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 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 over-crowded 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 to give his actions gentle consideration while firmly addressing the serious impact of his behaviors.
First, it’s important to recognize that your husband’s collection may fulfill a deep-seated need rooted in his less affluent upbringing. His pursuit of these items likely provides him comfort or a sense of accomplishment. Understanding this emotional connection can be key in addressing the situation empathetically. You can have compassion for him while still having expectations that he show up as a partner and work with you to manage family resources.
It’s tricky to balance understanding root causes while setting 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 altogether is not a solution either. It’s often the unspoken issues that grow to create the largest divides.
You’re worried this isn’t a moral issue, and, therefore, doesn’t need any serious action. Of course, you’ll have to determine what you can handle, but please recognize that your marriage is plagued with unilateral decisions, disregarding input, hoarding resources, and 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.
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. Perhaps you start this with a letter that outlines your concerns. This can allow you to articulate your observations and needs without the immediate pressure of a face-to-face confrontation. It also gives him space to process your words and reflect on the situation before responding.
When addressing the issue, focus on the concrete effects of his spending habits, like the inability to buy groceries or the depletion of savings, rather than framing it as a personal critique. While you can’t control how he responds, you can reflect actual events instead of your opinion. Expressing the tangible consequences can sometimes make the need for change more evident.
Decide if keeping the peace on the outside is worth the war that is raging inside of you. Even though making sacrifices for a spouse is an important part of long-term marriage, it can become destructive when those sacrifices begin to diminish and break down one partner. Seeking outside professional help, even for yourself, can help you break through the impasses. 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.
While creating a family budget is a practical step, it’s something that both of you must agree upon for it to be effective. This isn’t just about imposing restrictions but about coming to a mutual understanding of your family’s financial goals and priorities. This could be facilitated by seeking the help of a financial advisor or counselor who can offer an objective perspective and provide strategies for managing finances jointly.
Remember, you have the right to be part of financial decisions, especially when they impact your shared life and resources. It’s wise to start with open, honest, and ongoing communication. It may take time, patience, and multiple attempts, but finding a compromise is essential for the health of your relationship and your family’s future. There are plenty of ways to solve this, but it must be solved together as a partnership for it to be sustainable.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at ge***@ge**********.com
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About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
The advice offered through Geoff Steurer’s column is educational and informational in nature and is provided only as general information. It is not meant to establish a therapist-patient relationship or offer therapeutic advice, opinion, diagnosis treatment or to establish a standard of care. Although Geoff Steurer is a trained psychotherapist, he is not functioning in the role of a licensed therapist by writing this column, but rather using his training to inform these responses. Thus, the content is not intended to replace independent professional judgment. The content is not intended to solicit clients and should not be relied upon as medical or psychological advice of any kind or nature whatsoever. The information provided through this content should not be used for diagnosing or treating a mental health problem or disease. The information contained in these communications is not comprehensive and does not include all the potential information regarding the subject matter, but is merely intended to serve as one resource for general and educational purposes.