"He's Spending All Our Money!"

Deb is tired of Neil's frivolous spending. Neil doesn't think his spending is a problem if it improves the family business. Can this marriage be saved?
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The Couple

Deb: 51, homemaker

Neil: 55, entrepreneur

Married: 22 years

Kids: Katy, 19; Lauren, 14

The Counselor

Patty Ann Tublin
Stamford, Connecticut

The Background

Neil thinks of himself as an entrepreneur and has a spend-money-to-make-money philosophy. Deb says his bad business investments are bankrupting them and that he's squandering the family's money.

Deb's Turn

"From the outside Neil and I must seem like we've got it made. We own a real-estate business that brings in good money. We have a big house and a country-club membership. But the fact is we're nearly broke because Neil's spending is totally out of control. I don't know how we'll ever pay off our credit cards. What's left in our checking account each month is barely enough to cover the mortgage.

"It's not just that he buys tons of stuff we don't need, like artwork, designer clothes, and high-end electronics. He also keeps investing in side businesses that don't make sense. He'll sink thousands of dollars into an ostrich farm or one of those deals where you sell vitamins from home. He says he's trying to come up with a "Plan B" in case our company hits a rough spot, but these schemes are draining us dry.

"My brother started paying our daughter's college tuition this year because we don't have the cash. It's humiliating. I'm so anxious about it I can barely sleep. But when I beg Neil to stop spending, he ignores me.

"I know what it takes to grow a business! Before we had kids, I was an analyst on Wall Street, and lately I've been helping Neil at the office. He's got amazing vision and drive but he needs someone who worries about the details. And that ends up being me.

"Yes, I'm big on predictability and order. But Neil is totally irresponsible -- and it goes beyond money. He's late for everything. When we meet friends for dinner, they end up waiting for an hour because Neil lost track of time. It drives me crazy, but he just laughs it off. Last week he missed half of our younger daughter's piano recital. Fortunately, she didn't notice he was missing, but I was ready to kill him."

Neil's Turn

"Listen, since I was 12 years old I've been an entrepreneur. As a kid I'd do anything I could think of to make a buck -- deliver newspapers, clean houses, or sell clams I dug up at the beach. I even sold flowers I cut from the neighbors' backyards. I put myself through college and went on to build several very successful businesses.

"I see money as a form of energy that fuels the creative process. You borrow it, you make something fantastic with it, and eventually you pay it back. Some of my ventures may have fizzled, but you can't get anywhere without taking risks. Deb doesn't seem to understand that. She's a bit of a control freak. Me, I'm absolutely confident in my ability to turn a profit. That's why I don't worry about buying things.

"I admit that my view of time is more relaxed than Deb's is. But when you're running a company, there's always that one last call you've got to make. My whole life is my business and my family. I don't drink a lot. I don't gamble. I don't even go golfing with the guys on weekends. We live in an expensive part of the world and I'm the breadwinner, the person who's responsible for carrying all of us financially. But when I try to push things to the next level, Deb can't handle it. For example, I like to throw a party at the local marina every Friday to prospect for clients. It's a smart investment. But she says, 'Can we make it once a month instead of once a week?' Frankly, her attitude baffles me. Why not keep moving forward? Deb just checks out after a certain point."

Deb's Turn

"Of course I check out. We can't afford to be throwing weekly cocktail parties! These days Neil gets so carried away by his projects that it scares me. I feel like I can't depend on him financially or personally.

"When we first met I fell in love with his spontaneity and optimism. I'd been dating stodgy investment bankers. He'd just come from crewing a yacht on the Mediterranean and he was starting a business selling sailboats. Before we had kids and responsibilities, his eagerness to try new challenges was fun and exciting. But now it's harder and harder to keep up with him. He'll be so amped about some half-baked venture that he'll jump on it without consulting me -- or he'll talk me into it, because he's the quintessential salesman. Then it tanks, and he's too depressed to get out of bed for a week. Pretty soon he gloms on to another idea and we're back on the roller coaster. He says, 'This time it's going to be different.' But it never is.

"It's true that Neil's family was very different from mine. But we have our own family now, and we need to work as a team. I love Neil and I'm committed to this marriage. Right now, though, I don't feel safe. I don't feel respected. I don't feel happy. And I don't want to live my life this way."

Neil's Turn

"Deb just needs to control things. I adore my wife, but we come from different worlds. Deb's father died when she was a girl, and her mother raised three kids on the insurance money, watching every penny. My dad was like me -- outgoing and entrepreneurial. He liked to live large. Whenever he could afford it, he made sure his family had the best. When times were lean, we all stayed positive and we got through it."

Continued on page 2:  The Counselor's Turn

 

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