I’ve been married for 10 years and my husband and I have two daughters, aged five and seven. We both work and mostly share household duties equally. My husband manages our money and pays our bills even though for the last three years my salary has steadily increased so that I now out earn him by about 50%. My husband is very frugal and keeps a tight hold on our accounts. While I appreciate his money management skills and our debt-free life, I would like to feel free to make some independent spending decisions and use my earnings to enjoy life a little. Since we became parents we rarely go out as a couple because my husband thinks paying for childcare is wasteful. I can’t remember the last time he and I went out to dinner together because my husband complains that restaurant meals are over-priced and tasteless. We don’t exchange gifts for birthdays or anniversaries as he says that both of us already have everything we need. I never receive anything material from him that surprises me or makes me feel special or cared for. We’re good partners in running our home and caring for our children but my husband’s stinginess is leaving me feeling unappreciated, taken for granted and controlled. I’ve tried to talk to him about how I feel but nothing I say seems to inspire him to adjust our budget in response to our combined increased income. When I go shopping for clothes for myself or our kids, I remove the price tags before I get home to avoid being told I spend too much. I lie about how much I pay for things to avoid his criticism and end up feeling like I’m guilty of over-spending when I’m actually a pretty careful shopper. When we need to spend money on a home or car repair, he agonizes and fears that we’re being overcharged and turns these unplanned but completely affordable expenditures into financial catastrophes. I’m feeling more and more resentful and our conflict over money is killing the romance between us. Could a therapist help us?
Our feelings and behaviors around earning, saving and spending money are often influenced by our money-related experiences in our families of origin. It sounds like your husband has some fear and insecurity around money that may not be based on the facts of your current financial circumstances. From what you described it sounds like you both appreciate living within your means and being debt-free. It also sounds like you and your husband both value being financially responsible. It just may be that the 2 of you have different ideas about what it takes to feel financially secure. I would be curious to know about how each of you were taught about money. Did either of you experience a financial trauma as children or young adults? Were there times for either of you when you were dependent on your families where there wasn’t enough money or a reduction in family income caused a crisis that required unwanted lifestyle changes or losses? As hard as it is for you to live with your husband’s demands for restrictive spending it must be pretty miserable for him to be so afraid of spending money that it is difficult for him to enjoy experiences you are able to afford. The dynamic you describe sounds like it could become an abusive money control disorder that could destroy your relationship.
Since you already have tried talking to your husband on your own about your feelings around your money differences, finding a therapist who is experienced in helping people understand their relationship to money might be helpful. If I were working with you, I would begin by having each of you create a money autobiography that would help you both understand how your history with money affects you in the present. It also might be helpful for the two of you to meet with a fee for service qualified financial advisor who could help correct erroneous beliefs or unproductive attitudes around money saving and spending decisions so that you could better understand the sources of each other’s money fears and also have a clear and realistic understanding of your present financial situation. It’s important to find a way to cooperatively partner over matters of money so that you can be financially responsible and enjoy the fruits of your labor to provide for you and your family to live joyfully within your means. Please contact me if you’d like to schedule an appointment.