How to Resolve Financial Conflicts
and Keep Love in Your Marriage

Letter #1

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 more frequent.

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?


Dear B.W.,

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 solved.

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.

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