Financially Successful Marriage: Three Patterns to Avoid

A financially successful marriage does not happen by default.  Managing your finances well as an individual is already a challenging task for most people, so when you add the emotions, habits, wants, wishes and desires of another person into the mix, the complexity increases exponentially. Money can be the source of great tension in an intimate relationship if one or both of the people are not good financial stewards.  This is especially true when you are dealing with the effects of debt.

In my years of working with couples that struggle in this area, I have observed that they have usually chosen (or grown into) one of the following patterns when dealing with their money.

The Money Tyrant

The “money tyrant” pattern happens in one of two situations:

  1. One spouse earns significantly more than the other
  2. One spouse is a significantly better money manager than the other

When either of those things are true, there is a temptation to control everything to do with money without the input of your partner.  In these cases, the spouse in the power position often thinks they are doing the right thing by completely taking things over.  They fail to see that by doing so, they are not treating their partner like an adult equal.

The Money Parent

The “money parent” pattern is a sub-set of the “money tyrant”. However, the “money parent” is usually driven more by a need to nurture than a need to control.  In these situations, one partner sees it as their duty to educate the other partner about the right way to deal with money.  Even if the approach they are taking does not allow their partner to give any input.  They believe that their partner is a ‘child’ when it comes to money.  And therefore, the “child” does not have any wisdom to provide when it comes to managing the finances.

They will often belittle any suggestions that their partner makes about better ways to do things.

The Money Strangers

“Money strangers” in a marriage a driven by a resistance to negotiating and compromising.  They also have an unspoken lack of trust in each other.  They manage their money completely separately from each other.  In the most extreme cases, one or both of you have ‘secret’ bank accounts.  And you hide financially significant information from each other.

To be clear, couples who maintain separate bank accounts but regularly review and plan their finances together are not included in this pattern.  The “money strangers” go out of their way to avoid working together as a team.  They want to remain financial individuals and don’t want to look at their combined money as one “pool” that is available for the joint goals of the family.

The Financially Successful Marriage

In the financially successful marriage, there is no money tyrant or money parent.  Both spouses respect each other’s role in their financial future enough to work together as a team.  They also discard the concepts of ‘my money’ or ‘your money’.  They see it as ‘our’ money that is available to achieve ‘our goals’.

The couple in a financially successful marriage understands the importance of creating intimacy around their finances.  That might seem like a strange word to use with money, but its important to grasp this concept: your relationship with money is highly emotional.  Therefore, it is impossible to separate your individual money patterns from the health of your relationship.  Trying to do so moves you further away from each other instead of bringing you closer.

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