Money is a cause of conflict in many marriages. Managing your finances can be especially difficult when your spouse has conflicting ideas about money or won't even take part in the discussion to begin with. When one spouse doesn’t want to participate in financial planning, it can be frustrating for both partners—and could cost you in the long run.
It doesn’t help matters if your spouse thinks you are nagging or hounding them about money all the time, and you don't want to let your finances ruin your marriage.
So, how do you improve the situation? Let's explore a few of the most common problems and solutions.
What's the Problem?
To start, it helps to get to the root of what’s causing the money tension. For example, your spouse may refuse to combine finances if they have underlying fears or more serious financial issues that you are not aware of.
Differing ideas about how to spend money, organize a budget, use credit, and tackle other financial goals have also caused issues in many marriages. Approaching financial issues with your spouse in a non-accusatory way and keeping things simple can help you make progress as a team.
Take the time to sit down with your partner and try to find out the "why" behind their reluctance. Once you understand where they're coming from, you can work together to solve the problem.
If the situation is too tense, consider sitting down with a third party who can mediate and help you both remain calm and focused.
The Problem: Spouse Doesn’t Want to Budget or Plan
If your spouse understands the need to plan but just doesn’t want to, or they hate following a budget because it seems like too much work, it can be difficult to get them on board. Sticking to a budget is hard enough when you're committed to it, let alone when you’re not completely sold on the idea to begin with. For the sake of household harmony and financial health, though, it’s important to come up with a solution that will work for both of you.
The Solution: Create a Basic Plan for Review
Make it easy for your spouse to participate in the discussion. Come up with a basic budget that covers bills like groceries, utilities, and gas. Then talk about how you will choose to spend your discretionary income on expenses such as eating out and shopping, what your individual spending money should be, and other typical expenditures.
To make things very simple, you may even consider switching to a cash budget. You can break the money into weekly amounts to make it easier to get used to. That way, when the money is gone, both you and your spouse have to stop spending. In this scenario, you won’t have to worry about nagging your partner to stick to the budget. Plus, some people feel their spending more when actually handling cash and seeing it leave their wallet, rather than using a debit card, an online banking app, or a spreadsheet full of numbers.
This approach can take some of the pressure off of you and eliminate fights about every expenditure. At the end of each month, go over the budget and actual spending to see how you both did.
The Problem: Feeling Blamed in Discussions
If you're in a bad financial situation with a lot of debt or you seem to have a hard time sticking to a budget, the way you are approaching the issue may make your spouse feel like you blame them.
This can be a delicate situation—especially if you do feel that they are to blame for your financial troubles. However, it doesn't improve the situation if you place blame, no matter how deserved you feel it is. Blame makes your spouse feel defensive and less likely to participate in money discussions and stick to a budget. It will also cause you to approach the situation with a negative mindset, instead of a can-do attitude.
The Solution: Change Your Approach
Change the way you approach talking about money. Stop using blame, and don't focus on the past.
Instead of looking back, focus on what you can change moving forward and set up baby steps or milestones to track your progress toward your money goals. Try using phrases like, “Let's work together to get out of this situation.”
Ask your spouse to help create and commit to a plan that will improve the financial situation for both of you. With this approach, your spouse may be more willing to get on board and work together to improve your financial situation.
Reorienting your approach to a positive one diffuses any negativity and allows you to work toward a more positive future.
Problem: Not Being Involved or Resentment Over Being Told What to Do
While you may think you have a reluctant spouse who does not want to plan, you may actually be dealing with someone who does not feel involved in the process.
Ask your spouse if they would like a more active role in the budgeting and planning. If they say yes, then you may benefit from changing the way you approach the situation by sharing some of the financial responsibilities with them.
Often, one spouse feels like the other is controlling all of the spending decisions, making them feel like a child rather than an adult in the situation. This may be especially true if one spouse gives the other an allowance.
The Solution: Start Over
Fix this problem by including your partner. If your spouse doesn’t feel involved in the process, maybe it’s time to start the process over and do it together as a team. Take care to avoid being bossy, condescending, or otherwise making your spouse feel like they're somehow less integral to the process than you are.
Gather your actual bills and list your expenses and income together. Go over monthly expenses, your budget, and your financial goals. When looking at your budget, get your spouse’s take on how you should spend your remaining monthly income. Once they see the numbers in black and white, they may be more willing to stick to a budget or curb their spending.
Plus, once they are involved in the process, they will be much more likely to participate in future budgeting and money discussions, since they had a say in the original plan.
Problem: Belief That Everything Will Work Out Somehow
When your spouse is holding onto the belief that everything will work itself out naturally, you may have a difficult time getting them to participate in the discussion. Many personality types are much better at being flexible in the current moment but not great at planning for the long term. These personalities often feel that if they keep working hard, everything will just somehow work out. The truth is, financial success comes when you make a solid plan and stick to it.
The Solution: Give Your Spouse a Reality Check
This may sound harsh, but the best way to handle this is to provide your spouse with a reality check. Talk about goals or desires that they have expressed in the past, such as owning a home or traveling during retirement years.
Compare these goals directly to your current financial situation. Put together an estimate of the level of savings you need to accomplish and demonstrate to your spouse whether or not you will achieve that goal at the rate you are operating now. Through this process, you may be able to get them on board with a monthly budget discussion and a financial plan. Sometimes it takes seeing the hard facts to wake someone up to the reality of the situation and help them get inspired to take action.
Tips for Better Money Discussions With Your Partner
- Set a specific date and time for a discussion
- Use inclusive language
- Avoid placing blame
- Focus on shared goals
- Listen carefully to your partner
- Remain calm
- Invite a third party if necessary
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can my spouse withdraw all the money from our bank account?
If you spouse is named on your bank account, they can make withdrawals from it. However, if the account is in your name only, your spouse legally can't take money from it. If a spouse cleans out a joint account prior to a divorce or separation, a judge or mediator will determine how the money should be disbursed.
How should I split finances with my spouse?
How to split finances is a personal decision. You may want to split finances 50/50 or base the split on how much each partner earns. You can either have separate accounts with a joint account you can use for mutual expenses, or you can just have the joint account, with each person contributing. If you spouse won't combine finances, one of you could pay the other for his or her portion of mutual expenses, and the other person could pay bills from his or her account.
Am I responsible for my spouse's financial troubles if we keep our money separate?
If you are not named on your spouses accounts, you might not be responsible for any financial issues that arise. However, law can be different in one of the nine community property states.