Please send your lady-friends out of the room for this one (although it’s quite likely your wife is forcing you to read this). I know that guys don’t traditionally talk to each other about their marriages. And for that matter, we certainly don’t talk about the financial stresses of our marriages, many of which (the stresses) are self-induced. So I thought I’d bring it up in this forum, and share my thoughts with you.
I think we (men-types) need to take some time to explore the current status of the financial relationships we share with our spouses. Some of us do a great job, some of us do a terrible job, and some of us could do a lot better by allowing ourselves to be a bit more vulnerable.
To me, it all starts with socialization. As a child, what did you learn about being a man? The fact of the matter is that many of the gender assigned roles that existed when we were kids have now been turned on their head. Women are no longer “tied to” domestic duties, nor should they have been. The man is no longer always the primary breadwinner, nor do they always have the aptitude to be. Stay at home dads are increasingly more common than they were 25 years ago. This is all great. We love our fathers and grandfathers, but they didn’t do that great of a job (generally speaking) of having gender open-mindedness. Believe me, I’m not hating on them. I’m just being honest.
All of that being said, there is still one old school socialization that remains, and it can be very harmful to your marriage. What is this divisive idiom? Men call the financial shots and shouldn’t be held accountable to their actions. This is just stupid. But unfortunately, after doing my job for 12 years, and after meeting with thousands of married couples, I can tell you with great certainty that this attitude not only exists, but is PREVALENT. And if you are experiencing marital strife that has financial ties, then my guess is that you may be guilty of this last remaining caveman tendency.
I don’t think we put enough effort into trying to be better husbands. Arguably, our marriages are the most important things in our lives. Yet we really don’t “work at them” the way we should. The reason for this is simple: we don’t know what it means to “work on” our marriages. Well, I can help you with that from a financial perspective. Here are three things to consider as you try to improve the most important relationship you have.
- Pride– Pride is really strange. You need enough pride to motivate you to do the right things at times. But often times pride is the cause of our marital/financial problems. I find that men don’t communicate as well as they should in regards to money because of pride. Did you do something stupid financially (we all do, men and women)? That’s okay, but don’t make the problem ten times worse by hiding the mistake, and trying to rectify the situation on your own. Believe it or not, sometimes I really hate talking about money with my wife. I mean really hate it. The cause for this occasional disdain? Pride. I don’t want Mrs. Planner to see how stressed-out I am over some trivial matter. I’m afraid that she might think that I’m weak-sauce. Here’s the thing though: if I force myself to have the conversation that I don’t want to have, then I feel better 95% of the time. Pride can also coax you into taking vacations you can’t afford, or buying gifts that you shouldn’t buy. You aren’t proving your manhood by buying your wife a gift that puts you in a bad situation. What’s a good use of pride used the proper way? Getting a second job when you have dug yourself a hole.
- Leadership– I feel like I’m on the verge of pissing some people off with this particular point. Are you the leader of your household? Is it out of respect, or out of merciful appeasement? Is your wife allowing you to set the financial tone of the household because you have an eye to the future? Or have you bullied your way into the financial leadership role? If your wife runs the day-to-day finances of your home because “it stresses you out”, yet you ultimately still call the shots, then this is a warning sign that you need to do a better job. In this instance, your wife is trying to save your financial lives, and you are nowhere to be found. Is that leadership? Don’t mistake this for splitting duties. My wife pays most of the bills, not because it stresses me out, but because that’s what we have decided to do. If your reluctance has led you away from this process, then you need to examine why.
- Fighting what is healthy– If you are what is causing the financial problems in your house, then you can be the person that leads the change. If you hate talking about money with your wife, then talk about money. You may be fighting for the wrong outcome. Your ignorance, to what is financially sensible, is actually making your life harder. In 12 years, I have never ever had a husband regret pulling his head out of his ass. Ever. Are you in debt, yet you keep hammering away with your old financial habits? If so, why? You are only hurting yourself. If you bucked up and did the right thing now, then your financial life would get better in the future. If you don’t, then it gets worse. Don’t fight what makes sense.
As you may or may not know by reading this, I love marriage. I think it’s the greatest thing in the world. And no, I’m not trying to impress my wife by saying this publicly. Besides, she doesn’t read my blog. I think a great marriage is one of the truly wonderful pleasures in life. Even great marriages suck at times, but it’s your commitment to this marriage that gets you through the tough times. And if for some reason this blog post strikes you as “soapboxish”, then I’m sorry. I do not have a perfect marriage. But I want to. And I’m willing to put in the work to get that done.
Please allow me to hammer one final point home. If this is a problem for you, don’t fight the solution. Fight for your life. Fight for your marriage. But don’t fight the solution. If you are living a personal hell right now, then get out of hell. Don’t give up. Work. What’s waiting for you on the other side of financial hell is wonderful, and you can’t get there by digging deeper. You have to step up.
***DISCLAIMER*** I am not the manliness guy in the world- I’ve never personally changed the oil in my car. I carry a man-purse. I have makeup in that man-purse (for TV). I cried when watching The Devil Wears Prada. I’ve never been in a fist fight. If forced to be in one, I would slap, tickle, and run. What I’m trying to say is that you, the person reading this, are much more of a man than I am.
Peter Dunn a.k.a. Pete the Planner® is an award-winning financial mind and a former comedian. He’s a USA TODAY columnist, author of ten books, and is the host of the popular radio show and podcast, The Pete the Planner Show. Pete is considered one of the foremost experts on financial wellness in the world, but he’s just as likely to talk your ear off about bass fishing.