Q: My husband and I have a wonderful relationship in almost every way, but one area of huge conflict for us is money. When you read articles on “how to manage your finances as a couple” there are usually three options listed: totally separate, totally joint, or yours-mine-ours. That’s fine and all, but what happens when you can’t agree on which framework to choose?
I grew up in a family where my parents had joint everything, made money decisions together, and over the course of their lifetimes earned pretty similar incomes. This is my model for how finances should be handled in a marriage—what’s yours is mine, what’s mine is yours, for richer or for poorer, us against the world, etc.
My husband, on the other hand, wants us to have the yours-mine-ours setup. He earns about ten times what I do, mostly because he has an insanely lucrative finance job while I have a very decent but not insanely lucrative tech job. For him, the ideal setup would be us each paying proportionate shares into a joint account for expenses and then putting the excess into individual accounts.
I find his approach totally anathema to the very idea of marriage as a partnership. It’s not like I want to get at his money so I can go on wild shopping sprees; between us I’m the more frugal one and all I want to do with “our” money is to stash it away in diversified investments. He agrees that this is the case. Interestingly enough, we never fight about spending money at all. It’s all about… I don’t know, control and this idea of “I earned it” on his side versus wanting to feel valued and respected on my side. Mostly, I just hate the fact that we are arguing about this. I feel like his fixation on money is destroying our relationship for no reason at all.
Advice on how to handle this?
I’d ask him why he doesn’t want to share. It isn’t clear from your letter if you’ve specifically, pointedly asked why and if so, what reason he gave. What exactly is he afraid of here? I know to you it feels like, “I don’t trust you,” and, “You’re not valuable enough to invest my money into,” but I’m guessing he wouldn’t describe his own rationale that way. Ask him. That said…
Separate accounts works for some folks, but it’s obviously not working for you. So, I have three things for you to think about and maybe pass down the old pipeline to him.
1. Who’s really earning it? He’s saying, “I’ve earned it.” But partners in a marriage are so wholly impacted by one another’s careers that in many ways they both are earning that paycheck. If he’s working longer, harder hours to bring in that money, chances are your life is being impacted. At minimum, you’re seeing him less, but probably also taking on the lion’s share of household maintenance and administrative tasks at home to enable him to do it.
2. What would happen if he lost his job? If you lost yours? If you decided to have kids and one of you stayed home? If one of you decided to go back to school? If one of you left your career to pursue your passion for selling mason jars of artisan pickle brine? There are any number of things that can happen to a seemingly straightforward career trajectory that, whoops, will throw this three-way divided income system through a loop. When one of you can’t or won’t be able to contribute to that joint account, what happens then? Marriage is the kind of partnership that means if someone’s down, the other one picks up the slack. The system he’s proposing makes that difficult.
3. What’s he going to do with all that extra cash? Take himself on vacation? Go out to dinner alone? Buy his own house? Send “his” kids to private school? Either he keeps it for himself, or he constantly “treats” you. And that second one means a forever unequally balanced dynamic of indebtedness.
Marriage involves working as a team, and deciding together how to use your resources is a part of that teamwork.
Aside from all of that teamwork stuff, we need to acknowledge the inherent inequalities of the world. Small-time, it’s expensive to be a lady! Tampons, birth control (and don’t get me started on the various paraphernalia I need post-baby) all cost money that guys don’t have to spend. But that birth control stuff that’s basically for you, but also sort of for the two of you, does that fall under Column A: Mine, or Column B: Ours? Actually, how many toiletry sort of things would be in that Ours column? And where do you draw the line between personal and joint?
Larger scale, men make more money. They make more for the same work, and are also hired more for higher-paying jobs (particularly in fields like finance). Hoarding all of that cash means he’s also holding onto all of the power that goes with it, perpetuating that system and bringing it into your home instead of working to shut it down.
Talk, talk, talk
I may be preaching to the choir here, but maybe you can pass these thoughts along to him. Even better, maybe you can bring them up in the presence of a good counselor. Yeah, yeah, it’s “just money,” but the idea of value can be significant in a marriage, and finding an objective ear isn’t a sign of defeat. Whether you find someone or not, make sure you address those ideas about teamwork and trust that we talked about above.
I know that the idea of a giant, secret savings account somewhere doesn’t inspire a ton of trust for me.
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