Money or Control?

Five years into his second marriage, Jim was so frustrated with the haphazard way Cathy seemed to handle her finances that he was seriously considering divorce. Cathy wouldn’t consider joint counseling, so he decided to find his own counselor to help him sort through the issues and make a decision.

Jim and Cathy were both well-paid professionals, and had a clear agreement to share expenses. Jim complained that she kept forgetting her wallet or running short of cash, manipulating him into paying for all of their entertainment expenses. He asked her to pay him back, but she never seemed to get around to it. He felt ashamed to make an issue of repayment, so he usually let if drop.

Cathy did pay her share of household bills, but Jim was so worried about her flakiness” that he frequently questioned her anxiously about whether she was up to date. At one point, after hearing her talk about wanting a new car, he carefully researched which new car would be best for her. He was appalled when she bought a more expensive, sportier model. He urged her to keep careful records of her personal expenditures and offered to help her review them. She refused — angrily — and they had frequent arguments about money.

When I asked what Jim did to contribute to the problem, Jim recognized that he was the one who started the arguments by frequently asking Cathy about what she did with her money. When I asked what he was tying to accomplish by questioning her, Jim realized that he wonted to be sure she could take care of herself financially and not become dependent on him. He also realized that the method he was using was not accomplishing his goal.

He also discovered his own internal conflict about whether or not a husband should be financially responsible for his wife. This kept him from really discussing the problem of Cathy breaking her financial agreement about entertainment. I suggested that his unexpressed resentment about the broken agreement might be connected to his judgment that she was irresponsible about money.

Jim still did not feel ready to confront Cathy directly about the broken agreement, but he decided to experiment with refraining from asking her about her handling of money. He also decided to tell Cathy in advance whether or not any particular entertainment activity would be his treat.

A month after he started his experiment, Jim noticed that the arguments rarely happened any more. The bills continued to get paid, and Cathy was occasionally volunteering to treat him to dinner and other activities. He decided to stay married.

Is this you? “I don’t need therapy, but I could use some advice about…”
[tags]Relationships, Money, Communication, Relationship Advice[/tags]

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