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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Question 6

Dear Dr. T.

My husband is in need of your advice. His grandfather and father have spent their lives living on very little money in order to put their earnings away in "savings." They say that savings is money that is never ever to be spent in any circumstances. I love my husband, but we just do not make a large enough income to be able to sock away money quite this way. Instead of being able to be happy with our ability to get by and have a moderate but happy lifestyle in this economy, he feels worthless because he lacks net worth.

I've spoken to him about how money in no way determines his worth as a person, but I cannot seem to get through to him, and his depression worsens. In addition, our once happy marriage has for many years now been rocky as he resents every "unnecessary" expenditure I make (such as dessert, coffee, or haircuts).

Please help us sort the money issues before they ruin a wonderful marriage. My husband may have inherited money issues from his father and grandfather, but when we were younger they didn't seem to define him. I know there must be a way for him to get back to the way he felt back then.

Thank you so much for your time,
Abby in Arizona

Dear Abby in Arizona,
You have very good reason to be concerned, since your husband’s behavior is making you unhappy and undermining your marriage. But, while he may need my advice, it doesn’t sound like he would welcome or be ready to hear it – at least not without some groundwork being laid. It seems that his beliefs and attitudes about money have become a part of a fixed belief system, ingrained in him since childhood. Such beliefs, often act as a defense against some imagined fear which can grow in the face of life’s many stresses such as aging or going through a recession. We all have defenses but, when held too tightly, they can become rigid and maladaptive.
Money related behaviors are often based on irrational ideas. The idea that savings should never, ever be spent is irrational. Money has a purpose which is to store value for future spending or to build capital which will generate more income to be spent.  Ask your husband what the savings he wants the two of you to accumulate are to be used for. It could be fore a rainy day, or to use in case of catastrophe, or for security in old age, or to pass on to children so they will be ok. If he comes up with an answer, with which you can agree, then you have a basis for further discussion and creating a plan for balanced spending and saving.
But if, as you suspect, it is only to bolster his sense of self worth, he needs to learn that money alone never ends up making anyone feel they are worthwhile for very long. And focusing on money for this reason usually sabotages one’s personal happiness and his relationships.  There should always be some rational reason, based on valid values, for saving. Such a reason always allows for money’s possible use in the future. Ask him what values are important to him and how saving money now will further those values in the future. If he can give you a reasonable answer, you might have the basis for further discussion. But, my experience working with people who base their self esteem on net worth is that it usually takes a lot of work and time to even begin to modify their beliefs. So, be patient but persistent if you can.
You feel he is imposing his beliefs and expectations on you and you are unhappy, not only because he is resenting you for what most people would consider very ordinary and reasonable expenditures, but also because you feel your once happy marriage has become rocky.  I can suggest a few things you can try to make things better for yourself. One is to assure him that you know he is concerned about money and feels badly about how little you are saving right now, but also tell him clearly that he is making you feel badly and worried about your marriage. First make sure he feels understood and loved by you.  Then tell him that you want him to understand your feelings and consider your point of view as well.  If he loves you and also can accept that his behavior is causing you feel upset and worried, it might be the first step in helping him to change. But keep in mind  that often, before a person is willing to consider changing, he has to be pushed out of his comfort zone so that he needs something to change. So you have to be, not only kind, but also firm in getting your message across. If you can’t do this on your own you will need help.
Finally, you write about his feeling increasingly depressed. Depression is a serious matter. It can become both a psychological and biochemical illness. If he can recognize that his depression, and the way he is treating you, are problems, he might be willing to get help.  I think it would be a good idea for him to seek out a psychotherapist, or for both of you to see a marriage counselor. He should also see a physician (preferably a psychiatrist) who might prescribe medication to help him become less anxious and depressed. It might take more than just you to convince him of this. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from people you respect and trust (friends, family, doctor, minister) to convince him that he needs the help.

Dr. T.

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