Does Your Spouse Use Money As A Power Play In Your Marriage?
Money problems in marriage arise from imbalances in power, decision-making, and transparency. They often happen when spouses have a large inequity in their earning power. The spouse with the most income or wealth often expects to dictate the family’s spending priorities.
Power plays can occur in one of these instances:
- One partner has a paid job, and the other doesn't.
- Both partners would like to be working, but one is unemployed.
- One spouse earns considerably more than the other.
- One partner comes from a family that has money and the other doesn't.
When one or more of these situations is present, the spouse who makes or has the most money often wants to dictate and control the couple's spending. The power control can manifest itself in numerous ways that are destructive to the relationship.
- One Spouse controls all the finances, doling out money to the other spouse only after being convinced that it’s use is sensible. In marriage, one spouse dominating another does not usually lead to a loving and intimate relationship.
- One Spouse makes all the financial decisions without consulting the other spouse. Marriage is supposed to be a partnership. If one spouse controls the decision making, the other spouse has no voice in the marriage.
- One Spouse balances the checkbook, invests the family’s money, and controls the checkbook and safety deposit box. One spouse could conceivably make bad investments, overextend the family in debt, or make large withdrawals for purchases the other spouse would not approve of.
Few things build resentment more quickly than feeling marginalized, powerless, and kept in the dark by your spouse. Power play issues can get ugly fast and are a predictor of divorce. Some studies also indicate that infidelity is correlated with disparity in earning power.
Income and resource disparities are de-stabilizing for couples. Resentment and fights about money seep into every aspect of your married life. It divides you, breaks down the trust in your relationship, prevents intimacy, and can negatively affect your health.
How to End the Money Power Play
- Have an open and frank discussion about your feelings about how the family finances are managed.
No problem can be resolved if you both do not communicate and address the problem. Each of you has a perspective on your finances and you need to get that out in the open. Approach the discussion with an “I” statement rather than a “You” statement.
“I feel that I do not have much input into….”
“You never discuss financial things with me…”
The “I feel...” statement is non-threatening, whereas the “You never discuss…” statement immediately puts your spouse on the defensive.
Have empathy for your spouse.
If you are the larger income earner or the wealthier of spouses, you need to be sensitive about how you throw your weight around. Try to reverse roles and imagine how you would feel in your spouse’s shoes.
Share a joint bank account that each has access to.
Relieve financial stress and resentment in your marriage by being open about your spending and the amounts in your financial accounts. You are building your finances to prepare for a happy lifetime together, so both should be part of that building.
Make important spending decisions together.
Many spouses set a spending threshold, say $200.00, that require both to talk about before spending that amount or above. It is a way of keeping your finances on track and trusting your partner.
Sometimes the higher-earning spouse will delegate all the routine spending decisions to their lower-earning, or non-earning partners. This is a way of showing respect for your spouse and assuring them a role in decision making.
Build a Future Vision for Your Finances Together
Talking about your dreams for the future can help take the animosity out of dealing with your money. It also gives you a reason to do budget checkups regularly so you can each see your progress toward your goals.
“Honey, remember we are saving up for a house, so is this really a good time for that purchase?”
“Oh, sweetie, we almost have enough for a down payment!”
Working through your financial issues in a healthy way preserves the love in your relationship. It takes a lot of security and maturity to give up power, but if have an abundance of trust in your partner, it can work for you. Sharing power fosters a sense of togetherness and increases the intimacy bond in your marriage.Learn more about our Couples Therapy Exercises