Cindy from Baltimore, Md
Q: My husband and I have been married for four months. We are in the middle income bracket ($70,000 yearly), but we fight over money constantly. We are trying to save to buy a new house (we each own row-houses and want an individual home). My husband doesn’t see the need for me to have “discretionary money”. He says if I need something just take it out of the checking account. I used to eat lunch out every day. Now I just buy my lunch maybe two or three times a month. If I do, he’ll ask how much it “set us back” and makes comments about how much lunch cost. I just like having a certain amount of money without having to explain what I spend it on. He makes me feel like I am being selfish for wanting a specified amount of spending money and not wanting to save everything so we can get a new house. I’m not talking hundreds of dollars a month. The problem is I don’t even know how much I need a week to spend. This is my second marriage and I have never had to explain how I spent money before and I’m having problems with that now.
A: Cindy. You’re absolutely right. You need your own separate money. It doesn’t have to be much. I highly recommend that you negotiate fiercely to have 2 new separate (and private) accounts set up. You can negotiate how much each of you (equal amounts) get transferred to your private accounts each month (from your common account). After the money is in your private accounts, you should not have to account for it to the other since it’s private. The reason why this works so well is because of human nature. We all have needs to feel connected with another and we all have needs to feel separate. Your joint accounts symbolically represent your joint decision-making (togetherness). Your private accounts symbolically helps you to satisfy your need for autonomy. I’d suggest that you negotiate to formally set up the 2 additional bank accounts because it makes the boundaries between togetherness and privacy very clear. I hope this helps. – Bryce Kaye
Donna from Clover, SC
Q: My husband and I have been married almost 15 years and we have three children, two boys 10 and 11, and a girl 19 months. I am a stay-at-home mom. I love my husband and children very, very much. My husband works hard and provides for us very well. Since I don’t work, he controls all the money. He gives me money weekly to buy groceries and some extra, he says for me. Most of the time I don’t get to spend the money on myself. It seems as if the children always need something. If you have children, you know what I am talking about. Those little unexpected things that come up, and with three it seems like it is all the time. When I tell my husband I need some extra money, he acts as if I took the money that he gave me and just went crazy splurging. It has gotten so bad that I keep track of all my spending, down to the penny. So, when he asks what happened to the money he gave me then I can show him. When I go to show him where it all went he just says, never mind. This usually ends up in an argument. I hate to have to ask him for money. I hate to ask him for anything for myself. I feel like he’s my parent, not my partner. He makes a very good living, so it isn’t like he has to let something go to give me some extra if I run short. Heaven forbid if I use the credit card. He rolls his eyes, his jaws clench and he gets in a bad mood. There’s one other thing, I don’t get any time for myself. I feel like ME is gone and there is just this person called mom and wife walking around taking care of everybody. He takes time each week for his hobby and he is always stopping by a friend’s house for a quick visit. He comes home telling me what he did and how things are going and all about this and that. I have absolutely nothing to talk with him about. I just find myself listening. Now, I don’t begrudge him his time. Heaven knows he deserves it. He is a good person with great morals and he does work hard. I guess I just get jealous that he has time for himself. My free time for me is when I get to take a shower after everyone including him has gone to bed. On the days that things aren’t to hectic, I can handle this very well. It doesn’t bother me, . . . . that much. But on those days that the boys are fighting, they need my help for homework, I need to fix supper, the baby has a dirty diaper and is crying, the phone is ringing and the dog is barking, and my husband comes in and doesn’t even ask if I need help and wants to know how long before supper, and if its going to be awhile well then, he is going to go out to work on his car, . . . . well, . . . . I RESENT HIM!! (By the way his car isn’t broke down or anything like that, he restores old cars as a hobby.) In all our years as being parents, he has very rarely watched the children. Not until my sister had her first child this past March had he ever had to watch the children by himself. And, you know what? I FELT GUILTY! I just want him to be sympathetic. I don’t want to feel guilty when I have to ask him for help with the children or if I happen to run low on money. I want him to understand that I need some time for me and I don’t want to feel guilty for it. But how do I do this without it turning into an argument. This is the only problem we have. So, if you have any words of wisdom I would greatly appreciate it.
