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Ask Dave

Toxic Relationships

Sue says her married sister and sisters-in-law all keep their own bank accounts. Sue disagrees with it, but is this normal? Dave says it's normal but toxic.

QUESTION: Sue in Cleveland says her married sister and sisters-in-law all keep their own bank accounts. Their theory seems to be that they don’t know what they’ll do if their husbands leave them. Sue disagrees with it, but is this normal? Dave says it’s normal but toxic.

ANSWER: There are a lot of things in this country that are normal that are under the column of stupid. Yeah, it’s probably normal, but it’s toxic and stupid. It’s not a healthy marriage, and it’s not a healthy view of relationships. To start with, these guys aren’t doing a very good job of branding themselves in the relationship as trustworthy. Secondly, they’re not doing a very good job because they basically have financially abandoned their wives, meaning that their wives have to make all the decisions by themselves, and they’re going to get all the credit, and if they get all the credit, they’re not wives; they’re mommies. They’re going to get all the crap if something goes wrong, and he doesn’t like the way she did it after he didn’t pay attention. These men need to man up to start with. That doesn’t mean they have to do the bills. They just ought to have what’s known as a freaking clue and be involved in the decision making. By the way, if your husband does all the bills by himself, ladies, it’s the same situation. You need to woman up because you need to have a clue.

Grownups learn to work together as a team in a marriage. If your husband handles all the money and gives it to you, then you’re a little girl princess and you don’t have to make any decisions, and when he dies, you’re what’s known as up a creek because you have no clue. If you’re a little boy and Mommy takes care of you and gives you an allowance every week, and you can’t go out with the boys because Mommy didn’t give you enough money… How many 40-year-old men talk that way? I just want to smack them. They sound like they’re 14 and their allowance ran out. What kind of healthy relationship is that? I really want my wife to be a full-on woman. I don’t want her to be a little girl, and she really wants to be married to a man.

You’re planning to leave. Why not do a prenup, too, while we’re at it? Just guarantee the planning of the failure.

They need to sit down together, lay out a game plan together, and be on the same page together. We all have our money. We do all our spending. It’s a good thing for you and I to discuss conceptually. From a mechanical standpoint, the chances of you talking your sisters-in-law into doing this is zero. I’m going to give you three The Total Money Makeover books, and you don’t say a word about their marriage or about any of this. Just give the books to the men. Let’s just see what happens. Let’s just plant a seed. I think these ladies enjoy the power and they enjoy all the control aspect of this, but there’s also a little bit of resentment because they’re the only grownup in the house. They wish their guy would walk with them on making major decisions. I don’t want to make major decisions without my wife. We don’t buy $10,000 stuff or invest or give $10,000 or something like that or with our monthly budget me doing just whatever I want and then call her up and go, “By the way, here’s your $100 because you’re a good little girl.” But a lot of marriages operate that way, but it’s as toxic as it can be. It is the beginning of the end.

That little squirrel money on the side that’s hers—she cramps the household down so she can store money so if he leaves—that is really dangerous because of what it represents. Jesus said your treasure is where your heart is, meaning where you spend your money tells us what you’re doing with your life. It tells us what your value system is. That’s where that one foot out the door thing comes from.