Marriage & Money: Basic Guidelines

When you live in a society in which money is needed to obtain critical resources, money becomes a strong symbol of power, security, social status, and survival. It is these psychological associations that cause money to be such a loaded topic in marriage and so quick to trigger explosive arguments.

Now focusing on the numbers is all fine and well, but once you understand that the real power of money is due to its psychological associations, you can see why it’s so important to look for psychological concerns whenever money becomes a negative topic between you and your partner. While fights over finances often focus on who spent how much and what was being purchased, the intense emotions that get riled aren’t really about either of these things. Instead, the real upset is often due to partners viewing each other’s behaviors as symbolic actions which are making wounding statements about how they view each other. For example…

When Ben purchases an expensive new boat without telling Maria, she flies into a rage. She talks as if she is angry that he spent so much of their savings on a frivolous toy. But it really goes much deeper than that. Maria’s best friend of 20 years is married to a gambler. The friend got married before Maria, allowing Maria to watch the marriage deteriorate as the husband quickly plunged the family into huge amounts of debt. After spending years trying to comfort her miserable friend, Maria developed a deep fear that she could end up in the same terrible position: feeling trapped with a man who had no concern for the needs of his wife and kids and having to work all hours to barely scrape by. When Ben suddenly wipes out their savings, Maria panics that his compulsive spending is a sign that he is morphing into a version of her best friend’s husband. She sees his boat purchase as an alarming indication that he doesn’t really care about her the way that she assumed. She also feels his secretive behavior indicates he isn’t as trustworthy as she thought.

Maria was raised by thrifty parents who taught her that it was essential to always have plenty of savings on hand because an expensive crisis could arise at any moment. This upbringing caused Maria to imitate her parents’ thrifty ways and to make amassing her own savings a top priority during her single years. She has never been in any kind of debt and she feels that taking out a loan would be is a sign of failure. So the savings that Ben just blew wasn’t just money to Maria–it was her critical defense against the ever constant fear of what problem might be just around the corner. To her that money was like a safety shield that she and Ben were hiding behind together. Now he just tore the shield down, clearly indicating that he doesn’t care about her being safe.

Can you see how Maria’s mental associations and personal background are causing her to see Ben’s actions in a very negative light? All he did was buy a boat, but in doing so, he has triggered deep fears in his wife: fears that he doesn’t really care about her well-being, that he can’t be trusted, and that he is going to destroy their happy marriage through his reckless, selfish actions. Given this interpretation, of course Maria is upset. On the surface, she is acting furious, but remember that anger in humans is a cover for pain and fear. Maria is very hurt by the low value statement that she thinks her husband is making about her. She’s also terrified that things will continue to go downhill from here.

So what is Ben’s point of view? Well, for the last six months, he and Maria have complained that they both feel they’re in a rut. Their daily routine is fine, but it’s starting to feel boring and too responsible. Maria and Ben share a love of water activities and Maria always talks about how she wishes she could spend more time on the large lake near their home. She loves to sail, and lately she’s been saying how frustrated she feels that she never scrapes up the courage to put fun before responsibility. Weekend outings get planned, then canceled, as Maria always thinks up some chore at home that she feels she ought to be doing first. By the time Maria feels she’s finally “earned” the right to have some fun, the work week is starting again.

Ben’s point in purchasing the boat was to help both him and his wife actually do what they keep saying they want to do: spend days out on the lake. Sail for hours just because they want to. Let the water and sun do their magic. Sure, the boat was expensive, but big purchases always feel uncomfortable at first. It doesn’t mean they aren’t worth it. Ben has decided the couple can’t live their whole lives corralled by fear. It’s time to live a little. But he didn’t come to this decision on his own. Based on how Maria has been talking for months, he assumed she would be delighted. He also hoped that actually owning a boat would make her feel obligated to use it, thus helping her give herself permission to take a day off and have fun. So Ben was honestly trying to help. He made it a surprise partly for the fun of seeing her face light up, and also because he knew his wife would never feel authorized to spend so much money on a toy. It’s obvious to Ben that Maria is too thrifty, and too fearful of “what ifs.” He was so certain this boat would not only break them out of their rut, but that all the happy sailing hours would strengthen their marriage. What a nasty jolt it was for Ben when Maria reacted the way that she did. Now he’s shouting right back at her, only his anger is being motivated by the hurt he feels at her assuming such awful things about him. Hasn’t he built up any credit with her after six years of being a loyal, loving, and responsible husband?

This couple’s mess illustrates a vital principle to bear in mind: It’s never just about the money. For humans, money is directly associated with many core needs and fears, and this makes it very easy for financial discussions to quickly turn into heated arguments. While you can’t entirely avoid these kinds of clashes, you can drastically reduce how often they occur and resolve them much faster by looking for the deeper issues. You can also help avoid common pitfalls by agreeing on a few rules about how finances will be handled. I’ll go over some helpful rules in this post. Just remember that any rules you and your partner decide to use will need to be adjusted in different seasons of life, so be willing to revise things as the need arises.

From “Mine” to “Ours”

Let’s start by appreciating the problem. First, we have the issue of mental associations, and the fact that you and your partner each view money differently. Second, we have the problem of both of you having to adjust to a new kind of accountability. When you’re single, you have total control over your budget and you handle things the way you want without having to discuss it with anyone first. Then you get married and suddenly you’re grappling with the concept of pooling resources. In a healthy marriage, partners need to transition from thinking of everything in terms of mine and yours to thinking of most things as ours. There will still be some division. In fact, it’s healthy to have some separation because you are still two different people. The goal of marriage is to use our differences to help each other, not to pretend we are the same.

Tom and Susie have very different preferences in toothpastes, so they each have their own tube. Nigel has a favorite coffee mug that he doesn’t want anyone else using. Reese keeps a journal that she doesn’t want her husband reading. As long as there is enough trust, there is room to be a little territorial. But marking certain items or areas of the shared home as off limits to someone can quickly become a problem. It’s fine for Nigel to have a favorite mug, but he shouldn’t be so uptight that he has a fit if his wife reaches for it when it’s the last clean cup. While Reese might want to keep her journal entries to herself, she needs to share her motivations for keeping a private journal with her husband so he can interpret her actions correctly. If she acts too secretive or starts writing furiously after they’ve just had a fight, then of course her husband is going to start assuming she’s writing nasty things about him.

Communication is the key to preventing a that’s mine attitude from triggering your partner’s defenses. When Molly explains that she feels embarrassed about her love of painting and can’t enjoy it when she’s being watched, Harry has no problems with staying out of her art studio. But if Molly starts putting a lock on the door that only she has a key to, or if she starts ducking into her studio to have secret phone calls that Harry can partially overhear, then he is going to start feeling threatened by her banning him from that part of her life.

Whether you were married, single, or heavily supervised prior to entering into a new marriage, it’s going to take a bit of time for you and your partner to get into a comfortable rhythm with each other regarding finances. Every person has their own style of managing money. Some styles can work in a group situation, while others only work if you’re single. The more you and your partner talk about what money means to each of you, the better you’ll do at recognizing when fears and insecurities are being triggered by financial situations.

Assessing Strengths

Now we’re all good at different things. Some of us are good at setting up a budget. Some of us are good at managing debt. Some of us are good at keeping track of monthly bills and making sure enough money is in the right account. Some of us have very good sales resistance, meaning we aren’t easily persuaded to buy new products either online or in stores. Some of us are good at making shopping lists and actually sticking to those lists as we move through store aisles. Some of us are good at building up savings and collecting interest on smart investments. In trying to be smart about money, the first thing you and your partner need to do is sit down together for a positive discussion of what each of your strengths are and how they differ. The focus here should be on the fact that differences can be very good things. Maybe one of you is prone to being a tightwad while the other spends too freely. Good, you can balance each other out. Or maybe one of you is great at hunting down bargains while the other person is better at paying the bills. To find the system that will work best for you and your partner, you need to go into this discussion with an open mind. Don’t just decide that all of the money management must be handled by one person or that all of the spending must be done by one. There are endless ways to divide up financial chores, and the best combination for you and your partner might look very different than it does for the other couples you know.

To aid you in having a productive discussion, get out a piece of paper and list the numbers 1 through 10 in a column. Then make two more columns next to those numbers: one for you to write in, and one for your partner. Next to the number of each listed skill that you think you’re good at, draw a smiley face in your column. If you know you can do something well, but you hate doing it for some reason, draw a frowny face next to that item in your column. The frowny face means that you have the skills but you’re not thrilled about having to use them. If you have no experience with a certain skill, put a question mark because you haven’t had a chance to find out if you’re good at that sort of task yet. If you know you’re bad at a certain task, put an X.

