How to Resolve Financial Conflicts
and Keep Love in Your Marriage
Dear Dr. Harley,
My husband and I have been married almost 7 years and we have two beautiful daughters.
Throughout our marriage we have had separate bank accounts and credit card accounts.
We both work full-time and both share in the responsibilities for our children and
household. We rent a house since we are unable to buy one at this time due to our
separate debts and the high cost of rent and daycare. It seems we can never get ahead.
I have suggested we get help from a financial planner but he refuses. He is always
depressed about money but he won't do anything about it. We are both at fault because
we spend more than we can afford. We mainly fight about money and it's been getting
My husband has a second job and now he is always angry that "HE" has to work so hard.
He says, "He Loves Me" but he feels I am not pulling my weight as far as finances are
concerned. I make approx. $16,000.00 less a year than he does, but I help pay rent and
some daycare and the groceries. He wants me to do all the housework, but after a day at
work I'd rather spend the time with my kids and save the cleaning for the weekend.
Where do I go from here?
From your description, you and your husband have been growing increasingly
incompatible over the few years you've been married, and your approach to financial
planning is probably the rule for all areas of your marriage. Instead of learning how to
accommodate each other with joint financial accounts, you separate them so that you do
not have to take each other's feelings into account when you spend money. You probably
do the same with other decisions you make, such as what you do after work, how you
discipline your children, when you see relatives and so forth.
You're not building a relationship, you're preparing for the day when you will go your
separate ways. Your husband's reaction to your income (that you do not earn enough)
reflects his emotional distance. If you are still in love with each other, you won't be for long.
You will soon be just putting up with each other for the sake of your children.
Imagine how difficult it would be for you to follow my Policy of Joint Agreement at this
point in your marriage ("never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between
you and your spouse"). The more incompatible a couple is, the more difficult it is for them
to follow that policy, and you're at the point where it's almost impossible. But if you and
your husband would agree to follow the policy for just one week, you would begin to see
the light at the end of the tunnel. Within a year, you would be more compatible than you
had ever been at any point in your marriage, and you're financial problems would be
The Policy of Joint Agreement is simply your willingness to take his feelings into account
before you do something, and his willingness to do the same for you. You ask how he
feels about whatever you do, and if he doesn't like it you don't do it. Then you discuss
what else you could do that would be more to his liking, and you settle on something that
you both like. Marriage cannot survive without thoughtfulness, and the Policy of Joint
Agreement forces you to be thoughtful, even when you don't feel like it.
When you say that you fight about money and you have separate checking and credit card
accounts, you are telling me that you are not bargaining for each other's happiness. You
are bargaining for your own happiness at each other's expense, otherwise there would be
no fighting. Whose idea was it to have the separate checking accounts and why? You
probably separated your accounts because when you held one jointly, one or the other of
you would try to raid it. If you had been following the Policy of Joint Agreement from
the beginning of your marriage there would have been no need for separate accounts
because both of you would have asked the other before spending money you earned.
Whether it was you or your husband that earned it, the decision to spend it should have
been made jointly.
One of the best ways to get your finances under control is to make joint decisions about
how your money is to be spent. First, get rid of your individual checking and credit card
accounts and get joint accounts. All the money either of you earns should go into your
joint checking account -- every penny! Then, whenever you buy something, check with
each other to be sure you both agree. I usually recommend a weekly "allowance" that is
taken out of the checking account so that each spouse can have money for odds and ends
that they can spend unilaterally. But the allowance should not exceed $50 a week and it
should be equal for both spouses.
When you pay your bills, you should do it together. Every check you write should be
written with each other's approval -- which bills to pay first, how much to pay on a credit
card account, and so forth.
Granted, at this point in your marriage, my advice will be difficult to implement. You are
already living separate lives and learning to treasure your independence. Why would
either of you want to give up the freedom you have writing checks out of your own
checking accounts and using your own credit cards at will? To get each other's
"permission" will, at first, seem childish and humiliating. Furthermore, you might find
yourselves refusing permission on almost everything, because so much of what you have
been buying has been thoughtless. For a while, you may be discouraged because it's so
hard to agree on much of anything. That's because you have not needed to negotiate with
each other -- you've gone ahead and done what you please all these years. Your fights are
a reflection of your poor negotiating skills.
If you stick to the Policy of Joint Agreement, little by little, agreements begin to form.
There are niches already where you can agree, and as you negotiate with each other's
feelings in mind, all the areas of incompatibility will be replaced with compatible
decisions. Your finances will be in great shape in no time, and what's more important,
your marriage will also be in great shape.
Start today using the Policy of Joint Agreement to make your financial decisions. And all
your decisions, for that matter.