"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
April 24, 2014
My Husband Controls All Our Money
by Cyndie Swindlehurst

Question:

In your column from October 10, 2013, titled “My Husband Plays the Lottery,” you made the following statement: “And everybody needs some personal money in the marital budget that can be spent without oversight or criticism.” 

My husband controls all of our money even though I am the one with the job. He also has to know where I am every second of every day, and gets upset if I am gone longer than I said I was going to be. 

Is this abnormal?

Answer:

Money and punctuality are points of contention in many marriages, and there is not one correct way to resolve them. Indeed, within the set of happy, healthy marriages, there is a wide range of acceptable solutions. Whether or not a solution is satisfactory depends entirely on the preference of the spouses involved.

When it comes to money, each couple must decide how much the family will spend and save. Someone must pay the bills, track the spending, and make the family purchases. But neither spouse should have the sole right to spend or manage the family money.

Instead, the couple must agree on how much each person may spend without oversight or criticism, and what constitutes a major purchase to which both parties must agree. And even if one spouse manages the money, which is common, both spouses must have access to the accounts.

A situation like yours, where one spouse controls all the money, falls outside the normal range. It is indeed abnormal for one spouse to control the other’s access to and use of the family money. Especially if the controlling spouse reduces what he gives or cuts the other spouse off entirely when he is angry.

I don’t think it matters, however, that you are the one who earned the money. If your husband earned the money, it would still be wrong for him to have exclusive control of it.

The same applies to you. A wife should not have to ask her husband for money or for permission to make routine purchases. Nor should a husband have to ask his wife for money or permission. Money for personal and household expenses within the family budget should be available for either spouse to use as he sees fit.

I think this rule applies even if your husband is able to work but simply refuses to do so. Unless he is acting as the at-home parent and running your household while you are at work, I understand your frustration if he is able to work but won’t. But his unemployment does not change the fact that one spouse does not get to dispense a mere allowance to the other.

(If you, Reader, are considering marriage to a person you cannot trust to make sensible use of family money, I suggest you run as quickly as you can in the opposite direction. Dozens of novels can explain to you the consequences of marrying such a person. You can start with Middlemarch and Vanity Fair.)

Each marriage also has its own rules about knowing where the other person is and when he will arrive home. It is perfectly reasonable for your spouse to ask where you are going and what time you expect to return home. And you should be punctual, and call if you are delayed.

But this is a far cry from your spouse demanding to know where you are every moment of the day, or from becoming upset if you are not home exactly on time. So in this example, too, I believe your marriage is outside the normal range for happy couples.

Now, I can imagine situations in which your husband’s behavior has a valid explanation. Have you run up debts on a secret credit card or lied about your spending? Have you concealed where you were and who you were with?

Do you spend money like there’s no tomorrow or have a gambling problem? Are you habitually late, and does he worry? Is your husband newly unable to work and justifiably worried about your family’s reduced circumstances?

If these or similar situations apply to you, then you are part of the problem in your marriage, and you need to first change your own behavior to be more honest, frugal and considerate.

But if not, if you are a reasonable person with reasonable spending habits and your husband’s demands emanate simply from his own desire to control what you do, then what you really want to know are two things.

First, are you being mistreated?

The answer is, probably. It is humiliating, as an adult, to be constantly monitored and to be interrogated when you are late getting home. It is degrading to be forced to ask your spouse for money to fill up your gas tank, buy a new blouse or get a donut. And these situations can quietly and quickly escalate into abuse, where your access to money is completely cut off unless you grovel and beg.

Perhaps I am reading too much into your situation, but I don’t think I am. The situation you describe is not common in happy marriages.

The second, and more important, question is this: What should you do about it?

First, you need to think about what you want to happen, what changes you want to see in your marriage. To help you with this, you can seek professional advice (individually), talk to someone who has been in your situation or counsel with someone you trust. Then, you need to decide what you can do, on your own, to bring about these changes. Because the only person you can control is yourself.

Second, if you have never discussed this problem with your husband, you might do so gently, acknowledging his feelings and explaining your own. But if this is a long-standing disagreement on which he refuses to give way, just talking to him about it seems unlikely to succeed. And if you are afraid of your husband, you need to talk to a professional about how to approach the situation.

Third, there may be practical solutions to the limited problem of getting access to your money, such as routing your paycheck to a new account that is in your name only. But that would only reverse the unhappy roles you play, making you the dispenser of funds and he the mendicant.

It would not solve his desire to control the money or any of the other problems in your marriage. Indeed, it would exacerbate those problems.

In the end, no matter what advice you get, or what other people think you should do, you have to decide what you are going to do. This is your choice because you are the one who has to live with the consequences. If you have children, those consequences stretch even farther. But the choice is yours, and no one else’s.

(Also, don’t forget that if you were to divorce him — not to jump the gun — you would probably owe him alimony.)

Finally, if your husband’s controlling behavior has developed recently, it might indicate that something has changed in his life. People sometimes become suspicious and controlling of other people when they themselves are doing wrong. It might pay for you to be extra attentive to his comings and goings, and to check your bank records.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!


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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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