The One Secret to Money in Marriage
I don’t have an answer for partners that won’t listen to each other’s worries when it comes to paying the bills, buying the necessities, etc. It boggles my mind that people can be in a dedicated, committed, long-term relationship but still be living (or at least attempting to live) completely separate financial lives. I’m not talking about how you actually manage the day-to-day funds — which accounts you use, who pays bills out of what, etc. — I’m talking about mentally leading separate financial lives. How is that possible while still being productive?
I don’t understand why money is such a touchy subject for a couple. Why do you take offense when your spouse asks about XYZ expense? Why do you assume you’re being attacked? Is it because you feel guilty? Is it because you immediately mentally turn the question around and start holding your spouse up to the same scrutiny, spouting off that they spend on XYZx2?
What do you hear when your partner tells you “money is tight.” Do you hear blame or shared concern?
What do you hear when your partner mentions that “this could be a bad month.” Do you hear an accusation that you aren’t earning enough or a message from a trusted friend to ‘hang in there’?
Why do you attempt to exercise control over your partner through your finances? Do you not trust them? Why?
Why do you hide spending from your partner? Is it because they’re so controlling? Why?
Why do you make your partner do all of the financial paperwork? Why do you stick your head in the sand when there’s a financial crisis? Why do you have such a hard time facing the reality that your partner has been trying to tell you about for the past six months?
Why can’t you talk about money openly with your partner? How is it that you can talk about your childhood, raising kids, religion, fears, sex, aspirations… but can’t manage to throw together one productive conversation about money without taking offense, or going on the offensive?
Why is money the number one cause of divorce? Why do we tie everything else in life back to money? What makes money such an emotionally-charged topic? Do you feel that money is a reflection on you?
Take off the gloves, step out of the ring, (remove the mouthguard), towel off, and talk. Better yet: simply ask very open-ended questions and listen. Don’t respond to answers, just listen. Don’t begin formulating your next question, just listen to the answer being given. Don’t think of the past wrongdoings (yours or theirs), just listen. Understand what it is that your spouse is telling you. If they aren’t talking a lot, listen to that. And listen hard because it’s a lot tougher to listen to someone that doesn’t (want to) say much.
Confess that you take offense too quickly because you’re insecure about money (but don’t, for the life of you, know why!). Confess that you offend too quickly. Confess that you question your partner’s spending too harshly. Confess that, in your feeling frustrated about money, you’ve carelessly shifted the blame completely to your partner.
Apologize for not doing more to help with the financial stuff. Apologize for not wanting to talk earlier. Apologize for being a jerk about spending money (apologize for being a hypocrite about spending money). Apologize for always blaming and never taking some of the blame for yourself.
I am not a marriage counselor. Trained as an accountant, I learned to read financial statements, not women (oh that there were a major for that). I do not understand all of the intricacies that make up a relationship as complex as the one you’re currently in.
I do understand budgeting. I have a handle on it. I’ve seen what it can do for relationships. No, I can’t tell you what behavior you’re exhibiting when you do A and your partner does B and together you get C… but I can tell you what behavior will put your finances back on track.
Sit down every month and give every dollar a job together.
Maybe one person does most of the actual day-to-day entry of expenses, that’s fine. We’re starting small here. But make sure that both of you sit down every month and give every dollar a job. Face reality together.
Your communication will improve. Your guilt will go away. Your finances will recover. Your anger will subside. Soon your goals will begin to be realized.
You’ll be dealing with the same bills, the same income, the same crises…but you’ll be dealing with them together. And there is the secret!
Want to get better at managing money together? Check out our hub on how to budget together and stop fighting about money.