Money and Your Marriage

By Cassandra Laymon, MBA, CFP®

“I don’t need anyone to take care of me, and I don’t want to take care of anyone else.” That was my mantra for most of my adult life. I always had the higher salary and decided that if I was working the hardest and earning the most, I controlled the money. Not a pretty picture. And not hard to imagine that I had relationship problems.

When I married Rick, I was in uncharted territory. He had built a successful business and did not need my money or my controlling attitude. Even so, he always consults me on financial decisions big and small. God has blessed me with a spouse who would teach me what it is like to have a true partner in marriage.

                 “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife,
                         and they become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24 (NIV)

My past relationships were always one-sided. Either I was the one in charge or I played a passive role. Neither of these are what God intended for us. Here are the two most common money situations that I have experienced with couples in my role as a financial advisor:

  1. One spouse (often the husband, but not always) makes all the money decisions (particularly the investing ones) and leaves the spouse out of the picture.
  2. More often, one spouse (often the wife) declines to be a part of it.

It always breaks my heart when we are meeting with a husband who very much wants to involve his wife in the decision-making process and she refuses. I’m not a psychologist, but in some cases I think this is because the wife is not a numbers person and feels overwhelmed and/or confused. Perhaps it’s just easier not to have the responsibility of making money decisions and let someone else take care of it.

If you are the spouse who is not involved in the money decisions, let me share two things:

  • Basic money management does not have to be overwhelming. You do not need to understand every detail of the plan, but you do need to understand the big picture. Too often, when a husband dies, the wife often has to learn this quickly and during a time of grief. It’s very hard to make good decisions during such an emotional time, and if you haven’t been participating all along with your finances it makes it even harder.
  • It’s just not fair. Money management is a huge responsibility. When one person has all the control, they can make some bad decisions when they don’t have someone to talk to. Just this week I learned of woman whose husband put her in charge of the money as he wanted nothing to do with it. Over time, they incurred a lot of credit card debt. When he found out, he was furious and felt betrayed, and is now sleeping on the couch. If he had stayed involved and been paying attention, he could have saved them both a lot of heartache from a betrayal that will take a long time to heal.

What does unity around money and your marriage look like?

  1. Commit to unity in your finances: When you schedule a meeting with your financial planner, go together. Plan a dinner out or something fun afterwards where you can discuss what you have learned. You should find an advisor who can explain your plan in terms that both spouses can understand.
  2. Be willing to compromise: If one spouse is not comfortable with a particular investment decision or plan, listen and be open to change. Many regrets happen when one spouse was against a decision but decided to go along just to keep the peace.
  3. Work as a team: Most people don’t consider their household finances fun and exciting stuff. I will say from experience that Rick and I are at our best when we are working on something together. When we first started dating, we implemented the “Sunday Night Meeting” which was a review of everything that happened in the past week, and a plan for the week ahead. This is a great time to talk about upcoming expenses or to voice any concerns if things are not on track. There is some magic to this planned regular weekly meeting. It’s a time talk about important issues without all the emotion and “heat of the moment” that surrounds difficult topics.

If you are in a marriage where one person makes all the money decisions, I encourage you to either get more involved or encourage your spouse to get more involved. Sharing and discussing all your important decisions will bring you closer together and will result in making wiser decisions.