  1. MANAGING DEBT WELL. This means managing debt payments so that the total balance owed is reduced each month. Simply paying the interest or minimum payments while the total amount owed increases is not managing debt well (even though there are times when this can’t be avoided). The goal here is to determine who is the best person to entrust debt to so that creditors will be kept happy.
  2. SETTING UP A REASONABLE BUDGET. Too many categories causes budgets to become confusing and impossible to stick to. The purpose of a budget is to make sure bills are paid, get some savings put aside, and curb spending.
  3. MANAGING MONTHLY PAYMENTS. If you’re good at this skill, you get all of your monthly bills paid on time or a bit early. You don’t keep pushing deadlines until creditors get angry or start making threats. You don’t get frequently caught by surprise with bills being more than you anticipated.
  4. BUYING FOOD & HOUSEHOLD ITEMS. If you’re good at this skill, you have a good handle on what items in your kitchen and home need to be kept in stock and which can be totally depleted. You are able to make shopping lists that cover the actual needs of the home and upcoming meals. In stores, you are pretty good at sticking to your list and you don’t regularly come home with a bunch of extras that you don’t use.
  5. NOT EXCEEDING SPENDING LIMITS. This skill involves an ability to identify needs versus wants, then prioritize the needs. When money is tight for whatever reason, you are able to make cuts to reduce your spending in ways that minimally impacts what you can do. You can carry around credit cards without making a bunch of impulse purchases. You can carry cash without feeling pressured to spend it.
  6. SALES RESISTANCE. If you’re good at this skill, you can see nice items in a store window without rushing in to buy them. When you attempt to shop on a site like Amazon, you usually stick to plan and only purchase what you set out to get instead of that item plus a bunch of other unrelated items that popped up in your face. You care more about cost than you do about function, and this makes it easy for you to resist buying expensive items, even if they seem really great.
  7. MANAGING BANK ACCOUNTS. You understand what kinds of bank accounts you have and you find it easy to transfer funds between them. You can quickly look up how much money you have whenever you need to know. You hardly ever get fined by your bank for mismanaging your accounts. You know how to contact your bank when needed. You have experience setting up and closing bank accounts and you understand what your “account number” is.
  8. BUILDING UP SAVINGS. This skill is about knowing how to pinch off a bit of your income each month and putting it into a special account that everyone agrees not to spend on daily items. If you don’t have enough padding to save each month, you’re good at saving the crumbs that get left over in various budget categories. Every penny counts, and if you have this skill, you’re good at both collecting the scraps and allowing them to accumulate.
  9. BEING POSITIVE ABOUT POVERTY. When you have this skill, you’re good at making the best of being strapped. When funds are super tight, you get creative and emphasize what you can do instead of grumbling about what you can’t afford.
  10. SHARING EQUALLY. Forget about who brought home which paycheck. Lump all the money together and consider what’s happening to the funds that aren’t spoken for by bills or necessities. Is it being divvied up equally between partners or is one person hoarding most of the free money for themselves? To keep financial feuds at bay, partners need to feel that they are being treated as equals in the financial arena. I’ll discuss more about how to do this in a moment. First, let’s go over your results.

Divvying Up the Duties

Look over the list that you and your partner have made. Where do your strengths differ? Where do they overlap? Are you missing strengths in any area?

When there is only one smiley next to a number, that skill will be best allocated to the person who feels confident in handling that area.

Where there are two smileys and both of you want to handle that particular chore, try rotating who handles it every few months. Doing financial chores can get old even when you’re good at them, so it can be very nice to give each other breaks in handling certain tasks.

Where there is a smiley and a question mark, the smiley person should consider educating their partner on how to do that particular task. Question marks mean a lack of experience, which is different than not having a particular ability. Flipping a question mark into a smiley through practice will benefit everyone.

When possible, help partners avoid having to do tasks they marked with a frowny because this will reduce frustration. In cases of double frownies, rotate that task so you can each get breaks from dealing with it.

You shouldn’t be put in charge of a skill that you marked with an X or you’re likely to make a mess of it. For example, if you know that you can’t get on Amazon or eBay without going crazy with impulse purchases, then your partner should be put in charge of online shopping while you stay out of temptation’s path. When you need something online, let your partner look it up for you and make the purchase. They can run the final item past you for approval to make sure it’s what you want, but you should be shielded from browsing so you don’t blow the budget.

Degrees of Separation

Let’s now tackle the issue of separate bank accounts. This is when you maintain your own bank account after you are married. Because yours is the only name on the account, your spouse can’t withdraw funds from it. Your spouse does the same. Now you each have hidden amounts of money in password protected apps and the two of you are blind to each other’s spending and savings. Is this a good idea or a recipe for disaster? It depends on why you are doing it.

