Fighting because your spouse spends too much money is not likely to improve your finances or your relationship
Money spending conflicts center around either overspending or inappropriate spending. Handling this situation wrong could eventually cost you your marriage or relationship.
The main reason why couples argue about money spending comes from fears about the future
Once the money is spent, there are few things that can be done. Some purchases can be returned or orders canceled, but usually the money is lost. Most arguments about overspending are poor attempts to change another’s behavior. That is to say, the main reason why couples argue about money spending is to stop their spouse from doing it again. Partners rightfully feel criticized or punished for what they thought was a good use of money.
Why criticism and complaining are not effective when a spouse spends too much money
Criticism and complaining are both experiences as punishment–no matter how you mean it. And punishment, to be effective, has to be both severe and consistent. Mild punishment will be disregarded (“she’ll probably complain a little”). Infrequent punishment teaches people to gamble on your behavior (“maybe he won’t be upset this time”). The more used to complaining people become, the more resistant they will be to changing.
Although occasional complaining is not helpful, severely complaining or controlling is even worse
Severe behaviors damage relationships severely. It creates an imbalance, with one partner acting in the parental role, or worse yet, in an abusive role. Ask yourself a few questions to determine the impact you are having on your relationship. Do you argue about your partner’s spending habits? It it mainly helping your relationship or damaging it? Is money just one of the things you argue about? If so, it may be a divorce warning sign.
When one person secretly spends too much money
A problem related to arguing about spending is secret spending. Secret spending occurs because of fear of a partner’s reaction. If your spouse has such secrets, he or she also has such fears. Even if what your spouse fears isn’t really how you would react, the fears are real. Fears make people 1) hide what the money is being spent on, 2) hide how much money is being spent, or 3) both. The secrecy may also be related not so much to the money, but to the purchase (e.g. drugs, an affair, gambling, etc.).
Dealing with secret spending by your husband or wife
You may need to put boundaries around access and use of money, around the thing that the money is being spent on, or simply on the problems in communication. Boundaries do not require argument and are more effective when you don’t argue. Good boundaries also result in changes without further damaging the relationship. When you set a boundary, basically you are saying, “I love you so much, that I cannot allow this to keep happening between us. I’m not going to control you, but when you do such and such, this is what I am going to do.” Just what you do will depend on the situation.
Other reasons for secrecy in spending
Sometimes secrecy indicates an over controlling or unreasonable spouse. Secrecy can also be a result of the emotional baggage that someone brings into a relationship–a carryover of previous hurts. Secrecy can also be learned from bad role models. Wherever it comes from, secrecy is like a poison in the relationship. It can build to a level from which the relationship may not recover.
Half of your joint income belongs to your spouse
In considering how much your spouse spends, remember that half of your combined income legally belongs to your spouse. Don’t fall for any reasoning that you have more say since you earn more of the income. If your spouse divorced you, you would find that the courts consider half of all money earned while married belongs to your spouse regardless of who earned it. However, your spouse also assumes half of all financial obligations in your marriage. Consider both of these factors before determining what is fair.
Think connection, not conflict
My clients learn to take arguments and change them into productive communication. This process is detailed in my book, Connecting Through “Yes!” There is only one way to get to productive communication. Regardless of the conflict, a point of connection needs to be made. Regarding money, most partners will agree that the bills have to be paid. Working on that first sometimes takes care of excess spending. When couples don’t agree on that, they usually agree that the relationship is important. Strengthening the relationship often takes care of the reasons why couples argue about money in the first place–difficulty getting along. Close couples can talk even when they have differences and problems.
Financial issues in marriage are actually relationship issues
Working to build the relationship helps to take care of spending conflicts. Fights about money, like anything else may be a symptom of relationship problems. Because I work with marriages on the brink of divorce, my clients sometimes have to use a combination of verbal connection techniques and respect building boundaries. Not until then does their spouse become interested in working on the marriage. For most couples it does not make sense to say, “Once we get our finances in order, then we can have a better relationship.” Relationship problems can’t be solved with money. But money problems can be solved more easily by improving the relationship. Could the fact that your spouse spends too much money be connected to problems in your relationship?
When couples end their marriage over financial issues, it is never a matter of numbers
It always comes down to the relationship. People can do a lot of harm to each other emotionally in the control they exercise over money. Financial counseling for couples with a bad relationship is like a one player tennis match. The cooperation to make it work just isn’t there. Connections build cooperation. And cooperation will help you both to agree on how the money is spent. You may still need to get financial counseling about improving your relationship, but at least you will be working together.