December 2, 2010 at 4:47 pm , by Jennifer Castoro
Black Friday! Cyber Monday! Buy 20, get 1 free! Blowout-knockdown-stampede-through-the-door sale, one day only! BuybuyBUY!
Sound familiar? At this time of year, it’s so (so, so) easy to get sucked into overspending on indulging your loved ones’ holiday want-list. We all want to make our friends and families smile with the gifts we choose for them, and it’s tough to resist a good bargain when you see it. We’re not recommending that you pass by that ideal present you finally finagled to 50 percent off. But what happens when the shopping goes a little too far?
This week’s warring couple consists of Kelly, a 32-year-old with a well-paid job at an ad agency, and Rich, a 33-year-old civil engineer. Their story is from our June 1998 issue, but the topic is as classic as ever. (And if this is a hot-button issue in your household, read up on how to talk about money with your spouse for ideas on how to get the conversation rolling.)
In one corner…
Kelly: She’s in $20,000 of credit card debt and just broke the news to her shocked husband. She’s mortified – and terrified – at the bill, but she gets such a rush from buying the perfect thing for the house or for him that she can’t control herself. Kelly had a truly sad childhood – her mother called her “a mistake” and had a history of abuse – and her family was always wanting for money. She keeps her money separate from her husband’s, initially because she didn’t want to answer to him for purchases, but she’s spiraled out of control.
The other corner…
Rich: He feels betrayed by his wife. He had a similar childhood to hers – abusive parents who ultimately divorced, and a mother who spent all his father’s earnings – so he’s easily angered by Kelly’s spending. He was relieved when Kelly wanted to keep their finances separate at the beginning of the marriage, but didn’t realize they wouldn’t be able to discuss money at all without his wife getting upset. He trusted her and thought their shared backgrounds meant they were on the same page financially but refuses to allow Kelly to spend any further – at all.
And the referee:
The counselor: It wasn’t the bills that endangered this marriage, but the lack of openness and trust in discussing them. Kelly filled the emptiness of her childhood with stuff and found comfort in material things, and because she felt her husband didn’t support her, she “got back at him” by spending, too. Rich took the opposite tack and disapproved of any purchases Kelly made whatsoever, even justified ones. He also shut down in other areas of their marriage, when he felt threatened. The couple needed financial counseling to pay down their debts, and when Kelly recognized her destructive habits and felt acknowledged by her husband, she was able to cut her credit cards down from 20 to 1. They began to review bills together and set aside money that they could spend on whatever they wished, and the sense of control helped Kelly to ease the overspending and Rich to trust his wife again.
Is money an issue in your marriage? Do you talk about financial issues with your spouse? Cast your vote below and tell us more in the comments!
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