Money is the leading cause of divorce in the U.S. There is so much history, emotion and belief tied up in how people handle money.
The neurodiverse couple is no different.
Though money matters are something all married couples must negotiate, they can be especially contentious for the neurodiverse couple.
Executive function (what I call “adulting”) plays a major role in the ability to manage both time and money. Neurodivergence often falls to two extremes in this area: Miserly frugality or wanton overspending.
Separate is Never Equal in Family Finances
My husband, Brian, tends to spend until the account is overdrawn. He doesn’t buy extravagant things but daily visits to Starbucks can add up in a big way before you know it.
If I impose a strict budget, he’ll let his car run out of gas for fear of upsetting me by fueling up without clear permission from me to do so. There is no in-between for him.
A friend of mine with a husband who has autism spectrum disorder has a similar challenge with rigidity. She and her husband took a Dave Ramsey class over a decade ago, and he holds firmly to those principles — even if they aren’t in the best interests of their family.
For instance, he insisted the family live without a major kitchen appliance for three months because they couldn’t pay cash for a replacement unless they reduced the extra money going toward their debt.
Dave’s program said the average couple could be debt-free in three years and this husband refused to fail at that goal. His family was miserable, but he could not be convinced otherwise.
Not Extreme, In Between
I think we can all agree neither situation is ideal: It’s not healthy for a family to overdraw their accounts every month and it’s not healthy to force your family to live without necessities to meet an arbitrary deadline for eliminating debt.
So what do you do? Some couples separate their accounts. Others have the neurotypical spouse retain tight control over the family funds.
We’ve tried both solutions and I don’t recommend them. We believe marriage is a partnership and splitting bills into his-and-hers piles didn’t work seamlessly once kids were in the picture. And having me take away his debit card and checkbook made Brian feel like a child, leading to rebellion, and it made me feel like his mother. Both scenarios were lose-lose.
Instead, we look for ways that we both can win.
Win-Win Scenarios are Possible – Even When Money is Involved
We make joint finances work by creating communications systems that keep us on track for our goals. Our bills for each month are listed on our dining room white board until paid and also in an app online. Every week, I have bills to pay and he has bills to pay.
We communicate — and over communicate — as each one is paid.
I make the grocery list and offer a ballpark budget. If he sees something he wants to buy at the store that’s not on the
list, he sends me a photo of it with the price so I can tell him whether it’s feasible.
This system isn’t perfect. We still make mistakes. He’ll forget to tell me he wrote a check, and I’ll forget to tell him unexpected expenses have forced a revision to our standard budget.
But it’s the best scenario we’ve tried, a method we have found that allows us to win individually and as a team. We both feel like partners, working toward a shared goal.
I believe our system also teaches our daughters the value of open communication around money. We are always talking about money as a finite resource in our home and discussing ways we can better steward our financial resources.
Our system also allows them to witness how a team works and that each player is valuable. Neither of us is perfect. But together we can win.