How Not To Communicate About Money In Your Marriage

For the last two weeks I’ve been dealing with a situation which required me to intervene with a couple with regard to their finances.  To say that this has been the most frustrating two weeks of my life is an understatement.  Sleepless nights.  Crazy emails back and forth.  One hand not knowing what the other is doing.  Just pure madness if you ask me.  I tend to take on my friends’ emotions so it was hard for me to listen to both sides while helping them manage the emotional and financial impact of their issues.

While I understand how difficult it can be to hammer out differences when your financial values aren’t aligned, only now did I begin to understand how it goes down in other relationships.

The couple never communicated in their almost 10 years of marriage about how they wanted to handle their money-together or apart.   Here’s a snapshot of their issues:

  • The wife feels they should have everything together but the husband has always maintained separate accounts.
  • The husband has no sincere interest in managing the money, just wants it deposited the rest should take care of itself. o_O
  • The wife lacks some integrity in her financial dealings while the husband is opposite in this regard, still he just doesnt want to deal with it all.
  • They don’t talk about how bills should be paid.  They just haphazardly get paid with little thought about how things should be done.

Do you see a common theme?

Lack of communication.

And, being in the middle of it all I wanted to rip my hair out.

As we move towards the end of this debacle, only now are they starting to learn how to communicate about money in their relationship.

As a result they’ve realized the following:

1.  Communicate early and be honest about your feelings towards money management in a marriage.  I don’t really believe in separate accounts but it works for some people.

2.  Do some introspection about how your values clash with those of your spouse/partner’s values and discuss in detail.  It may not take one conversation so be prepared for several.

3.  Understand your weaknesses.  If you realize that your spouse is weak in one area then work to balance and support them if possible.  For example, if your partner has no interest in daily money management then you must learn how.  Bills have to get paid.

One other interesting point is that while the wife usually manages the money and she prefers it this way, she was really pissed that her husband had no interest in the finances.  And, on some level I can relate to her frustration.  My husband is the same way.  He only cares about making the money, managing the minutia of our personal finances isn’t one of his strong points, though he manages millions in his day job.

And it took me a good long while to accept this fact.  I like the control I have, he gives me carte blanche, but when I don’t feel like doing it he doesn’t automatically pick it up.  I have to task him in this area to get it done.

When the wife was enraged that her hubby dropped the ball on a few things, I welcomed her to the club LOL

Still, we were able to talk about how to engage him in a way that made him comfortable.  I suggested that perhaps tasking him with minor things might work.  For instance, if I am overwhelmed, there are times when I will create a list of things for my hubby to do as it relates to our money.  And he gets it done.  But if it’s something long term and consistent then he might forget.  And since I am the money nazi in our relationship (checking balances daily, categorizing transactions in Yodlee weekly, reviewing the budget monthly), I’ve learned to focus on how my strengths compliment his weaknesses.

I hope this was informative for you as it was for me.  Having this much up close and personal involvement in someone else’s finances truly helped me realize that personal finances, is really just that –> personal.

  • victorybydesign

    Congratulations on being such a good friend. There are many people who would have stood by on the sidelines and watched their marriage fall apart or went to the other extreme of being the all knowing guru of relationships and money. So thank you for having a balanced approach.

    There are a few things that I wanted to comment on:
    1.Communication over finances is one of the major components of a strong relationship. It reflects your philosophy on giving, saving, investing, and aggressively accents your strengths and weaknesses.
    1a.Usually one of the spouses are more detail oriented and/or more organized, that should be the primary one setting up the budget on a monthly basis and the other spouse can come to the table to provide their input on the budget template. The key to this process is to have the second spouse be able to freely speak about any changes and they are agreed upon together.
    1b. I would recommend reading the book "7 habits of highly effective people" by Stephen Covey with a concentration on 2 chapters: Seek first to understand and then to be understood, and Win-Win agreements to expound on coming to the table properly.

    2.It is not detrimental to the process if one of the person does not want to manage the day to day budget as long as they have input into the larger process, everybody has some type of personal goal that needs financing. Examples would range from going back to school, remodeling the house, a big vacation, a new car, or more. Sit down and talk about those things semi-annually or quarterly if you have several and this will also help to bring the monthly budget to life for both spouses because it is constantly guiding them towards a personal goal.

    3. Uniting your visions with your finances takes time and the process if conducted with integrity will build trust back into the relationship. After the trust has been earned, then they can start the process of uniting the checkbook. The ideal situation is that a married couple have joint accounts on all matters. There are some who operate with separate accounts, but that is because one of them does not trust the other, whether it was because of past indiscretions or because of witnessing other marriages being hurt by a irresponsible spouse. Either way, the trust has to be earned in this area more than most areas of a relationship and will take time to heal those wounds.

    Be Blessed

    Ahmad Davis
    Personal Finance Coach
    Victory By Design