Q. Our family recently returned from a very nice but costly vacation in Italy. Although I am grateful to my husband for giving us this opportunity, the trip was one more example of what I consider his constant overspending of our resources. Our children are young, and I can’t work here, so we have only his salary and bills, bills, bills! Putting money aside for our kids’ education, a down payment on a home, extra retirement income – to say nothing of possible unemployment one day – all that is a foreign language to him. He just laughs off my concerns as being premature or fuddy-duddy, and says we have plenty of time to worry about all that later. I toss and turn nightly with frustration and worry, wondering how to get him to face reality and get down to some serious financial planning.
A: It sounds as though this is a bona fide “ant and grasshopper” situation, with you and your husband polarized around equally rigid attitudes about money. Generally such attitudes run very deep and often have to do with your family of origin. If your grandparents, say, were immigrants or suffered severely during the Depression, you could be living out a transgenerational anxiety, even though the circumstances are different. With the same background, your husband could be determined NOT to live with that kind of constriction and be throwing off this doom and gloom scenario now that he is master of his own funds. So one thing you could do is try to delve more deeply into your respective positions – without getting into a “You’re a spendthrift!” “No, you’re a miser” type of dynamic – to see if some greater mutual understanding will emerge.
Another way to try to break the impasse might be for you to try on his role for a few days. Start talking about your next trip, buying some antique furniture, or simply upping the ante on whatever new ideas for spending he introduces. He is probably programmed to hearing you put the kibosh on his projects, so it could be interesting to see whether he puts on his own brakes if he thinks you are off and running for a change.
Finally, ask calm, open-ended questions about his answers to some of your concerns. For example, the next time he shrugs off your worries about college tuition, avoid your usual rejoinder – especially if it is a put-down – and, following his line of reasoning, just ask questions. The point is to see how far he can continue to justify his position, and what, exactly, is behind that position – the hope of an inheritance, the idea that you will eventually get a job, a stellar career path – or nothing! If you do this skillfully, both of you will get more information than if you systematically cut off such a process by simply countering his position with a conflicting viewpoint.
Jill Bourdais is a psychotherapist practicing in Paris both privately and in a hospital setting. A specialist in couple/family problems, she also teaches PAIRS, a skills-building course in intimate relationships.