When Money Causes Tension in Your Marriage

Dr. Weinschneider advises a husband who is experiencing discord in his marriage.

By Dr. Ely Weinschneider

Dear Dr. Weinschneider, 

In general, my wife and I have a good marriage. There is just  one issue that constantly causes friction, and that is our different attitudes about spending money. B”H, my wife and I  both have steady incomes coming in, but life is expensive! After  the basic expenses of housing, tuition, food and clothing are  paid, we really can’t afford to splurge on extras. However, my  wife has a difficult time accepting this. She enjoys shopping  and spending money on things that I consider luxuries, such  as higher end clothing, eating out, and buying pricier foods…  I tried explaining numerous times that our budget does not  allow for these things, but she responds that the things she  buys are basics, not luxuries, and insists that we put purchases  that we can’t afford on a credit card; which is something that  causes me a lot of stress. To sum up our differences, I would  rather live a simpler lifestyle and not have the stress of being  in debt, whereas my wife would rather live comfortably and  “keep up with Joneses”, while racking up credit card debt to be  able to afford the lifestyle that she wants to have. We can’t  seem to agree on this topic. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.


Stressed Husband

You are ahead of the game. Let me explain why.

At first glance, it would seem that this is strictly a financial question that you should be addressing with your accountant or financial advisor. However, you either intuitively or through careful thought understand ghat there is much more to money than simply focusing on fiduciary responsibilities and practical challenges. 

Finances is one of the biggest areas of conflict or tension in a marriage, and while there is a very practical aspect to it, which we will soon address, having a healthy perspective and approach are vital to a couples shalom basis.

I once heard a rov say, that in broad terms money can be viewed as avodah zara, which can take over and destroy our lives. While this sounds extreme, if you think about the translation of Avoda Zara – worshipping something foreign, it suddenly makes sense.

No matter how much or little money a person may have, it is our job to make sure that money is something that we use to live, to enhance our lives, not to take over our lives.

No matter how much or little money a person may have, it is our job to make sure that money is something that we use to live, to enhance our lives, not to take over our lives.

It sounds like you and your wife are becoming more polarized in your approach to money, as is often the case. If you are not careful, it can come to a point where it can get ugly and hurtful. 

It can become a hashkafa and middos “battle”. She can think that you are so cheap- after all, you can’t take it with you to the grave!! You can be thinking that she is materialistic, vain, irresponsible, and selfish. It can get ugly.

There are a lot of background beliefs and feelings attached to money. How our parents spent money, either freely or more carefully, is factor. The socioeconomic culture that we grew up in is a factor. Our current neighbors and friends are a factor. What it means to people varies widely- power, dreams, security, etc. It becomes a very volatile issue. 

The first step in approaching this in a healthy manner, is to work on your mindset. I would recommend that you try to avoid even thinking in terms of my values vs. hers, and start thinking that you both, truly have the same goal: You both 100% want what is best for your family. It’s just that you have different ideas of what that should look like. When it is not a battle of wills, but a joining of forces, you will be able to better communicate, negotiate, and come more easily to a middle ground.

As a quick example, let’s say you want to send your child to school A, and your wife wants to send your child to school B. This can become a battle, but if you both come with the focus bring – what’s best for our child, you can have work it out together. At the end of your day, negotiating doesn’t mean that you cut the kid in half so that everyone is happy. However, if WE are both hyper-focused on doing what’s best for our child, we’ll keep talking and clarifying the pros and cons of each school and will do what’s best for the child. It’s not about he won, she won. It becomes WE respectfully discussed, researched,  and clarified the options, and WE came to the conclusion that this is what We think is best for OUR, and this is how WE will make a decision.

Before you even have another conversation with her about finances, try to better understand her perspective in a more compassionate manner. This doesn’t at all mean that you are wrong in your thinking, it just means that you are trying to better understand where she is coming from and be dan her l’kaf zechus, that she means well and is trying to do what she thinks is best, and that the last thing she is trying to do is be indifferent to your feelings. She just thinks that overall, the way she is handling finances is the right thing to do.

When you can better understand what she needs and wants, you can have more successful conversations about delicate subjects. You can now show consideration for her feelings, and when you bring up your viewpoint, you can express it in a manner that will make it abundantly clear that you want her to be happy and taken care of, and you want what’s best for the family. It moves the conversation from “I want”, to “We want”, and if the focus is on a common, unified goal, you may have chilukei dayos as to how it can be achieved, but you won’t have machlokes.

The last point I want to make is that being that you are aware of the delicate and important nature of the subject, you may tend to either harp on it too much- so it becomes a constant annoyance to you both; or avoid it at all costs, and it becomes taboo- a quiet volcano that can eventually erupt without much warning.  To avoid either of these likely possibilities, it is best to set aside a time (preferably once a week, when you both are rested and able to focus) to talk about your finances in a solution focused manner. The ideal outcome of any discussion is that you both feel that WE are dealing with, and WE will figure this out together.

Dr. Weinschneider is a Clinical Psychologist in private practice in Lakewood, NJ, and the Founder of The PINNY Institute. He can be contacted at drely@drelyweinschneider.com for private appointments, speaking engagements or workshops.