Many years ago my husband began collecting books, toys, and other items of interest to him. His family was poor growing up, so he feels it’s okay to indulge himself because he works a job and earns money. He’s the sole provider for our family.
Money has always been tight for us, and we have lived paycheck to paycheck for the 20-plus years we’ve been married. Whatever extra money we’ve had, he uses it to buy things he wants. We did manage to save money for a time (in a joint savings account) but now he has used all of it. He has access to our college-aged children’s savings and checking accounts because he helped set them up and recently, he has been transferring money from those accounts to ours to pay for his pre-ordered toys.
He has struggled with debt from credit cards for years (he won’t disclose to me how much debt he has). Our family has always had what we’ve needed (a nice home, food, etc.) although, I’ll go a week or so without buying groceries because we’re out of money.
So, while we’re not in want, it’s concerning to me that he spends so frivolously and without concern for my feelings on the matter. I’ve tried to approach the subject with him many times over the years — explaining my concern for our lack of savings in case of an emergency, asking if he’s aware how much he’s spending each month, suggesting we create a family budget, asking if he thinks he has an online shopping addiction, asking him to consider when will he have enough — all of which were not well received.
Because he’s not open to talking about it or changing his spending habits, in order to keep the peace, I don’t bring it up anymore. He spends most of his free time looking at his phone for things to buy, and his collection takes up a whole room in our house, his space, and is so overcrowded that I don’t go in there anymore.
At what point is his spending and our lack of unity about finances such an unhealthy behavior in our relationship that I need to do something differently? And what can I do? I don’t want to create a bigger rift in my marriage over something that isn’t a moral issue.
Addressing financial discord in marriage can indeed be challenging, especially when it involves long-standing patterns and the deep personal meaning behind them. Your situation is especially complex because your husband’s spending habits are currently affecting the family’s financial stability and your peace of mind. Let’s talk about how you can have compassion for his struggle while also firmly addressing the serious impact of his behaviors.
First, it’s important to recognize that even though your husband’s collection may fulfill a deep-seated need stemming from growing up poor, it doesn’t excuse the fact that he’s stealing money from family. I’m sure his pursuit of these items likely provides him comfort or a sense of accomplishment. However, you can have compassion for his struggle while still having immediate expectations that he show up accountable for the impact he’s having on everyone.
I recognize it’s tricky to balance acknowledgment of root causes while also setting firm boundaries. While I think it’s usually best to lead with compassion and understanding, sometimes the depth of denial is so profound that it requires immediate action to stabilize a situation. The hope, of course, is that the understanding of the patterns can follow once things are stabilized and in order.
It’s clear that his behavior is causing financial strain and emotional distress for you and possibly your children. In any partnership, both parties’ feelings and concerns are valid and deserve attention. This is not just about the money being spent, but about respect, trust, and the health of the relationship. When one partner’s actions consistently overlook the concerns of the other, it creates an imbalance that needs to be addressed.
It seems past attempts at conversation about this issue have not been productive, and that’s not uncommon. These types of discussions can be fraught with defensiveness and emotion. However, ceasing to communicate about it all together is not a solution either. It’s often the unspoken issues that grow to create the largest divides. I don’t believe this pattern will improve by letting it go.
You’re worried this isn’t a moral issue, and, therefore, doesn’t need any serious action. However, I actually see this as a moral issue. Not only is your husband stealing family resources, but he’s also making unilateral decisions, disregarding your input, hoarding resources, and engaging in other harmful patterns. I see you’re trying to make room for his need to acquire things, but the way he’s doing it is undermining the financial, emotional and relational security of your family.
Plus, it has all the qualities of a compulsive addiction, which won’t be solved by just talking more about it. You mentioned trying to approach your husband about this in various ways, all of which were not well received. It may be beneficial to attempt a different strategy that involves more firm action and follow-through. Responding to the concrete effects of his spending habits makes it more difficult to deny the reality of what’s happening.
You must decide if keeping the peace on the outside is worth the war that is raging inside of you. Even though making sacrifices for your spouse is an important part of a long-term marriage, it can become destructive when those sacrifices enable destructive patterns.
Seeking outside professional help, even for yourself, can help you break through the impasses common to living with someone who has compulsive and addictive behaviors.
You need help and perspective that only comes from having someone on the outside working to help you untangle all of this. Not only are you facing a difference in how to manage financial resources, but you’re also dealing with someone who is cutting you and the children completely out of the conversation.
Regarding your children’s financial accounts, it’s crucial to encourage their independence and to ensure that their finances are protected. This is not just about their money, but also about teaching them financial responsibility. They should be fully aware of their financial situation and be the primary decision-makers regarding their accounts. Your children are adults, and they have a right to know what’s happening to their money.
Your husband is likely responding out of traumatic wounds that cloud his ability to show up as a mature and responsible adult partner in his marriage and family. In my experience, most people stuck in unhealthy patterns won’t change their behavior unless there are consequences that create an interruption. I don’t know what that will look like for you, involving your children and having honest discussions will surface more actionable options than simply hoping your husband will get the hint.
Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.