Money is the reason for many an argument between married couples. Whether you have a little or a lot, money forms the basis of many uncomfortable discussions.
In a marriage where one partner earns significantly more than the other that partner will tend to hold much more power than their spouse. In fact, this is the reason divorce was not so common in Malawi a few decades ago.
Men earned significantly more than women, they held most of the power in the relationship and if the woman wasn’t happy then she could leave, but she wouldn’t – she was fully dependent on her husband and incapable of looking after herself; her family advised her to persevere – “ungopilira, nanga utani” (you should just persevere, what else can you do).
This went on for so long that we accepted this as the norm – for the most part society has come to believe that the right order of things is for the husband to earn more than the wife and for the man to control the home.
As a feminist, I believe this is complete rubbish. Things do not have to be that way around.
Indeed, for the last 10 to 15 years the gender balance has been shifting. Girls have been performing well in the education system and it is now not uncommon to have the woman earning more than her husband. It is fantastic that we as women have progressed in this way but one of the undesirable consequences is jealousy from the man and at times unreasonable behaviour.
If your wife earns more than you then is she the head of the house? No, because a home doesn’t have a head, a marriage involves two people in an equal partnership. Responsibilities need to be shared between the two of you; you don’t have to come into the marriage with a pre-set notion of who does what.
In a marriage where you both earn roughly equal amounts there is little reason to disagree about money but nevertheless there can be if you hold different beliefs on how that money should be managed. For example, the woman might have been brought up to believe that it is the husband’s responsibility to take care of domestic bills, rent and even buying their house. On the other hand the man might have the opposite belief, that the wife should contribute equally à la “kuli Gender”!
Many money problems in a relationship are rooted in the fact that it isn’t discussed at all or in the correct way. When something goes wrong or isn’t going the way one person expects it to, a shouting match results. This is not the way to handle money in a relationship. Money is a sensitive issue and it needs to be broached with great care.
If you are not yet married then I’ve caught you at the right time. Before your relationship even gets to the marriage stage you need to decide what you expect of a prospective husband and you need to let each other know these things well before a proposal is on the cards.
My main point in this article is to lay the foundation for the next one; you definitely don’t have to agree with my views on money management but they can form the basis for your own policies. In three years my husband and I have never had an argument about money and we lay the foundations for our financial interaction well before we got married. I’ll tell you all about that next week.
“He who marries for love without money has good nights and sorry days.” ~ Ani Difranco
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For 2 years until early 2014 I wrote a weekly personal finance and business column for Malawi's leading media house, The Times Group. The target is middle-class, working African women.
This is a reproduction of the articles that appeared in the weekend edition of Malawi News.