Marriage and money: Communication and control

My husband and I have lived together for four years, but we still argue about our finances. Both of us work full-time. My husband earns twice my salary. He used to pay all our bills, while I would pay my personal bills, with the rest of my salary going to the savings account. Lately, he demands that I pay half of all our bills. Helping out with expenses is no problem -- I think that is what marriage is about -- but my husband is not telling me where his money goes. I don't know anything about his finances. How can we resolve this?

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Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

Decision-making is one dimension of marriage. It appears that you have allowed your husband to make decisions in the past when it comes to money, but you seem to be uncomfortable doing so. Decisions cannot be made unilaterally in a marriage without detrimental impact on your relationship.

Have a discussion with your husband about the nature of partnership. According to law in most states all income in a marriage is shared jointly. This means that you are entitled to 50 percent of your husband's income, as he is to yours. And if divorce takes place in a community property state, everything you have is divided in half. But you do not want to have to divorce your husband to feel entitled to your fair share!

Require that all financial knowledge, including what each of you makes and where it goes is known and accessible to both of you. Information, as well as decision making, needs to be shared in order for equality to exist between partners.

Reflect on whether you have been reticent or unwilling to accept responsibility for financial information or decision making. Did you want your husband to take care of things so you did not have to worry about finances? If so, you may have initially contributed to his taking over in the present. Women are often acculturated to not take charge of money or financial decisions. Perhaps your father took care of finances in your family and it seemed natural to abdicate this area to your husband. But in your current situation, it is clear that you are being relegated to a child's role in this area of the marriage, and you are neither happy nor comfortable with the result.

Establish a partnership in this area. Be honest with yourself if you have in any way acted like a child in relationship to finances. If you have contributed by taking the role of a child, acknowledge that and be willing to accept responsibility educating yourself about finances. Claim both responsibility and your half of the decision-making power in the relationship. This does not mean a power struggle with your husband, but creating equality in decision making about how money is handled. If a power struggle escalates from your attempts to establish equity in decision making in your marriage, seek counseling to resolve the conflict. Unrelenting overt or covert power struggles that defy resolution are the greatest cause for divorce.

It is natural to get into power struggles with your husband. Working through these struggles, to resolve them in a manner that is acceptable to both of you, carries the promise of increasing your couples' bond. Intimacy wilts under inequity, but flourishes when partners appreciate and enjoy equality in decision making. Let your husband know that the way you feel when overpowered by him in this area has the cost of damaging the affection you have for him. This is not a retaliation on your part, but merely a natural consequence. Very often, we cannot see the forest for the trees. Getting your way at any cost means just that. Though your husband may feel in control when he makes unilateral decisions about finances, he is paying the price in deadening the affection in the marriage.

Ask your husband to consider the cost of his behavior to your relationship. Is the need to control greater than the desire for a loving and affectionate relationship?

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