There are two basic rules for making separate accounts more of a plus than a minus. First, it is essential that all spouses are aware of every existing account and the balance of those accounts. Secret accounts are always a bad move. Because marriages are built on trust and money is such a loaded subject, keeping stores of money stashed away without your spouse knowing about it is a disaster waiting to happen. Nothing says “I’ve been deceiving you in very important areas” like your spouse stumbling across evidence of your secret account. These things have a way of being found out, and when they are, you’re going to get punished for the implications of what you’re doing more than what you’re actually doing. In a trust based relationship in which you and your partner are supposed to be treating each other like equals, it is considered a major violation of trust for you to be secretly hoarding essential resources.

Imagine how you’d feel if you were trapped in a cave with your spouse, desperately hungry and trying to survive by chopping up your last remaining sandwich into ten portions that you share between you. Just when you’re drawing comfort from the fact that at least your spouse is sharing the food and misery fairly, you find out he’s got ten packs of beef jerky hidden under a rock that he’s not telling you about. Suddenly the behavior that seemed so positive gets cast in an ugly light, doesn’t it? Here you were secretly thankful that your spouse was being so good about sharing the last crumbs, but now you think it’s horrifying that he’s scarfing down his half of the rations knowing that he’s got plenty more stored up for himself. What seemed like noble behavior now looks like a malicious attempt to harm you by helping to use up the only resources that you were aware of.

There are certain kinds of lies that most marriages can’t recover from. Topics that are commonly associated with marriage shattering fibs are pregnancy, fertility, previous partners, previous identities, and finances. While a few marriages can survive these kinds of grenades, it is far more likely that these types of lies will end up utterly destroying one partner’s ability to trust the other. Where there is no trust, there is no foundation on which to build a healthy marriage.

Don’t even think about having a secret account. In a marriage, everyone needs to know about all existing money. Note I said that’s in a marriage. You certainly shouldn’t be giving full disclosure of your financial situation in the early stages of dating. But by the time you’re getting engaged and setting wedding dates, everyone should have a clear picture of all of the income, savings, and debt that is associated with each member of the team.

Now let’s talk about this idea of blocking access. In an ideal situation, both of your names will be on every existing account so that in an emergency, no one is locked out of anything. But that said, there are many practical reasons why this might not happen. If you marry internationally (as I did), getting everyone’s name on foreign bank accounts is not always doable because of politics and paperwork drama. In other cases, there can be credit issues or inheritance laws that prevent both partners from being given equal access to accounts. When it’s simply not worth the hassle to put everyone’s name on everything, you can still avoid a mess by letting money flow freely between accounts. Transferring funds between accounts, and juggling which bills get paid from which account can easily maintain a sense of fairness and eliminate concerns that one person is trying to hoard resources for themselves.

In cases where one spouse is a disaster at spending, separate accounts can actually be a helpful budgeting tool. But this sort of thing only works when both partners agree about what the problem is. In the case of Joe and Beth, Beth knows she is a shopaholic and she simply doesn’t have the ability to save. This couple has all of their income enter into an account with only Joe’s name on it. Their savings is also kept there. Joe then electronically transfers Beth an agreed on amount of spending money each month. Beth keeps the money in her own account and tries to make it last. If she runs out before her next allotment, she has to go without. For Beth, this is a relief. Before they put this system in place, she always felt miserable and guilty for messing up their budget. Beth is good at many things and she contributes a lot to the marriage, but she’s just no good at saving. Because the couple was able to acknowledge this issue in a positive way and work out a practical solution, they’ve stopped fighting about money. Now Joe stops feeling angry when Beth brings home a new dress. Instead, he can enjoy her purchases without feeling like she’s putting them in financial strife. This is an example of separate accounts being used positively.

If you both have accounts, it can be easier to divide the money up into basic pots. In the case of George and Hannah, Hannah is the one with the career while George is a stay at home dad. But while Hannah is good at bringing in the money, she hates managing bills and doing the weekly shopping. Each month, Hannah’s employer deposits her paycheck into her account. She then transfers the majority of it to George’s account. George takes care of all the bills, shopping, and home upkeep. Both spouses get an agreed on allowance of “fun money” each month to spend however they wish. When Hannah transfers to George, she holds back her fun money and the amount they want to put in savings. Hannah’s accounts serve to receive income and stockpile savings, while George’s accounts handle most of the daily expenses. When the kids need something, Hannah transfers George the funds from the savings kept in her name. Even though the money is being kept under different names, the couple view it all as our money and treat it accordingly. They just use the separate accounts for budgeting ease.

