I know this sounds almost cliché but I can’t get my wife to stop spending money. Sounds like a bad joke no? I work hard and make a very nice living but she seems to have no awareness of financial responsibility. Whenever I speak to her she feels bad about it but it doesn’t really stop her. I don’t want to turn this into a huge fight, and she is sensitive to confrontation, but I’m telling you it’s completely out of control. I used to be shocked by how crazy my credit card bills were but I’m numb to it now. She is otherwise a wonderful wife and mother but it’s like that one piece of her brain that could get control of that is missing. I’d appreciate either your therapeutic advice or the name of a good bankruptcy attorney. Thanks.
There seem to be a few factors involved in your situation. The obvious issue is the fact that (as you both agree) your wife spends too much money. Another factor is her sensitivity to confrontation, which makes me wonder whether you have general communication issues—and to what extent this is present in discussions about finances.
The fact that you’ve become numb to the problem may be indicative of your general reluctance to have meaningful discussions. If you sense that your wife feels criticized, her negative reaction can easily lead to a tendency to avoid sensitive subjects. This can lead to a more general breakdown in communication and a strained relationship. The rest of my response will focus on the spending issue, but can likely be applied to other areas as well.
Part of the reason that you have become resigned to the problem may be that you have the sense that your wife (at least to some degree) has a mental or emotional problem that affects her ability to control her actions. You speak of the piece of her brain that’s missing. Even if this was meant to be tongue in cheek, there is often some truth to our humor.
Another factor is your humor in itself. You referred to the situation as a cliché and a bad joke. You also ended with a joke. Humor is often used as a defense mechanism. When we do this, it’s typically to avoid something unpleasant or problematic. Your tendency to view issues in a humorous manner can be helpful in the short-term to deal with simple matters. When a larger issue is obscured through humor, however, this can lead to a more pervasive avoidance of the problem.
With regard to your wife’s seeming inability to recognize and deal with her overspending, there are a few possibilities that come to mind. It’s easy for most of us to identify an obvious issue in the abstract; seeing it clearly from a broader perspective can be more difficult. Changing behavior to match our understanding is harder still. As an example, I might decide to exercise twice a week because I know it’s good for me. But if I don’t focus on exactly how this will change my life, it’s hard to get started. Even if I have a very clear understanding of the benefits, it can still be difficult for me to change my routine.
Perhaps you could have a non-confrontational discussion with your wife about the specific impact that overspending has on your finances. If your wife has little or no involvement in the handling of the family finances, you can encourage her to take on an aspect of this. For example, you can ask her to keep a daily record of her spending, broken down into types (like food, clothing, restaurants, etc.). At the end of the week or month, you could discuss the impact that the totals have on your budget. Being more involved, and clearly seeing the actual effect, can help her to be more cognizant of her spending.
If you believe that your wife actually has a significant problem controlling herself, there may be underlying issues, like those associated with ADHD and other disorders. If this is the case, she should be seen by a professional. If she is already seeing someone, this particular issue should be brought up—not only specifically as a spending problem, but as a more general problem related to focus, distraction, self-control, or another systemic problem.
And, no…I don’t know of any good bankruptcy attorneys.
-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW
psychotherapist in private practice
Brooklyn, NY | Far Rockaway, NY
author of Self-Esteem: A Primer
www.ylcsw.com / 718-258-5317
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