Ask Dr. Merry: Money Troubles in Marriage

» Posted in Ask Dr. Lin, Marriage and Relationships, Psychology and Faith | 0 comments


I would like to get your opinion on something that I’ve been struggling with in my marriage for some time.  My husband and I are Christians and so we really try to follow the Bible in our marriage.  But lately I’ve been feeling, well, kind of suffocated.  I mean my husband is a good man and he really takes good care of me and our kids and so I don’t want you to think that he’s a bad husband at all.  Most of the time, I’m happy in our marriage.  But it’s in the area of money where I struggle.  You see, he is the main breadwinner for our family and I have been a stay-at-home mom for most of our marriage.  So he has been the one to manage our finances, including paying bills and making decisions on major expenditures.  He does give me an allowance but frankly it’s not much especially with today’s prices.  And since I’m the one doing most of the shopping for our groceries, our four kids and stuff for the house, it seems like I’m always the one to do most of the spending.  So he kind of has it in his mind that every time I run out of money in my allowance, I haven’t been a good steward of our finances and he gets mad at me.  But really, I try hard to be frugal and not spend unless I have to.  It’s to the point now where I feel like I have to get his permission for everything that I buy.  I have to admit that I haven’t coped in a good way because I have started to hide things that I buy in my closet because I’m afraid of his reaction.  And then when the VISA bill comes in, he’s all over me to explain the expenses.  Financially, I think we’re doing pretty well.  Our house is paid for, we own our two cars, we don’t really have any debt.  But he says that he is trying to save for retirement and that he’s barely hanging in there until then because he completely hates his job.  And he’s also worried about paying for our kids’ university bills.  I don’t know, I guess I’ve been more optimistic and trust that God will provide, but he says that I’m not being realistic.  Honestly, I feel like he is very controlling in our finances but then I feel guilty for thinking that because I want to submit to his leadership of our family.  What are your thoughts on this?

It’s great to hear that you want to honour God in your marriage and it sounds like you try hard to respect your husband and appreciate all the great things he does for you and the family.  I can also hear your desire to submit to his leadership in a godly way, but I do wonder if in your desire to do this, you have allowed some of the imbalance in your marriage to surface.  From what you share, it sounds like your marriage has become more like parent-to-child rather than equal partners, at least in the area of money.  You mention the allowance he gives you, the way he gets angry with you when you don’t meet it, and the way you respond by “sneaking around” and hiding things from him – doesn’t that sound like the way a parent-child relationship sometimes operates?

Any time a marriage moves from adult-to-adult to parent-to-child, it creates all sorts of unhealthy dynamics that skew the “power” and balance of the relationship.  What typically happens over time is that the “child” partner begins to feel controlled and disrespected as an adult who’s capable of making informed decisions on his or her own.  Resentment can then build up, which can be destructive to the marriage.

I can hear your growing frustration with this and no wonder, as I don’t believe that it’s a healthy way for a marriage relationship to be managed.  It sounds like you don’t have a voice in the area of finance, and that your husband dismisses your opinion as being “unrealistic”.  Do you feel like he tends to shut down your opinion because it doesn’t match his own, that his opinion is the “right one”?  Have you tried to sit down with him and share your concerns with him?  Unless you’ve clearly shown a bad habit of reckless overspending, then there is no reason why you can’t make financial decisions equally.

It also sounds like your husband is struggling with financial worries because he is saving for the future and perhaps he’s responding out of his own fears – which can come across as controlling and angry to you.  I read an article once that said that if you worry about money, you will always worry about money, regardless of how little or how much money you have.  There is probably some truth to that statement.  I’m not sure if your husband shows this pattern of control in other areas of your marriage but if he doesn’t, then chances are there are emotional triggers for him related to money that cause him to respond so strongly.  But if he is controlling in other ways in your relationship, then it will be very important for you to get some marriage counselling from a qualified Christian therapist to help you make some much needed change in your relationship dynamics.

I don’t think this type of control is what God had in mind when he told wives to “submit to your husbands as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22).  In my opinion, this verse is used too often to justify domination of women by men, and sadly, too many times in my office, I see husbands using this verse as a weapon to endorse their abusive behaviour toward their wives.  I know that there is a lot of controversy regarding the whole topic of wives submitting to husbands, so I’m not going to address that in this blog.  But I will say this – and I think this is a critical point for us to remember – when husbands and wives began to argue about this whole submission issue and it becomes about who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s in control and who’s not, BOTH sides have already lost the battle.

When we’re focused on BEING right over DOING right, we have greatly missed the point.  When we emphasize rules over relationships, we have missed the point of what Jesus came to show us when he came to fulfill the law, of what his death on the cross was all about.  I think the more important verse to focus on is Ephesians 5:21: “submit to ONE ANOTHER out of reverence for Christ.”  Out of our love for God, we’re to submit to one another – that is, put ourselves UNDER each other, and to think of ourselves as LESS THAN each other.  Submitting to one another  – out of our love for God – is one of the greatest ways you can live out your reverence and love for Christ.  And that is a life marked by unselfish giving, contrary to the world’s ways.

And just to bring into focus what God’s heart really is for marriage:  in verse 25, God commands the husbands in Ephesians 5:25, to “love their wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”.  I especially like the version of Ephesians 5:25 from The Message:  “Husbands, go ALL OUT in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church – a love marked by giving, not getting.”  You hear that?  A love marked by GIVING, not getting.

If your marriage is as strong as it sounds like it is, it can handle honest dialogue and a re-evaluation of the way you do life together.  Let him know how it makes you feel when he gets angry with you about money, and see if he’s willing to negotiate a better way to handle your finances where you both feel you have an equal say.  And be open to hearing his concerns about your finances as well.  It may be helpful to meet with a marriage therapist to help you resolve this, or perhaps a godly financial advisor who can give you specific tools to help you manage your finances better.


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