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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Money and Marriage

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Mar 26th 2007

One of the most serious problems affecting huge numbers of married couples and families in the United States today is money management issues and credit card debt. Along with sexuality it is the most difficult issue for couples to discuss with one another as well as in psychotherapy. In fact, many couples seek marriage therapy because they can discuss neither sexual issues nor money issues without descending into a huge argument. Despite the best of intentions at the outset of a discussion many couples have reported to me that one or both of them end up feeling hugely angry and argumentative.

Why is it difficult to discuss money and financial issues?

Money and finances have deep meanings for people that go to deep layers of their psyche. For example, many consider money to be an extremely private issue that they are unwilling to share another. Friends may discuss stock investments but never their personal finances, incomes and overall wealth. Money relates directly to issues of high or low self-esteem, feelings of success or failure, power or weakness and what some may judge to be an individual's social conscience or economic exploitation of others. Money also relates to self perceived feelings of dependence or independence. I have known a few cases where a new wife had no idea how much money their husband earned. This is not openness and not a fortuitous way to begin a marriage.

These issues and problems come to bear on marriage and family life:

Newly weds must resolve how to handle their finances and this is no easy task because it impinges on and can even threaten feeling about autonomy and independence. Many people enter into marriages not wanting to share their earnings. This reluctance is often intensified by the fact that there is a very high rate of divorce and, even at the start of a marriage people are concerned about what may happen if the marriage fails. As one young husband said to me in marriage therapy many years ago, "why should I let her have my savings? If we divorce she could get my hard-earned money and some other guy she marries can kick back while I will have to continue to kill myself to earn a living."

Money equals power for many people and, therefore, control of finances, bank accounts, bills, and how much each spouse is allowed to spend implies who will and will not be in control. Young married couples often begin to struggle with one another over these questions of finances. In fact, with many people marrying at older ages today, there is increased resentment over the possibility of sharing finances and budgets after many years of living independently. As another individual stated to me about marriage and money, (he was anticipating marriage) "why do I have to be responsible for someone else after all of these years when up until now I have only had to be responsible for myself.

Many young couples quarrel over how to divide their income. For instance, some people advocate putting both incomes together and using a single bank account to pay bills, save a certain amount in an interest bearing account and each have some cash to spend on daily expenses and luxuries. I have heard people argue about this based on a number of factors: 1. "I earn more so it’s not fair if I put my money in with my partner's earnings;" "I do not want to share my money. I want to keep mine and you keep your money;" "I don't trust you or anyone with my money." These are just a few of the many arguments I have heard young married couples make over their financial issues. Of course, what escapes most of these is the notion that "we are now married and it’s now our money towards a shared future."

Credit Cards, Mortgages and Overall Debt:

As though money, sex and learning to live together are not difficult enough for most people their problems are exacerbated by debt. Some people enter into their marriages with personal debt and other couples find themselves quickly getting more deeply into debt from one year to the next of their marriage.

There are many young people who are burdened with repaying their college and graduate tuition bills because their parents were not able to do so. All too often this education debt is further burdened by associated expenses during the college and graduate years such as room and board, food, text books and entertainment. In addition, college and graduate students are frequently flooded with advertisements encouraging them to open credit accounts at extremely low rates of interest. Closer perusal of the advertisements would reveal that those interest rates undergo enormous increases after one year. Too many young people, excited by the prospect of having their own credit card, manage to overlook the fine print.

Young, married couples also discover that their mailboxes are stuffed with credit card advertisements. This is particularly enticing when these couples want to furnish their house or apartment. There is also the dream of purchasing a house or condominium which is something that most Americans aspire to. It should go without saying that there needs to be a car along with the house, furniture, computer and music system. In other words, it does not take long for people to find themselves deep in debt.

What About Being Frugal?

Simply put, it is difficult to be frugal when the entire society is pushing people to spend money. The mass media, including such things as television, magazines, newspapers, the Internet, etc. encourage people to purchase the latest in technology, such as HDTV, I Pods, and on and on. In fact people are told that they can save money by making these purchases. If there ever were a paradox and conundrum for people this is it, this notion that they can save money by spending it!

Young married people are soon overwhelmed by monthly bills that soon far outweigh their monthly income. Filled with anxiety and anger, many begin to blame and attack one another.

Is it any mystery as to why we have a fifty percent rate of divorce?

What to Do?

When couples cannot resolve their sexual and financial problems without getting into loud and hopeless arguments it is time to enter marriage therapy in order to explore solutions to these problems without bringing the marriage to the edge of divorce. Marriage therapy along with other types of psychotherapy is reimbursable by health insurance plans. There are also credit counseling agencies that help people to combine their debt, reduce interest rates and work out fair monthly payment programs with the credit companies.

What are your experiences with and comments about these issues?

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at dransphd@aol.com for details.

    Reader Comments
    Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

    thanks! - Pete - Sep 22nd 2010

    Great post! Really good insight. It's always difficult to discuss finances and share money in relationships. Thanks for your advice. I recently stumbled upon this blog like I stumbled upon yours. I think they offer some good points and laughter about the topic: http://burisonthecouch.wordpress.com/2010/09/22/dolla-dolla-bill-yall/

    Thanks for the post! I'd like to see more like it.

