If married, should you and your partner share all money each earns? If one of you quits her or his job to be a stay at home parent or homemaker, does the “breadwinner” get to make the financial decisions?” What might it cost to pay someone to do all the tasks of a stay at home partner who may have sacrificed or postponed a career?
What if one spouse enters the marriage with significantly more assets, which can legally remain that person’s separate property afterwards, depending on the law in your state or country.
A husband who grew up in a patriarchal culture may think it’s fair that he make the big financial decisions, even if he’s not the main breadwinner. If his wife disagrees, she may argue futilely or become secretive about her spending. When either partner withdraws instead of talking about difficult feelings, the relationship will suffer.
If you want a loving and caring marriage, avoid dwelling on what’s fair because that tends to cause fruitless arguments. Instead, calmly and respectfully, say what you need in order to feel loved and secure in your relationship. And, of course, hear your spouse say what he or she needs to feel happy in the relationship.
By identifying your own and your partner’s beliefs about money, you’ll lay the groundwork for constructive discussions.
Here are a few examples of beliefs, which may not be conscious, which can affect marital relationships — for better or worse.
- A wife might believe that both partners should agree on all major expenses. Her husband thinks otherwise.
- A husband believes he needs to keep his wife financially dependent on him. The wife thinks she should not need to account for every penny spent.
- A wife thinks her husband should the breadwinner and she should be a homemaker. He view women with no outside-of-home interests as dull or clingy.
- A wife feels fine about earning more than her laid back husband; she thinks his approach provides a good balance to her intense nature. He finds her exciting.
Let’s see how such underlying beliefs influence different relationships:
Example A: Wife thinks spouses should agree on all major expenses; husband thinks otherwise:
Johanna assumed that her husband, Cal, shared her belief. So she was shocked when, without consulting her, he’d paid more to replace a car’s transmission than the car was worth. His view was, “It’s my car, I drive it and I want to keep it.”
Example B: A husband believes he needs to keep his wife financially dependent on him; she thinks she shouldn’t have to justify every little expense.
After they married, Joline moved into Parker’s apartment, which was close to his job. Because Joline’s commute to her lower paying job was exhausting, they agreed for her to quit, but without discussing in advance they would then deal with money.
Parker turned out to be possessive about “his” money and didn’t give her enough for basics like groceries. After their baby was born, Joline wanted a part time job so she wouldn’t have to beg him for money. Parker said no, the baby needed her. Joline’s resentment grew. She left him and moved in with her mother, who helped care for the baby while she worked.
Example C: A wife thinks her husband should the breadwinner and she should be a homemaker. He viewed women with no outside-of-home interests as dull or clingy.
Katharine was 45 when she married Harvey, then 51. After many years of holding high-stress, creative jobs, Katharine decided to be a homemaker. She liked organizing their place and cooking elaborate meals. When Harvey arrived home, she wanted to hear all about his day, but she had nothing to say about hers. What happened to the vibrant woman he’d married, whom he’d expected to continue working?
Harvey routinely works late. He doesn’t want sex with his wife and she suspects him of infidelity. He’s been wanting a divorce for some time, but feels social pressure to stay married.
Example D: A wife feels fine about earning more than her laid back husband; she thinks his approach provides a good balance to her intense nature, which he finds exciting.
Gina, 50, a highly successful software engineer, thrives in her work for Silicon Valley, California startups. Her husband, Ralph, 57, likes being a librarian. Their salaries and Gina’s bonuses go into joint accounts. They agree on major purchasing decisions.
During their twenty-five years of marriage, Gina has substantially out earned Ralph. Both are happy with how things have worked out.
Can you see how the couples above who experienced conflicts about money could have prevented them by talking over financial concerns early on?
Yes, it can feel awkward to talk about money when you’d rather keep the mood romantic instead of business-like. But if you want a relationship that remains intimate and fulfilling for a lifetime, make sure to attend to money — because it matters!