Frank and Dana both work, but Dana only makes about a third of what Frank makes. This couple have found that sharing the financial chores evenly works best for them. When they get paid, they figure out the difference in their incomes, and Frank transfers enough money to Dana to give her half of their combined incomes. The bills have been divided up between them with each person responsible for paying about half the monthly costs. By pooling their income the way they do, they avoid the common pitfalls that can occur with unequal incomes.

In two income households, it’s quite common for one spouse to make significantly more than another. In these cases, you can create problems very fast by talking in terms of my money versus your money. It’s only natural for the spouse who makes less to feel one down to the spouse who makes more. And let’s remember that a smaller paycheck does not necessarily mean less effort was spent. A lot of very miserable jobs pay dirt while much pleasanter ones pay high. Maybe your spouse spends her day scrubbing office floors and toilets and you spend the day in a comfortable office with a great view of the city. Your job is considered “brain work” while hers is mostly brawn. But she’s working very hard for her wage, and working at the same high standards that you are. So is it really fair that society pays the two of you so differently? No, but this is how it is, and your wife has to work at keeping bitter feelings at bay about how undervalued she feels. If you then start hoarding money and using terms like my money and blocking her access to funds that were delivered under your name, you’re only going to create needless strife. We all consume the groceries, we all contribute to filling up the laundry basket, we all want to buy superfluous things. When incomes are different and going into different accounts, bills should be allocated so that the remaining “free money” is fairly even on both sides. What this means is at the end of the day, your janitor wife shouldn’t have only $20 of “fun money” while you’re sitting on $200. Punishing a spouse for earning less or not earning at all will only fill your home with strife and erode trust.

In a healthy marriage, partners need to share the power equally. Since money is a source of power, money needs to be allocated equally between spouses. Even when special circumstances make separate accounts a helpful budget tool, the attitude needs to be that it is all our money, not mine versus yours.

Motivations Matter

The same behaviors can be helpful or destructive, depending on what the underlying motivations are. Perhaps your real reason for wanting a separate account is so that you can accumulate a nice nest egg of savings so that you’ll be prepared to take care of yourself the day your marriage tanks. This kind of planning indicates that you’re not ready to attempt the kind of trust that is required to make a marriage work.

When you’ve been burned by romantic partners in the past, it’s very easy to decide that trusting someone is never a smart thing to do. But as logical as this is, there’s just no way to escape the fact that healthy marriages are built on trust. Yes, you can be legally bound to someone and coexist under the same roof while everyone sticks by their guns. But that is not a healthy marriage; that’s a battleground. If you’ve been burned in the past, the last thing you want is another war. But here’s where you need to realize that certain defense strategies are guaranteed to start another battle.

You simply can’t get a healthy marriage off the ground if you go into it super guarded and already believing that your spouse is going to betray or hurt you. Your beliefs impact your actions, and when you believe the worst about your spouse, you will instinctively treat them badly. Your rotten treatment of them will cause them to respond defensively, and you’ll then point to the negative behavior that you provoked as “evidence” that your spouse really is the jerk that you had already decided he or she was.

A classic example of this is the insecure wife with low self-esteem who believes no man will ever be faithful to her. She gets married while still embracing this belief, therefore she secretly believes that it’s only a matter of time before her husband cheats on her. Because this is what she believes, she begins aggressively looking for evidence that he is having an affair. Soon she’s making all kinds of false accusations and lashing out with punishments that are not deserved. The husband finally says to himself, “Since I’m already being treated like I’m unfaithful, I might as well actually have an affair so I can at least have some fun to go with the misery.” So he cheats. And when his wife finds out she says, “Aha! I knew it! All men are pigs.” Can you see how this wife tore down her own marriage by going into it already expecting the worst?

Marriages are a lot of work. Sometimes they are painful. Sometimes they are wonderful. There is no such thing as a spouse who won’t let you down at times. Your spouse will be as imperfect as you are, just in different ways. But there is no other human relationship that can enrich your life to the degree that a strong marriage can. Spouses are humans, and all humans have good and bad traits. But in the context of marriage, we relate to our spouses in ways that we simply can’t relate to our friends, family members, or coworkers. We let them in, and they let us in. In doing so, we make it possible to inspire and help each other in ways that no one else can. Spouses are special. Marriage is special, and it’s worth taking the time to heal from your past wounds so that you can give a new marriage a fair chance. If you aren’t ready to trust your spouse with your money, you aren’t going to be willing to trust them with a lot of other things as well. Give yourself time to heal before you set yourself up for more pain.