    What's mine is hers and what's hers is mine - - Nov 20th 2009

    When it comes to money in my marriage, my wife and I have one joint account that we put all of our money into.  I don't have money and she doesn't have money, we have money.  After the necessities are paid for and we place some in savings, we talk about what to do with the extra.  Sometimes we do things together, or I spend some on myself and she spends some on herself.  We communicate about almost all expenditures.  Now this can be somewhat taxing, but I think discussing something this important and coming to an agreed upon conclusion has strengthened our communication and thus our marriage.

    Money and Marriage - Allan N. Schwartz, PhD - Nov 20th 2009

    Hello "Sharing money and marriage,"

    It is good that you have spoken to your friends about this issue but you also need to know that every couple works out their financial arrangements in ways that are mutually agreeable.

    More than anything else, you and your girlfriend need to have a sense of trust in each other. That trust becomes even more important if you marry. In terms of building trust, it is important to understand that, once marriage, there is no such thing as  "my money," and "her money." Rather, it all becomes "our money." How you decide to work that out is up to both of you: jointly and by mutual agreement.

    I hope this helps and best of luck.

    Sharing money in marriage - - Nov 20th 2009

    I have an issue thats been bothering me and possibly in turn my girlfriend for sometime and I wonder could you give me your thoughts

    I have been with my girlfriend for 5years and we are very happy togther. I have worked extremely hard throughout my career, often working long hours and as a result have been able to afford some little extras like a bit of travelling each year etc. All in all I prob earn about 30% more than my girlfriend. We have been living together for approx 2.5 years. I just bought a new house and all the furniture that goes with that. I spent all my savings in doing so. My girlfriend pays a basic rent towards the mortgage.  In terms of cooking, cleaning, buying food and stuff around the  house, we share that equally.  I pay the bills.

    When the question of marriage comes up, my girlfriend is of the opinion that I should be payin a much greater proportion of everything as I earn more. Which means I will never return to the days where I can afford a bit extra for myself. I know writing this it seems very mean, but I have spoken to other couples who say they pay equal amounts into a central account and the rest is theirs to spend how they wish.  What do you think, do I work less to even the balance ? (I am joking). Should she do more around the house to even things up or do I just grim and bear it in the name of love!

    Your advice would be greatly appreciated.

    husband won't share money. - - Jun 9th 2009

    my husband has two bank accounts .i have no income.

    he says he worked hard for his money.he will not give me any money. he pays the bills,if i ask him for money he says"you give me some money. i cook, clean, don't   know what to do. thinking of leaving.  how can i get through to this man? what do i say?    HELP

    Married 50 years and still being controlled by husband over money. - M.C. Dench-Henry - Feb 5th 2009

    Thank you for this chance. I have been married for 50 years and from day one, my husband has controlled every aspect of our marriage especially finances. Admittedly, I had difficulity in keeping my checkbook  balanced so I withdrew myself from the bank account. This was 30 years ago. He controls ALL the money. Will not allow me to grocery shop, pay bills or even chose what to buy in clothes. I can have anything I want as long as he thinks I need it and picks it out. When he gives me money for myself as a gift, he dictates how  I should spend it. Once in a while, my daughter and I go to the casino. I use my social security to play but he still wants to control even that. He does not believe that he should share any money that he has with me and that there is no such thing as shared marital assets. That all the money is his because he earned it even to our house that since he is the one who pays all of the bills it belongs to him and out of the goodness of his heart, he has GIVEN me a place to stay and food to eat...he has asked me what more do I want? He has an insurance policy made out to me. I do not even have  the PIN # at the bank in case of an emergency. Even the bank officers told him that he needs to put me back on the account. He has but it is for the savings account, and he has not allowed me to know the account #. He buys 2 cartons of smokes once a week and says its his money and he can do whatever he likes with it. He said that I need protected from myself. Please, is there any way to show him that we share everything in our marriage? We have 8 adult children and I am glad that they do not have the same attitude. HELP!!! Thank you.

    Re: 'Money and Marriage' - Payday Installment Loans - Nov 26th 2008

    Money problems are a contributing factor in the decision to divorce. We see, too many couples who devoted more time and planning to their wedding than their financial interdependence. For both newly married couples and long-standing marriages, financial communication is crucial.

    My husband and I think conversely when it comes to money. As a child, I remembered saving every penny I found and overtime, grew into a large sum – enough to purchase my first car during my high school days. My husband, on the other hand, was never taught the money management skills necessary to live a practical adult life. If he wants something, he goes out and buys it. However, we’ve made it work by discussing our problems. We frequently disagree, but every married person can agree that marriage is all about compromise. And we work hard to compromise when it comes to our budget. My marriage advice to any newlywed would be to speak openly with your spouse about everything, especially when it comes to money. Communication is the biggest key to a happy marriage. Seek help from marriage counselors if you need help with your communication skills. And if for any reason you need help covering any unexpected expense, don’t resort to an overdrawn bank account or addition fees. 


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