We Always Fight About Money

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He Says

Charlie: Terry doesn't talk, she lectures. I love her, but I don't know if I'm in love with her anymore. She makes me feel like a loser. That's why I went to Florida. I had to get as far away as I could to empty my mind and calm down. I admit it was extravagant, but I'd hit bottom. I'm so stressed lately that just hearing my kids' voices when they're playing can get me aggravated. I remember sitting in the living room a few weeks back, and my daughter asked if I'd play a game with her. I barked an answer. When that happens, you know you have to make a change.

I honestly don't know if this marriage can be saved. The only things Terry and I seem to have in common anymore are our kids. When we first met, I was totally infatuated with her. She was so sweet and encouraging -- totally different from the woman she's become. Her reaction to the surprise party I planned for her was typical. She can't lighten up and enjoy herself, even on her birthday. I wanted to do something special because she deserves it, but she even used that as a weapon to ridicule and insult me. I can't win.

Plus, she's forever harping on me about the home repairs. I picked aluminum siding for the house because it lasts a lifetime, but she thought it looked cheap. Maybe that's why I don't seem to be able to finish the work around the house. I want to make Terry happy, but in her eyes, everything I do is garbage.

Unlike my wife, I had a pretty happy childhood. My mom stayed home until I was 15, and my father worked for the same company for 30 years. We didn't talk much, but I knew I was loved. The only bad memories I have were my run-ins with the neighborhood bully. Though I never got into any physical brawls with him, the kid tormented me from the time I was 5 until I was about 10. When I told my parents, they brushed it off and told me to ignore him. Most of the time, I kept my feelings to myself and learned to deal.

When I was a teenager, I dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player. The coach at school thought I had enough talent to try out for the state team. He talked to my folks about it, but they didn't want to make the commitment. It's a huge investment of time and money. They couldn't afford it either way. After a while, I got more interested in girls than in playing ball, and I let that dream fall by the wayside. Even then, I don't remember arguing with my parents very much. In fact, the only one time I know I disappointed my folks was when I dated a women they didn't approve of. After I dropped out of college -- I wasn't interested in school and my parents didn't seem to mind as long as I could support myself -- I worked for a construction company. When I moved in with my girlfriend, my parents stopped talking to me for almost a year. Until I broke up with her, the only contact I had with them was through my brother. When we broke up, everything was fine. My parents never said a word about it. I suppose you'd say we weren't the best communicators.

Demosthenous: While Charlie needs to focus on his financial future and plan better for his family, Terry shares some of the responsibility for their money problems. For her, money represented the emotional security and trust she never had as a child and which she's terrified will always remain beyond her reach. Terry can never have a big enough financial cushion, so she goes to great lengths to track every penny and deprives herself of all luxuries. Terry is stingy with herself, I suspect, because deep down, she doesn't believe she deserves to be treated well.

Both Charlie and Terry are at fault for having avoided making even the most basic plans for their future or establishing spending and saving systems. It's not surprising. For most of us, talking about money is more taboo than discussing sex. Many people don't tell their parents or siblings what they make and I've even met couples who don't reveal their salaries to each other.

Money managers say that most of us can save up to 10 percent of our salaries a year painlessly. Start by putting away 5 percent of your paycheck each month and living on the rest. Can you do it? Most likely you'll find that that small amount of savings accounts for money that slips through your fingers. If you find this works, then raise your savings to 7 percent. By the end of a year, try to get up to the 10 percent mark. This plan helps you discriminate between what you really need and what you buy just because it's out there.

Charlie: The things Terry says to me shock me, and by the way we both get so caught up in stupid arguments. It's always about money, but things get so out of hand that neither one of us know how to put the brakes on. We're just so different. I don't worry and she worries all the time. My parents were middle class and we didn't have very much, but I never felt deprived or lacking for anything. And I know I've changed jobs a lot, but I've always found something else and I believe I always will. We've never been out on the street and we've never been as desperate as Terry makes it sound. I hate the way she exaggerates. It would be nice if she had some faith in me. Instead, she shoots down every idea I have. Why should I even bother to try?

Terry accuses me of being materialistic and I take offense at that. I do appreciate having certain things. I work hard, and you only go around once in life, so I don't see the point in pinching pennies. If we go out for dinner with friends, I don't want to be punished for picking up the check once in a while. The other guy will do it next time. If my daughter wants a pack of Pokemon cards, I'll spend the five bucks so she can have them. That doesn't mean I'm not concerned about providing for my kids. I think about it a lot. I know health insurance is a huge problem and that so far we've been lucky that we haven't had big expenses in that department. But I also believe that things will come together for us. I'm just not sure when.

Demosthenous: Charlie approaches money the way he approaches life: Loose and laid back, with an I'll-worry-about-it-tomorrow mindset. Spending money makes Charlie feel good. Picking up the check or buying a leather jacket provides instant gratification and tangible evidence that he's worth something. However, it does little to boost his self-esteem and confidence since it allows him to avoid the scarier option looking for more secure employment that would validate him in the long run. To his credit, Charlie knows how to enjoy himself in little ways -- whether meeting friends for dinner or a baseball game on the weekend -- which is something his wife needs to learn.

Charlie: The truth is, I'm not happy working at the store. I've always dreamed of owning a business, but this past year has been the worst. I'm burned out. I want to spend more time with my kids, but I'm putting in 100 hours a week, and I haven't taken a day off all year. I can't seem to find the right staff. Maybe Terry's right. Maybe I am a lousy manager and I'll never be a success. But is the only answer going to work for a big company where I'm just a nobody? Does having a pension mean I have to give up my dream?

Continued on page 4:  The Therapist Says


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