After my husband and I got married we combined all of our money, accounts, etc. My husband left me in charge of our finances, which was fine by me. Recently he has started to criticize the way I do the finances and gets agitated when I put limits on his discretionary spending. I have offered to allow him to do the finances together or by himself and he flat out refuses. What is you advice?
Dear Money Man,
Sharing finances is a great way to root out issues in your relationship around trust and values. When couples combine finances, they are allowing themselves to become interdependent and in some cases, dependent, on each other. I'm actually a fan of shared finances for couples who want to be in committed relationships. It is common that one partner will take responsibility for managing the shared finances, and it has been my observation in working with a whole lot of couples around issues of finances, that it can be quite a thankless job. For what it's worth, your dilemma is actually quite common.
Because you wrote me, and not a financial advisor, I can only assume that there is quite an emotional component involved in your situation, and likely a serious power struggle over how the money will be spent, and how much of the money will be spent. The message you seem to be hearing (which may or may not be the message he is sending) suggests that he does not approve of how you do your shared finances which may leave you feeling like, "Nothing I do is good enough," "He doesn't understand (me)," and "He doesn't appreciate me." And he has no interest in taking responsibility for these finances himself which indicates this magical belief on his part that without telling you how, you are supposed to make everything all better. By any chance is that dynamic present in any other part of your relationship? Do you feel misunderstood, criticized, or unappreciated in other areas of your relationship? That might be a part of the issue for you - and trust, or differing values may be at the root of things for your partner.
How couples do money and sex are often great metaphors for how couples do their relationships in general. The way your relationship is laid out now, you are in a position of "power" to manage the money, and yet you feel so powerless, and possibly incompetent, to manage the money well, even if you are doing a great job! That's a bit of a trap - which puts you in a position to continue "withholding" money (or so it feels to him), and "controlling" his sense of freedom or access to his own hard-earned money (or so I'm guessing he feels). Sometimes it is helpful to address the other areas of your relationship that create a similar feeling (where you feel powerless, or he feels you are withholding/controlling for example), and address that issue, rather than fussing about the money.
On a more practical, less analytical note (because sometimes a cigar is just a cigar - or so many think), perhaps it would be a good strategy to tally up all of your monthly expenses, adding in a savings allowance for unexpected expenses and repairs, as well as your actual savings and then split the remaining balance and place this discretionary income in two separate checking accounts from which you both draw your own, equal, monthly allowance. Then if he wants to save for something, or burn through his monthly allowance, he has both the power and the responsibility for exactly how his discretionary income is spent.
This seems to work well for a lot of couples.