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April 17, 2012

Financial Honesty

In a blog entry called "Radical Honesty for a Healthy Marriage" Leslie Doares of Fearless Marriage writes about the need for truthfulness in a marriage. Her arguments are on point, and I expect that her examples will have a lot of readers squirming in their seats.

Two of the examples involve money, and one in particular caught my attention. It's an anecdote about a woman who concealed her clothes shopping from her husband. I see shopping as an innocent activity that would never have to be hidden. But spending money is a major source of friction in many relationships. This particular story made me think of an "I Love Lucy" episode. Lucy was showing Ethel a new dress she had bought. Ethel wondered if Ricky might get angry about it. Lucy just smiled and told her friend that she had a way of handling it. Whenever she bought a new dress, she would just put it at the back of the closet and then wait a few months. Then, when she wore the dress and Ricky asked her if it was new, she could "honestly" say she'd had it for a long time.

Lucy and Ricky had a seriously unhealthy relationship. Most of us don't want to live that way. Yet money is one of those highly sensitive issues that can make almost anyone act a little crazy at times. On the surface, it's just a medium of exchange. But in our brains it can represent powerful messages about identity, power, self-esteem, security, love and sexuality.

Often, people marry knowing little or nothing about each other's financial philosophy. Sometimes spouses start out not even knowing how much income, savings and debt each has. But even when a couple has made the right moves by engaging in financial disclosure, agreeing on some long-term goals and designing a general budget, they may find themselves clashing over everyday money matters. Maybe one thinks that eating in restaurants is a complete waste of money, while the other doesn't consider life worth living without some fine dining. One thinks a big-screen TV is a great entertainment value while the other would rather spend the money on a new dishwasher. A husband drives his wife crazy by buying drive-through coffee every morning instead of taking a mug from home. A wife exasperates her husband by buying yet another pair of red shoes. Two people will always place different values on certain things. But with honest communication and a little tolerance, they should be able to come to an arrangement that allows each person a fair say in financial decisions.

My husband and I don't report our clothing purchases to each other, but we don't hide them. We aren't keeping secrets, we just don't need to monitor this kind of information. We trust each other to be responsible. I don't know why the woman in the story felt the need to hide her purchase from her husband. Had she broken their agreement by going over budget? Was she rebelling against an over-controlling tightwad? Was she misappropriating money that had been earmarked for something else? Was she using shopping as a way of self-medicating her anxiety about other issues in her life? Had she grossly misjudged her husband's likely response to her purchase? Whatever the reason, this couple needs to have an honest conversation about money. Dishonesty only makes the problem worse.

2 fabulous comments:

  1. I admit that sometimes I feel as though I have to hide my clothing purchases from my husband. He hasn't ever yelled at me about shopping or told me not to shop. But if we are in the mall together he makes a lot of comments about how expensive things are and so on and it makes me feel that he would disapprove of anything I buy.

  2. Rosemary: Fabulous post! Cetelia and I definitely see money matters differently, and have learned to give allowance for one another's tendencies. At the same time, we've used our differences to compel the other to not be so one-sided. Cetelia has missed a lot of good buys in the past because she doesn't feel right buying things for herself. So, either I buy it or encourage her to get it. On the same token, she has helped me to make wiser decisions with what I buy. We work together to be good stewards and to enjoy life as we can. Thanks for the post!


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