What if you weren’t the family banker?
Who makes the decisions in your household when it comes to the big-ticket items? When you and your husband disagree on a house project—whether or not to do it, or when to do it, or which one to do—or when the two of you disagree about where to go on vacation, who casts the deciding vote? How you answer this question determines who holds the most power in the relationship.
Who’s in charge of the checking account matters, too, because that person sees how the money is being spent—which means the person who’s not in charge of the checking account is at the mercy of bill payer. The bill payer may not be trying to control the other person’s spending; but he or she has the advantage of seeing what’s moving in and out of the account, so it’s inevitable. (Sidebar: One way to avoid this is for both partners to stick to an agreed-upon budget and use cash.)
This may come as a surprise, but in the past financial power was evenly distributed in many, if not most, households. As the breadwinners, men may have had control over big-ticket items, but wives typically maintained control of the family’s day-to-day spending because the home was considered their domain.
Today, things have changed. More and more women make their own money, which changes the marital dynamic considerably. The female breadwinner is hailed as a boon for women and for society, and it may be. But depending on how a wife handles these circumstances, it can be very bad news for her marriage.
The research shows that when women make more, they tend to use the money as a means of control. “When a man makes a lot of money and a woman doesn’t, there may be fighting over money—the actual dollars and cents of living and how she spends it. When a woman makes a lot of money and the man doesn’t, the fight isn’t exactly over money but over power: She expects to have more of it,” writes couples therapist Jane Greer, Ph.D.
It is no coincidence the divorce rate has skyrocketed as more and more women became breadwinners.
So how can a wife who has her own money keep it from undermining her marriage?
By first understanding what money means to men compared to what it means to women. Most women and most men do not have the same amount of energy invested in breadwinning. Married women, in particular, are more invested their relationships than they are in their paychecks. Even today, approximately 30% of married mothers choose not to be employed; and in families where both parents are employed, “70% consist of fathers who earn more than mothers.”
Men, as a rule, are simply more invested in their paychecks—they consider breadwinning their job. Which makes sense when you think about it, since women are able to do something no man can: give birth. What can top that? Nothing—it’s miraculous. And men don’t have this power. I’m not saying men secretly long to give birth. I’m saying a man’s ability to provide for the family he helped created is integral to his identity. That’s something he can do.
So am I saying you should quit your job if you’re married? No.
I’m saying you should give up being the family banker.
No matter how your family’s money gets through the door, let your husband manage it. (Sidebar #2: Do not do this if your husband has an addiction of any sort or if he’s not gainfully employed.)
I can already see your face through the screen. You’re incredulous. You think I’m nuts. In fact you think I’m so crazy you might not read the rest of this post! But that would be your loss, not mine. Because what you will gain by releasing your grip on the checkbook is huge. Huge.
When your husband retains the one true power he has—to take care of his family—he becomes the man you first met and fell in love with. You retain the romantic aspect of your relationship because you’re no longer mother and son but husband and wife.
To be clear, I am not suggesting you wash your hands of anything money related. All major purchases in a marriage should be a joint endeavor, just as all monies should be joint property. What I am saying is that a marriage in which a man has to check with his wife about what he can or can’t spend is a ticking time bomb. You may or may not get divorced, but you will never experience the intimacy you crave.
I know you want to control the spending and can’t imagine trusting your husband with that job. But isn’t that what he’s doing right now? Trusting you? If you cannot reciprocate, don’t think for a moment this isn’t a problem. It is. It means your husband trusts you, but you don’t trust him. And that manifests itself in a thousand different ways.
What I’m suggesting is no small thing, and I can’t make you do it. But I can give you these questions to think about:
1. Do you and your husband fight a lot about money? Or about anything for that matter, since all too often arguments are about money even when it seems as though they aren’t.
2. Is your husband acting out in any way? Does he drink a lot? Retreat to the basement?
3. Does your husband feel as though you’re his mother rather than his wife?
4. Does your husband initiate sex?
5. Does your husband take you out on dates and decide where you’ll go, the way he did when you were first together?
How you answer these questions determines how much of a problem money may be in your marriage. Ideally, you want your answers to be: no, no, no, yes and yes. The further away you are from those answers, the more work you have to do. If you do not make a change, the marriage you have now is the marriage you’ll have for life.
Is it the one you want?