Although in the USA, we honor our national independence every July 4, we are exhilarated by individual freedom all year long. Which is great—until it comes to marriage. Suddenly, we’re in a covenant in which two individuals must become one. We are no longer just “you” and “me” but “we.”
We may love being married and be fully committed to a lifetime together—yet sometimes, secretly, we still kinda want to do what we want to do. And nowhere is that more obvious than in how we handle money. In thousands of interviews and surveys for Thriving in Love and Money, we discovered that most of us (at least 80%) have ways we subconsciously resist being fully “one” in our finances.
Before you think, “That’s not me,” ask yourself if you’ve ever been tempted to do or think any of the following:
- Pull that Amazon package off the porch before your spouse sees it or keep them from knowing about certain spending decisions.
- Think, “It’s my money, I can spend it this way” or “My spouse can’t tell me what to do with my money” or “My spouse can spend some of it, but I have more say over it than they do.”
- Feel it’s your responsibility to pay your student loans, since you incurred them.
- Keep a hidden savings account (or any other account) “just in case” or because “otherwise they might spend it.”
- Seek financial help from your family when your spouse wishes you wouldn’t.
- Split expenses in proportion to what you each earn—not for convenience, but to be “fair.”
- Cover certain bills to demonstrate your self-sufficiency.
- Avoid financial planning together so you don’t have to come to an agreement.
- Think you know best how money should be handled—and your spouse just “doesn’t get it.”
- View money your parents gave you (or that you brought into the marriage), as “yours” and resent the idea of your spouse spending it.
So, what do you think? Do you have more of a desire to “do what you want to do” than you realized? Our research revealed a few unity-building habits to help us resist that temptation and create thriving closeness in our marriages around money instead.
Unity Builder #1: Be self-aware of any actions that bust “oneness”
The first step is to actually recognize when you are resisting being fully “one.”
Here’s a slightly mortifying personal example. I have noticed that when I pull into the garage with more Costco purchases than Jeff was expecting and see his car isn’t there . . . I am instantly relieved. I have to be really honest and see my relief for what it is: a chance to avoid confessing that I got those towels or that bag that was such a good deal, even though we had jointly decided to reduce our spending. As much as I want to avoid it, I have to tell Jeff that I made a judgment call and that I’m totally willing to return the things if he’d prefer.
But of course, it isn’t just one person who has those “dis-unity” tendencies. Jeff has confessed that when he sees those extra purchases, he can easily be tempted to “play the martyr” and say, “since you overspent, I just won’t go to the eye doctor even though I need new glasses.” He, too, has to be willing to recognize his unhealthy tendencies.
Both hidden patterns will crack unity—and in both cases unity is created simply by being self-aware and avoiding our unhealthy patterns to begin with.
Unity Builder #2: Create joint ownership of finances
There is no way around it. Although the actual structure will look different for every couple, unity and oneness require complete transparency in money matters. Unless there is an extremely unusual situation like a gambling addiction (which is beyond our scope here), both partners should be fully aware of and have access to everything.
This means dismantling any systems we have put in place that pull us apart or enable mistrust, whether it is something big like prenuptial agreements or secret bank accounts, or something “little” like hidden Walmart receipts. This process takes courage but dramatically builds trust. One young husband even described how an increase in transparency in a completely different area (healing from his pornography problem) led to transparency around finances.
As we were going into counseling, I was changing into a much lower-paying job. We originally had a lot of conflict and disconnect when we made financial decisions, but because we were coming together in our marriage, we didn’t want something hidden in any area. So, we started opening up about money too. We had much less money, but much more peace of mind and happiness in our marriage. Bringing everything out of darkness has literally changed our lives.
Unity Builder #3: Allow for individuality, even as you resist independence
Thankfully, although an independent mindset can pull spouses apart, allowing for each partner’s individualitycan bring you closer together. People simply value different things. We discovered that the happiest couples tend to allocate a monthly amount of money that each can spend on whatever they want, without checking in the other person. With this method, if one wants to spend a “ridiculous” amount on gifts or the other wants to avoid making lunch and regularly eat out instead, they can.
Unity Builder #4: Believe the best of your spouse’s intentions toward you
It will be hard to ever be one team unless you let yourself believe what is almost certainly true: Your spouse deeply cares about you and has your best interest at heart—even when they handle money in a way that frustrates you. Believing that in the face of legitimate hurt (since we all hurt each other at times) is the most foundational step toward a thriving marriage. So, the next time your spouse asks if you can review spending, instead of thinking, “they are trying to control me,” think, “I’ll bet my spouse is worried since we dipped into our emergency savings to fix the car.”
Bottom line: to keep and build oneness instead of independence, look for evidence that your spouse deeply cares for you. You’ll see it everywhere.
For more tips on how to create unity around finances and thrive in love and money, visit our website thriveinloveandmoney.com to take the free assessment or read more in our book, Thriving in Love and Money.)
Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn are Harvard-trained social researchers and best-selling authors. Their books, including For Women Only, For Men Only, and their latest book, Thriving in Love & Money, have sold 3 million copies around the world. The Feldhahns live in Atlanta with their two kids and two cats who think they are dogs.
More from Shaunti’s Blog: