In a few days, Americans will celebrate the Fourth of July. With fireworks, flags, and a whole lot of barbecue, we will cheerfully commemorate our country’s heritage– our independence. What we may not realize is just how much this basic American value has shaped our relationships.
Independence can be a valuable attribute in many contexts –but in marriage it can have a sneaky sting. And nowhere is this more pronounced than around that oh-so-prevalent issue of money.
In doing research for our new book Thriving in Love and Money, my husband Jeff and I interviewed an incredibly diverse array of people, and kept noticing one problem between husbands and wives: a resistance to becoming one. Even though most married couples see marriage as two people who have been inextricably bonded for life, too many of us still subconsciously hold ourselves back in some way. We still want our “independence.”
Before you are tempted to think, “I would never do that,” ask yourself if you have ever wanted to do any of the following:
- pull the Amazon package off the step before your spouse sees it
- keep a separate savings account “just in case”
- seek financial help from a family member without your spouse really knowing about it
- Cover certain bills yourself to prove your self-sufficiency
If any of these behaviors resonated with you, you are not alone. As our research suggests, most married people tend to hold onto independence in some way. But if we want our marriages to thrive, we need to resist our claims to independence when it comes to money, and truly open ourselves up to our spouse. How do we do that? In this blog series, we will look at habits to fight and what to do about them.
Unity Buster #1: “I want to do what I want to do”
The greatest barrier to being a unified team is our desire to spend money without being accountable to our partner. In our survey, 67 percent of respondents admitted to not wanting to talk to their spouses about money because “I want to be able to handle money the way I want to handle money.”
And to some degree, all of us are always either fighting that temptation or giving in to it. Whether by having separate bank accounts, hiding purchases, or making financial decisions independently, many of us show a secret belief that money is “mine” or “yours,” not “ours.” And yet marriage is designed for two to become ONE. We need to be willing to fight that independence tendency and realize that money needs to be “ours” if we are ever going to move from “you” and “me” to “we.”
Unity Buster #2: “I want to be in control”
Whether we fear losing the freedom to spend money “our way” or we fear our spouse will spend money a little too freely, many of us think we can mitigate our financial concerns by gaining control. One husband described his need for control this way: “I could never relinquish control of knowing what is going on [financially]. That terrifies me. You could find yourself in a bad situation so fast. My wife feels the same, so she has her own account too. She doesn’t want me to have control over her and vice versa.” This man and his wife explicitly see unity in marriage as terrifying because (in their minds) giving up control means allowing someone to control them and keep them in the dark.
And yet, a good marriage around money means more coordination and communication – not less! – in order to be unified around money. Unity will never mean one person having “control” over the other!
Recognize yourself in any of these habits so far? If so, realize that having your eyes opened is your first step!
So, as you celebrate Independence Day this year, consider ways that you may be a little too independent and look for ways to create more unity with your spouse. And then be sure to check out the upcoming Parts 2 and 3 of this Unity Series.
Want to know how you score in thriving in love and money? Take the free assessment now, at thriveinloveandmoney.com/assessment.
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Shaunti Feldhahn is a Harvard-trained social researcher and best-selling author who is sheltering-in-place in Atlanta with her husband and co-author Jeff, two teenagers who are figuring out how to do college and high school online, and two cats who are thrilled to have even more video meetings to walk in front of each day.
Shameless plug: The Feldhahns’ newest book, Thriving in Love & Money, about how to have a great relationship around money (even in a time of trial), was published right before the National Emergency was declared, and is even more essential now. You can support Shaunti’s research and team during this time by purchasing a copy for someone who needs it.