#AskGottman: Money Answers

The Gottman Institute answers your tough questions about finances.

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I stay home with our children the majority of the time, only working two days per week. We have two kids together. We do not share a bank account. Should our family expenses be shared with respect to our salaries? 

Sharing expenses with respect to your salaries is a decision that must be made between partners in a relationship. There is no right or wrong answer. You may consider opening three savings accounts, one for each of you and a joint account to save for your children and major expenses down the road. This is an example of a temporary compromise to a perpetual problem.

Your task is to balance the freedom and empowerment money represents with the security and trust it also symbolizes. What’s most important in terms of your marriage is that you work as a team on financial issues and that you express your concerns, needs, and fantasies to each other before coming up with a plan.

We have recently had a baby. She’s five months old and I quit my part-time job in order to be with her. My husband needs to provide more money to our family, but I’m afraid that our needs will not be fulfilled. How should I talk to him about it?

As Dr. Gottman explains in And Baby Makes Three, having a baby is a joyous experience, but even the best relationships are strained during the transition from duo to trio. The key to talking about this issue with your husband is to go beneath the surface to explore what money really means to you, how it came to be that way, and how you can go forth with new understanding about it and each other.

It’s important that you have these conversations early, because sorting out the math only exposes the need to create shared meaning around money. The healthiest couples are in agreement together about where they hold value in their household. As Zach Brittle explained in M is for Money, “The way you go about crafting your financial future and creating shared meaning is, by far, the best value on your investment.” Remember that the greatest gift you can give your baby is a happy and strong relationship between the two of you.

How can I get my wife to see that her smoking habit is bankrupting us?

Some clearheaded budgeting is called for. Below are simple steps you can take to get a handle on how much you’d like to be spending – and on what.

  1. Individually record how you each have spent your money over the last month, six months, or year, whichever is most appropriate to your situation. You may be able to do this by reviewing your checking account and credit card statements.
  2. Of the expenses recorded, write down those that each of you consider essential for your sense of happiness and well-being.
  3. Look carefully at your income and assets.  Try to create a budget that allows you to manage everyday finances and other “essentials” based on your means.
  4. Discuss your separate lists and plans with each other. What are you each willing to give up? What items do you consider non-negotiable? Look for common ground between your two approaches. Decide on a workable strategy that allows both of you to meet your “essential” needs. Agree to sit down and revisit your plan in a few months to make sure it’s working for you.

How much of your income and assets is she spending on her smoking habit? She may not even realize the financial strain that she is causing. Reviewing your finances together and coming up with a plan as a team can have a tremendous positive impact on the emotional climate between you and your wife.

I am the breadwinner, but my husband manages our finances. It has been difficult for me to demand transparency and the wish to share in financial decisions. I believe that the person who decides how to spend a couple’s money has too much power. My husband does not agree. What are your thoughts on this?

Talk to your husband about why you feel that it is too much power for one person to have. Is there a story behind your belief? Does he know? Money and its meanings go very deep into the core of who we are. Experiences from our past and messages from our culture create unconsciousness about the real meanings of money that often drive the emotion behind it. Furthermore, because of how we are socialized, these meanings are generally not the same for men as they are for women. This is why communicating your core beliefs is so important.

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Michael Fulwiler is the former Chief Marketing Officer of The Gottman Institute. He has a B.A. with Honors in English from the University of Washington. Outside of work, Michael is a baseball coach and cautiously optimistic Seattle Mariners fan.

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