Unilateral Decision Making with Money: How Does it Impact a Relationship?

by TTMK on March 8, 2012 · 6 comments

Follow what I say, since I’m the decision maker!

Wouldn’t it be great to have full control over your finances, being able to make any and all decisions based on your own feelings, opinions, or analysis?

Well, most single people can have that. If you’re married and want that type of arrangement, it goes from self-determination to selfishly autocratic.  In short, it probably isn’t a good idea to expect to have that kind of approach.

However, that doesn’t stop some couples from having financial situations where one person is primarily in charge of most big money decisions. It’s almost like a throwback to a bygone era like the 1950’s, where the earner and provider (man) called the shots and the supported person (wife) might have provided a lot of input but didn’t make the final call. However, in this second decade of the 21st century, it’s not typical for one person to be the final authority.

Or is it?

I was thinking about this while watching House Hunters, where a couple was looking for a home in a move out of state. In case you haven’t seen the show, it’s generally about a buyer (single or couple) who looks for a new home and visits 3 finalists before selecting one. In this episode, from the way the conversations were going, the wife had a lot more opinions, and seemed to be the “alpha” in shaping which way the their “joint” opinion went.

It struck me that she was quite bossy. Then, I thought of a comment that a real estate agent once made to me. She told me that in home purchases by couples, 70% of the decision making influence came from the woman. It didn’t matter if both people worked or only one worked, the wife generally ends up having more say in the final decision. I can actually see how this would probably be the case.

It also reminded me of a situation that involved a couple I knew in the past. The two were both highly intelligent people, and at one point in time the guy (we’ll call him “Bob”) was working while the wife was pursuing her graduate degree. She (we’ll call her “Tina”) was clearly a very bright (more than him, it seemed), talented person, and would eventually become very successful.  The thing is, he liked to think he was in charge and “The Man”.

Recall that I just mentioned that the wife in this case was in graduate school. Well, they needed to move in order to accommodate the location of his work assignment and her academic pursuits.  So, in order to make this happen in a short time frame, they apparently decided to go and quickly find a place to rent. Buying wasn’t going to happen based on their situation at the time, and reality that they would ultimately settle elsewhere.

Well, they planned to have Bob go out one day and take a look at properties they could consider.  It seemed like a foregone conclusion that he would then come back and tell Tina what he saw, so they could in some way narrow things down and let her be involved when they made a final decision. You know, maybe see the final choices?

No such luck. He went ahead and signed a lease to rent a house for a year, without his wife ever seeing anything at all!

At the time, my initial reaction was a jaw dropping “WOW!”. Then, I thought to myself, “that’s just Bob being Bob. Ha Ha!”. That seemed to be the reaction a few others expressed, though it was accompanied by comments along the lines of “I would NEVER try to do something like that”.

Bob defended his decision in the face of good natured teasing, with more bluster about how he was “The Man” and things along those lines.

Fast forward some years later. As it turns out, Bob and Tina eventually ended their marriage.  Not in any way directly related to the home purchase. Rather, Bob was quite the selfish person it appeared. He made some very poor choices, and lost many friends as a result.

Could his dictatorial and selfish approach with finances – in terms of big expenditures – have been a foreshadowing of things to come?

My Questions for You

Do you know any couples where one person tends to dominate decision-making?

Do you think it’s possible for there to be a situation where it’s ever best for one person to make the key financial decisions?

Based on what you have seen, do you see things being fairly equal these days in terms of big money decisions, between men and women in relationships?


{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

MyMoneyDesign March 8, 2012 at 6:04 pm

Interesting behavioral topic! My wife and I always joke that she is the purchasing department and I am the financing department. What that means is that I make all the investment and banking decisions that lead to making our money and she makes all the spending decisions! But in all seriousness, we are very good about mutually weighing in on all important decisions – large purchases, kids, work, etc.


TTMK March 10, 2012 at 2:49 pm

My Money Design – Glad that you guys are good at getting mutual input into these decisions. I like the purchasing/financing department joke, may have to borrow that one 🙂


Jeff March 11, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Actually my wife and I were basically in that type of relationship when we first decided to get out of debt. She didn’t care, just wanted to know if we were ok. I have to say it blew up in our faces. And after a few bad months we finally came together and it’s been great since then.


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