Managing Spending

Since spending is one of the most common causes of financial frustration, let’s talk about a couple of handy tricks that can help you and your spouse manage this area well.

fun money

Any debt adviser worth their salt will tell you that you must allow each partner to have an allowance of money that they can spend on anything they want, aka fun money. Even if it’s only a small amount, it needs to happen. If every single cent is being spent on the business side of life, you will eventually get so frustrated that you’ll go out and spend a wild amount of money just to feel a moment of freedom.

Fun money spending should not be monitored. If your man wants to spend his on workout equipment that you know he’ll never use, he gets to. If your wife wants to buy her 200th pair of shoes, fine. What makes fun money fun is that you don’t have to feel accountable, you don’t have to justify it, and you don’t have to have your spouse sign off on it as “reasonable.” Maybe you just want to lay down a bet on a football game. Maybe you want to try your hand at knitting. Maybe you want to save up several rounds of fun money for something you saw online. Fun money allowances should be given to each spouse and they should always be equal amounts. Don’t underestimate the power of fun money to keep everyone patient when finances are running tight. A little goes a long way.

SETTING SPENDING CAPS

To avoid nasty surprises and all of the fears and insecurities they dredge up, you and your spouse should set a limit on how much money the two of you can independently spend without each other’s approval. Suppose you agree on a cap of $20. This means that if you see something you want to buy that is more than $20 and which falls outside of the usual expenditures (such as groceries), you need to first run it past your spouse before making the purchase. A rule like this really helps maintain a sense of equal respect between spouses.

After struggling to stay within her allotted grocery allowance all week, Lucy finds out that her husband Chan just dropped $60 on a new video game. This makes Lucy angry. She is trying hard to stay within their budget while keeping the home meals interesting, and here Chan just wasted a bunch of money on a game he clearly doesn’t need. While Lucy is putting up with another week of line drying clothes because Chan says they can’t afford to fix their dryer yet, Chan is acting like he doesn’t care about all the extra work and hassle she’s going through carting his clothes up and down three flights of stairs to access the outside clothes lines. The intense anger welling up inside of Lucy is being fueled by the pain of feeling undervalued and disrespected. This couple needs to set a spending limit to avoid having this sort of thing happen. If Chan had first asked Lucy how she felt about his buying a game, she would be able to tell him her frustrations with the dryer. Chan might honestly not realize what a hassle she’s having because from his perspective, clean clothes keep magically appearing in the closet as usual. After hearing his wife’s frustrations, Chan might agree that fixing the dryer should be their top priority. Or, Lucy might feel better once she feels like Chan cares about the struggle she’s having and she might decide she’s alright waiting an extra week for the repairs. Communication is critical to keeping spouses in touch with each other, and spending caps force communication to happen sooner rather than later.

Spending caps don’t mean big purchases can’t happen, they just ensure that everyone is informed about what’s going on and they make an opportunity for everyone to weigh in. But for spending caps to be effective, “no” has to be considered a valid response. We are all vulnerable to getting excited about a purchase that just isn’t wise, and sometimes we can really benefit from our spouse’s perspective. When there is already fun money being provided, spending caps are easier to see in a positive light. It helps everyone feel better to know that they won’t suddenly find out there’s no money in the bank because of someone else’s reckless spending.

Conclusion

With good communication, money can become a side issue instead of the primary focus of your marriage. When money does seem to be triggering intense emotions, it’s because spouses are seeing the money as a symbol of something else, and usually that something else is tied to a core need or insecurity that needs to be addressed before the upset spouse will be able to calm down.

There is no one right way to handle money in a marriage. Instead, focus on the general principles of trust and power. To protect trust, there should not be any secrets being kept regarding finances. Everyone should be made aware of all funds, and equal access should be given unless it would clearly benefit the team to keep separate accounts. Power should be shared equally among spouses, and since money is a source of power, money should be shared equally as well. All income should be viewed as belonging to the team, regardless of whose name it comes in under. There are many kinds of “work” that are critical to keeping a marriage afloat, and most of them don’t come with a paycheck. Marriages also come with many non-financial costs and benefits. By striving to share equally in all areas, you and your spouse can drastically reduce how much friction you have to work through.

This post was written in response to a request.

Looking for advice? You can submit an anonymous request through the Ask a Question page.