Progress has been slow, but American society’s openness to marriage norms and money issues continues to evolve. Married couples now include the LGBTQ+ community and 38% of breadwinners are women. I share this because gender norms are becoming less normal, which actually means no one is immune to the possibility of a spouse using money as a tool of control.
It is not uncommon for a spouse to take over the management of household finances in a relationship. Some leave day-to-day money management tasks to their spouse in exchange for a chore they are more comfortable with. It’s perfectly healthy as long as giving up money management doesn’t mean giving up power over money in your relationship.
A spouse who uses money to control another spouse is committing financial abuse, and it is a destructive force in a marriage. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, financial abuse occurs in 99% of domestic violence cases and affects all socioeconomic, educational, racial and ethnic groups.
Assigning a spouse to manage money is different. In this arrangement, a spouse can avoid worrying about bill due dates or managing credit cards and still have a say in how the money is used in the marriage.
When there is sound and fair control over money, a partner manages money, including day-to-day finances. Deciding how money is spent is equal, regardless of any income disparity. Both partners have access to their financial account information. Both partners are transparent and honest about the money they earn and own.
In relationships where there is unhealthy and inappropriate control of money, your partner refuses to share the details of your day-to-day finances with you and uses greater earning power as leverage for more power in the marriage. In these unhealthy marriages, one partner cannot access their money and instead receives an allowance. Often a partner commits financial infidelity, lying about money.
It’s healthy to divide the responsibilities of managing money and a house fairly and to play to each partner’s strengths. Take, for example, Dan and Kim Kadlec.
Dan is a retired financial journalist. Kim is senior vice president of global marketing solutions and client marketing at VISA. Dan and Kim are our first Modern Husbands ambassadors. They embody the values and spirit of the Modern Husbands community by partnering with their spouse to manage money and home as a team. Their division of labor in the home includes an ideal example of how a spouse can appropriately take on the money management duties of the home.
Communication and transparency are essential. Additionally, the timing and atmosphere of conversations about money greatly affects how they unfold. Many experts recommend setting aside uninterrupted time with your spouse to talk about money in a relaxed setting where you’re not in a rush. Experts often call these planned conversations “money dates,” which are far more productive than reacting to a bill or decision when you’re emotionally charged.
Yet some married couples find discussions about money stressful and uncomfortable, even under the best of conditions. A 2021 report from researchers at George Washington University showed that 50% of American adults surveyed felt stressed when discussing their personal finances, and 60% experienced anxiety just thinking about their finances. These results applied to all types of demographic data. One of the main predictors of the lack of stress and anxiety reported when talking about money was when respondents were financially knowledgeable.
The ideal way to manage money together is one that you and your spouse agree on. Consider these approaches:
1. Pool your money: Put your and your spouse’s money in one bucket to manage together. Research has found that couples who do this have the lowest likelihood of disagreements. This is even the case for couples who live from salary to salary and low-income couples with young children.
2. Separate your finances: Alternatively, just like two roommates sharing expenses, your accounts are separated and expenses are paid according to the arrangement you propose. It could be as simple as a 50-50 split, but it doesn’t have to be. There is evidence that when there is tension around money and a significant income disparity between spouses, they can arrange an expense sharing model commensurate with that difference.
3. Yours, mine and ours: This hybrid model includes a joint account for shared expenses and separate accounts for discretionary expenses. Such a model could be useful for couples who frequently argue over how discretionary money is spent.
Who takes charge of money management in the household and how couples decide to manage money together depends on several factors. But never use money to control a spouse – it will become a destructive force in your marriage.
Brian Page is the founder of Modern Husbands, which provides men with advice on money, marriage and family matters.
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