A: Donna, your situation has several dimensions in which classic polarization syndromes are occurring: You have an imbalance of authority when it comes to money. You have inequity of free time within the relationship. You have a helper system when it comes to household and child-care responsibilities. These are all classic mistakes and I have addressed them at length in the First Aid Kit. Please re-read the syndromes on Sneaky Spending and Delinquent Helper. Try to get your husband to read the recommended interventions. You have some major renegotiating of roles to do in your relationship. Forget about doing this piece-meal. Forget about short-term requests for “help.” Focus on the big picture which requires a lot of planning. – Bryce Kaye
Patty from Covington, La
Q: My husband and I have been married 7 months. We’ve been together for over 3 years. I am divorced from a wealthy man and have a large home, cars, etc. My husband has nothing but debt which he incurred before he met me. I do everything including pay all of the bills. He’s a PT and makes good money, but has the attitude that since he had to sign a pre-nup, he shouldn’t have to help and only gives me $100.00 per week to pay for food, cable, rent, cleaning, elect., internet, etc. This is a darn good deal, but his attitude has really gotten resentful. He’s over-demanding about sex and makes snide comments about me under his breath. I’ve already been through an abusive marriage, and he is not physically abusive or even abusive at all, but I don’t feel like putting up with anymore crap in my life. I have a 10yr. old son and 12 yr. old daughter who think the world of him, but they see us bickering and only want me to be happy. I’ve made him move out to see that $400.00 per month is a great deal and I also need time to figure out whether I want turmoil in my life anymore. I don’t and I’ve really detached and shut down from him. I feel terrible, because he’s a sweet person, but has no ambition and will never have anything financially as far as I can see. He’s too dependent on me and I’m just scared, even though I knew this before we got married, but I just swept it all under the rug. We are going to counseling once a week and now he says that he’s never felt that he belonged. He’s always felt like an outsider. What do you suggest?
A: Patty. It sounds like he’s trying to be honest with you. From the situation you describe, I can well imagine how hard it would be for him to be a “helper” in your world. Perpetual “helpers” feel only one level above serfdom. You describe that he should feel appreciative of being in your house and should pay you more. Why is he paying you anything? Why don’t you have it set up like an equal partnership? Why aren’t both of you paying things out of your common bank account that you both feed with your marital income? It sounds as if the marital authority structure is lopsided. Ask your counselor if he/she believes this to be true. – Bryce Kaye
Jim from Skowhegan, Maine
Q: My wife and i have problems communicating without fighting. Money is one problem. She is very good at organizing things for someone else but not in her home life .There are several other issues also, but I’ll just do this one for now. I’ve talked to her about this issue, (the money) but she just says that i am picking on her like everybody else did when she was a kid. The bills are not being paid properly. She gets mad when i get upset about this. She really gets mad when i attempt to take over the bills. This is very childish, WHAT CAN I DO?
A: Jim, try to avoid “taking over” the bills. Go to the Diagnostic section of the Marital First Aid Kit and click on the Sneaky Spending Syndrome. Print out the explanation and suggested intervention for you both to read. Then invite your wife to cooperate with you as an equal while both of you establish a spending plan (budget). Negotiate a schedule that has both of you reviewing your actual spending compared with your budget. It’ s a good idea to use different pots of money (accounts) for different kinds of expenses. If both of you can’t get on a level playing field, then somebody’s going to be infantalized and anger will build. If your wife refuses to cooperate with you in establishing a budgeted plan and assuming fiscal responsibility, then get third party help that may be successful in confronting her. Avoid a permanent system that has one of you being the “helper” – it’s bound to backfire. – Bryce Kaye