Marriage and Money: 

My Spouse And I Cannot Agree On How To Handle Our Money

by Sally Connolly, LMFT and John E. Turner, LMFT

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  • “My wife hides purchases from me.”
  • “My husband just cannot figure out how to stay within a budget.”
  • “My spouse counts every purchase that I make, even at the grocery store. I have absolutely no money that I can use just for me.”
Disagreeing about finances is one of the most common problems that we hear from couples. When marriage and money is the issue, we also hear  hear comments about trust, control, stinginess, irresponsibility, lying and dishonesty.

Everyone comes to a relationship with ideas, philosophies and feelings about money. Often, when they are similar, there is not a problem. (Unless, of course, they both want to spend a lot.)

If they differ, then this is what we often learn. The one who is more frugal with money can become even tighter when he or she sees a spouse spend in a way that feels superfluous. When a spouse who is freer with spending feels “controlled” with conversations, criticism or checking, they may find ways to hide spending. What begins as a simple difference can escalate out of control and erode good will within the couples’ relationship quite quickly.

Marriage and Money:  Tips To Help You Work It Out

Here are a few tips for couples to help them move from being opponents about the family budget to players on the same team.

Talk with each other about the meaning of money and marriage for you and your life. What did money represent when you were growing up? How did your parents handle money? How does that affect the way you think about money? How do you envision your marriage and money?  Get a better understanding about your spouse and his or her thoughts about money so that when you hit any normal roadblocks about the family finances, you will be able to travel over them more easily.  
Make sure that you each have “an allowance” or some amount of personal money that you can spend each month on yourself. This is money for lunches, coffee, golf, whatever you enjoy and that you can spend without having to “report in”.

Talk together about a reasonable amount of money that each of you can spend without consulting the other one. Depending on each individual couple and their finances, it may be as small as $10 or as large as $1,000. Both agree that you will talk about it before any purchases over that amount are made (other than necessary ones such as groceries) and problem-solve around the decision. This differs from the personal money because it may involve home furnishings, clothing, special foods, etc..

 Work on a budget together. Make sure that you both know the amount of money you receive in your paychecks, any additional income, and the amount of regular bills. Discuss other bills that may not need to be paid monthly but are regular and expected expenses.

Talk out your money differences. Couples with different ideas about spending may not really understand who their spouse thinks. For specific purchases that are controversial, talk about your position and why you feel as you do. Try to explain why this purchase is important for you and get a good understanding from your partner about her/his thoughts and feelings about this purchase.

Recognize that finances may just be something that is normal for you to differ on; however, if you remain respectful to each other in the conversations, you will be able to make decisions about expenses that will work for each of you. Think positively about this as a problem to solve, not an attack on your character.

If all else fails, consider a financial planner to help you work through your differences. If you cannot afford one on our own, check with some churches in your area. Some churches and community centers have people who volunteer to help others with this.
Above all, continue to remain positive with your partner and know that you both have the same end goal in mind … a sound financial plan. Believe that you can both "win" at marriage and money.

Would you like to read other articles about couples and conflict as well as about marriage and money? Check out our articles at our online counseling website, Counseling Relationships Online.

Click on the red button to hear Sally’s radio interview about marriage and money. 

Click here to read more of our advice about healthy relationships.

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