"I'm a compulsive shopper"

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And then


Greer: Although compulsive shoppers like Kelly often spend to fight off depression (hers was triggered by the fact that she's starved for love and affection) Kelly is also using it to gain a sense of security and control. There is a similarity between Kelly's father's alcoholism and her own addiction to shopping. Indeed, addictive behaviors often run in families. Whereas her father sought happiness and a sense of control in the bottle; she's trying to find it in a new dress or an accumulation of things around her. Ultimately, she discovered that trying to gain emotional sustenance that way is an empty quest.

Rich needs to make some connections to his past, as well. He's responding to his wife in much the same way he reacted to his mother. What's more, he's assuming that the past will be repeated in the present. He needs to acknowledge that to a certain extent he has been allowing his life to run on automatic pilot. Now, it's time to take the helm.

Understanding the connection to their pasts gave Kelly and Rich encouragement about the future. They began to make concrete changes in their lives to get this marriage back on track. First, they consulted a financial planner, who reviewed their finances, helped them consolidate their debts and establish a system for paying them off, as well as set unbreakable rules for spending and saving. Although keeping separate checking accounts was important to both of them, Kelly cut back to only one credit card, to be used only in emergencies and, even then, the bill must be paid by the end of the month. She pays cash for purchases, waiting to buy something until she has the money. The planner reassured Rich that since their 401(k) plans were intact, they were on solid ground for the future. Many times, people who are compulsively frugal are often in far better financial shape than they think.

Part of Kelly and Rich's financial strategy involved setting aside money for reasonable personal spending as well as for fun--something sorely missing in their relationship. When Kelly feels deprived, her internal regulator goes awry. If she feels she has some control over her purchases, and if she feels a connection with Rich, she has less need to overspend.

Several "homework assignments" helped significantly. First, they established a date night--every Thursday--and each took turns choosing the evening activity. This wasn't easy for Rich, since he was bothered by crowds, traffic and having to make plans in advance. Simply arriving at a day and time took much discussion, but Kelly was thrilled to know that they'd be doing something together. The first week, she suggested going to a new English pub that had just opened in their neighborhood and having fish and chips. The second week, Rich suggested an evening picnic in the park. This structured activity has forced Rich to get out of the house and he surprised himself that he had such a good time.

Once Rich saw that Kelly was following their new plan, his anger subsided. Slowly, as he became more responsive to the counseling and was able to admit the part he played in the cycle, the tension eased even more. In time, as they rebuilt their old camaraderie and trust, they were able to discuss what was missing from their relationship--and what they both hoped for in the future. This kind of deeper communication, on a regular basis, is easy for busy, two-career couples to dismiss. Over the course of several months, for example, they discussed the issue of children and decided that they don't want to have any after all. "As the doctor's said, it's doubtful that I will be able to conceive," Kelly explained. "Given our family problems and career choices, we both want to pour all are energies into our marriage. I'm not sure we'd have enough left over to raise a family, too." Rich still worries that the mail may bring some unexpected bill: "It's going to take time," he said. "But at least we're working together on this now." It's important that they are honest with themselves, and are listening and hearing each other in a whole different way. Those are the qualities that will help them overcome the legacy of family problems--and build a happier, healthier future.--Margery D. Rosen


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