I often see couples where one partner makes the money while the other takes care of the kids. While these roles have been slowly changing over time, still to this day, it’s more common than not that the former is the husband and the latter is the wife.
But regardless of who makes the money, the question still remains: does the person who makes it get to exclusively control how it’s spent?
The obvious answer is NO. But some “breadwinners,” if you will, make the mistake of falling into the mindset that since they make the money, they have the right to make the financial decisions. In this scenario, the wife (typically) ends up filling the role of the child caretaker, is not seen as a financial contributor to other members of the family, and is therefore discounted. On the other hand, the wife ends up primarily making the decisions for the children, making the husband feel left out this time.
When a couple falls into this cycle, it's important to try to keep the following in mind.
Use the communal approach
A communal approach to financial decisions and parenting is optimal for both familial bonding and connection between romantic partners. When couples are on the same page, and on the same line in terms of the spending, it’s clear that they are planning for their life together. Making decisions as a family and for your family, including children, should always be done with equal consideration for each member of the couple, regardless of who makes the money; or more money.
What’s more important? How you make your family work, as a team? Or money?
Validation & contribution
When couples fall into this trap of feeling that they “control” one domain of the family, whether it be money or the kids, both parties often end up not feeling validated or appreciated for their contribution. In this case, instead of asking for support and encouragement, partners end up using the area they dominate, e.g., money, to exert control for a short-term self-esteem boost. The more helpful approach would be to have a conversation focusing on the emotional underpinning of financial control, and the emotional underpinnings of being the primary caretaker of the children. Considering how each partner feels, being limited to one area of their family life, is an important conversation to have.
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is one such approach. The book “Hold Me Tight” by Dr. Sue Johnson is a great jumping off point.
Emotional connection is key
People who feel close and emotionally connected to each other are more likely to be open to compromise and hearing each other’s concern. Therefore, it’s important to first get emotionally closer to each other before tackling long-standing patterns of behavior, such as financial control. If emotions aren’t at the forefront of a relationship, in terms of expression and discussion, problems down the line seem inevitable. It's important to effectively communicate each person’s perspective, especially in terms of emotions, when making decisions and plans as a couple or family.
Ultimately, it’s difficult to “prove” one’s point when a particular dynamic has been in play for a long time. That’s why my suggestion is always to focus on the emotional bond of the couple. If it's there, those conversations will be easier to start and it will be easier to start changing these kinds of patterns.
Emotional needs need to be met first. Then, and only then, can compromises or new behavioral patterns emerge.
Konstantin Lukin, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in Ridgewood and Hoboken, NJ. He has extensive clinical and research experience spanning individuals of all ages, in both inpatient and outpatient settings. He specializes in men’s issues, couple’s counseling, and relationship problems. His therapeutic approach focuses on providing support and practical feedback to help patients effectively address personal challenges. He integrates complementary modalities and techniques to offer a personalized approach tailored to each patient. He has been trained in cognitive-behavioral, dialectical behavior, schema-focused, and emotionally focused therapy, and has also been involved with research projects throughout his career, including two National Institute of Mental Health-funded studies. He is a member of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, New Jersey Psychological Association, Northeast Counties Association of Psychologists, New York State Psychological Association, The International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy, The New York Center for Emotionally Focused Therapy, the International OCD Foundation, the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACSB) and a regular contributor to Psychology Today.