husbands and, not knowing what it was, assumed the worst. It meant these couples couldn't work together to find a way out of their tough spot.

This situation isn't only hard on a bank account, it's hard on a marriage.

These men are not alone in refusing to talk to their wives about money. Surveys done by the Capital One credit card company show almost one-third of all adults have never had a conversation about finances with their spouse.

In a recent American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) report, Thomas Murchy, Jr., a probate lawyer in Maynard, MA, says, “I've seen hundreds of cases where spouses and family members have absolutely no knowledge of what someone left behind. They're forced to spend days, even weeks, trying to learn about various benefits and assets, when they're trying to cope with the pain and suffering of their loss.”

If it's complicated for urban couples, it's double or triple so for ranchers and farmers. A lawyer I knew in Alberta, who dealt mainly with farm and ranch couples, cited dozens of cases where the husband died and the wife ended up losing the ranch because she had no idea of its financial structure. What the creditors didn't get, the lawyers and taxman did. Creating a retirement plan together, and planning what to do if either of them died, would have saved these women untold grief.

Even if you don't die (statistics say one in five men reading this article will die before age 65), you need to talk to your wife about money. When do you want to retire? How much money will you need? When will you have it? If something happens to you, what's your plan for your spouse's financial security?

If you find it hard to talk to your wife about finances, get help from a third party — a financial planner, lawyer, accountant or even a trusted relative. Do it today.

You could do something like my friends Tom and Margaret did. They went away to a mountain resort for a weekend to do some skiing, hot-tubbing, dining out and, in between, talked about their financial plan.

By the way, if you think chocolate and roses are great for wooing your wife, try communication about money, and watch what happens!

Edmonton-based Noel McNaughton lectures to groups on “Farming/Ranching at Midlife — Strategies for a Successful Second Age.” To learn more, call 780/432-5492, e-mail noel@midlife-men.com or visit www.midlife-men.com.

Extra resources

  • American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has many resources for people over 50 (www.aarp.org/). Membership is $12.50/year, which includes a monthly magazine and newsletter. For information on money and work, go to www.aarp.org/money/.

  • American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. For a copy of “Making Marriage Last,” which includes tips on communication and money management, call 800/422-6595, or visit: www.aaml.org/marriage_last/marriagemain.htm.

  • FamilyFiles is a commercial Web site offering a 10-step “Financial Fire Drill” for organizing and updating records. Visit: www.familyfiles.com/resource/firedrill_public.asp.

  • Institute For Equality In Marriage at: www.equalityinmarriage.org offers some useful checklists.

  • Iowa State University Extension. “Money Mechanics: Communication” includes guidelines for communication about finances. “Money Mechanics: Talk About Money Worksheet” guides discussions. Go to: www.extension.iastate.edu/financial/management.html.

  • Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER). Nearly 50 fact sheets on financial topics, including pensions, Social Security and widowhood. Find it at: www.wiser.heinz.org.

  • AARP Investment Program from Scudder. Call 800/253-2277 or go to www.aarp.scudder.com for a free “Legacy Planner Kit,” which offers help in organizing your finances.