finance

"My husband was controlling me with money. Any purchases above my allowance were questioned."

It’s hard to believe that with all of the progress women have made over the years there are still relationships in which one partner is in control of the money, normally the male partner. It may not always start out that way and it didn’t for me.

When I met my husband I considered myself a modern woman. I’d been working since I was a teenager and had no plans to slow down. Until my husband started making so much money that my contribution was no longer required. A couple of kids later and I found myself a stay-at-home mum, out of work and reliant on an “allowance” given to me by my partner.

Any purchases over and above that allowance were questioned.

A difficult way to live for someone like me who had fought so hard for financial independence, only to lose it again accidentally. I only stopped working not because my money was no longer needed but also because my first child had a severe food allergy reaction at childcare, and so fears over his safety became the trigger for me leaving work.

Twenty-somethings on making marriage last. Article continues after this video.

I still look back and wonder how I let it happen. Even my husband – now that he has come to his senses thanks to sudden money issues and his evolution into the modern husband I’ve always wanted – wonders the same.

We both value our occupations and contributions with equal importance. I couldn’t live any other way. It makes me so sad to hear about women who are still in this situation, seemingly with no way out.

Oprah’s financial advisor of choice, Suze Orman, recently addressed this all-too-common scenario when she was sent a question by a woman who felt she was being financially controlled by her husband. The question read:

I’m a stay-at-home mom who’s been married for 22 years; my husband is the sole provider in our household. Our bank accounts are in his name only, and I have no idea how much we have in checking, savings, or our IRAs. He gives me an allowance for gas and groceries, but when something else comes up (oil changes, birthday gifts, prescriptions, clothing, haircuts, doctor visits), I’m expected to cover that, too. Then I don’t have enough to buy gas and groceries…so he accuses me of overspending and lowers my allowance. I feel defeated. How can we manage our finances together in a mutually respectful way?

Oprah.com

Never one to mince her words, Orman was quick to point out that it took both of them for this situation to occur. She commented, “Why have you allowed him to impose this dynamic on your relationship? A child gets an allowance—you are his wife. He may be the one who earns money, but being a stay-at-home mom is a job, too.”

Orman is quick to remind us all that when it comes to money in relationships and issues like this, it is rarely, if ever, about the money. “The real problem is that your husband doesn’t appreciate what you do, and you can’t expect him to value your hard work if you’re not valuing yourself. You don’t have a money problem. You have a self-esteem problem.”

Her advice – typical of Orman – is to demand all bills and money be communal however that is not my advice. For this wife to suddenly arch up and demand financial equality, particularly when she is in such a vulnerable situation, could put her at further risk, particularly if her husband becomes defensive.

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He may wonder, due to the suddenness of her request, that she doesn’t trust him to mange their money, or feels wronged in some way. He may question the security of their relationship and wonder that if he frees up the finances she may leave him. None of these are reasonable reactions by him but still, they are typical of some men. My husband certainly used to react badly to such requests from me, questioning whether or not I trusted him to manage our money.

'Issues around money are rarely, if ever, about the money.' Image: The Wolf of Wallstreet, Paramount Pictures

But it wasn't about trust, or love. It was about respect and self-worth.

I chose to approach it gently, explaining that while I loved him so much and loved our family, and was so appreciative of his hard work and willingness to enable me to care for our children, that as someone who had worked all of her life and been independent for so long it was important for me to be aware of our financial situation and to feel equal.

We spoke about it for a couple of months and the end result was that he put me in charge of all of our finances. Once he was reassured that I loved him and was fully committed to our relationship, he was relieved to be free of having to spend so much time thinking about it. He preferred to focus on his work, and he happily left the juggling of our finances to me.

Each week when I sat down, knee-deep in bills and bank statements - I wondered if perhaps I'd spoken too soon. Was it really that bad to be taken care of and reliant on an allowance?

Now, a decade later, I'm grateful for that evolution of our financial relationship which served to only strengthen our marriage. His attitude change about me working came later after we learned how to manage our son's deadly food allergies a bit better.

My advice to young women is to start out this way and have conversations about how money will be managed in the future. It's not enough to discuss your hopes and dreams and how many kids you want. Do yourself a favour and talk about the money as well so you are on the same page and both feel equally valued in your relationship.