Can This Marriage Be Saved? We Constantly Fight About Money

April 21, 2011 at 2:30 pm , by

In honor of that much-loathed, not-to-be-mentioned April deadline (which was Monday, in case you missed it), this week’s Can This Marriage Be Saved? tale follows a couple who butt heads about financial decisions big and small – and are allowing those fights to wear down the health of their marriage.

Lisa, a successful PR-firm owner and mom of three teens, has been married to Drew for 21 years. Though he’s held good jobs throughout their marriage, she’s always been the breadwinner – and she’s also spent like one.

Lisa’s turn Her husband is a nagging tightwad who monitors all her financial decisions, even though she’s the one who’s supporting their family. When times were good, her quick-draw spending style wasn’t an issue, since they had enough money to cover her impulse purchases without a second thought. But Drew lost a job and had to take a pay cut when he took a new position, so now he’s reacting by freaking out when she makes any purchases. She admits they’re not in a great situation – they lost money in the stock market and her business is slowing down, too – but thinks after ditching nonessentials like vacations and dinners out that they’ve cut back enough already. She’s supported herself since her late teens, so she knows she can handle her finances and resents his constant monitoring. She’s also worried that their kids are feeling their parents’ anxieties.

Drew’s turn He’s always hated his wife’s tendency to spend big bucks without a second thought but never felt that he could call her on it since she brought home the bacon. She has no sense of their current financial picture, and he’s overwhelmed with anxiety about their lower income. He misses their old lifestyle, too, and he’s seriously upset that they won’t be able to foot their kids’ college bills as they had planned. He’s from a low-income family, like his wife, and his reaction to that upbringing is to cling to every penny he makes. He knows he’s become Mr. Negative, but his wife doesn’t get the seriousness of her spending sprees and he’s tired of it.

The counselor’s view Different spending habits can always cause problems, but when times are tough they become magnified. Both spouses had extreme reactions to their new financial picture – she was far too casual, and he was doom and gloom – and neither response was right. They did have to lower their standard of living, but they weren’t in dire straits, either. The first thing was to teach them to appreciate each other’s spending styles: he for her spontaneity, and she for his responsibility. Then, Lisa got involved with their day-to-day finances, and when she understood more, she willingly cut back on her spending. She also had to learn that her habits were a huge source of anxiety for her husband, and he had to learn to stop monitoring his wife’s every move and trust her more. They became less confrontational and judgmental when they learned to relate to their different spending styles and have been able to make more decisions together to get their finances back on track.

In your marriage, who’s the spender and who’s the saver? Do you fight about money, too?


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