Dear Shaunti, My husband makes a good income, and I always stick to our budget, but my husband is always nervous about my spending, and it makes me nuts. He’s not a control freak in any other area except this. He checks our bank account every day to see how much I have spent on clothes or gifts for the kids or new household decorations, or whatever. Yesterday, I officially lost it when I found him poking through my shopping bags. What should I do? Sneak the shopping bags in when he’s not looking? Get a job so I can spend my own money without pressure from him? I don’t want to argue anymore.
– Confused Shopper
Dear Confused Shopper,
I am guessing that those shopping bags are like lead weights to your husband – and with every shopping trip he feels more and more pressure to keep up with your spending habits.
Is that a fair feeling?
Is it likely?
Most counselors will probably tell you that you need to do a better job of communicating about financial expectations, budget and spending – especially during higher-expense seasons like holidays or birthdays. That is valid advice and yes, you should. But that isn’t what is leaping out at me as I read your question.
Before you can understand what to do next, you need to understand what may be underneath your husband’s spending sensitivity; because I don’t think it is about control. If your husband is like most men, he probably feels an immense pressure to provide: a pressure that would be there even if you spent hardly anything.
In my surveys, the vast majority of men said the responsibility to provide for their family was constantly pressing on them; they were never free of it. Even when expenses were low, and even when a wife made enough money to support the family all by herself! But taking care of his wife and family is also a man’s way of saying “I love you” – and showing that he he is worthy of you. And that comes with much more insecurity than you might ever think.
Providing is one of the key areas where men experience the ongoing risk of failure. Most men are constantly, subconsciously, evaluating their current and future earnings prospects, and whether they can provide “enough” to support the family and make their wife and kids happy.
Now, keep all that underground insecurity in mind… and add on a husband seeing “extra” spending (even if it is in the budget and isn’t really “extra”), and you can see why some men are unusually sensitive. It sounds like your husband may be one of them.
If your man isn’t controlling in any other area, that tells me that this reaction likely isn’t about control but fear: a deep and visceral fear that he won’t be able to keep up. It may not necessarily be a logical feeling – after all, you have money in the bank! You are sticking to a budget! – but it is very deep. And very common.
So what do you do?
By far the most important step is to talk to your husband about this in a way that he truly sees that you appreciate him and that you want to understand and respect his concerns in this area. Tell him regularly, how thankful you are for all the work he does to provide. And then at some non-emotional time, inquire about this. Ask whether he feels pressure when he sees your shopping bags, or when he knows that you are spending money on things he might view as non-essentials. If you two have worked out a budget that you are sticking to, ask him what you guys can do to help him feel better about it, yet without you feeling like he is constantly checking up on you and signaling a lack of trust. If he doesn’t have an immediate answer to that question, that’s okay. Guys often need some time to process things. You might learn more over time, anyway — and be better able to convey that you’re serious about taking some of the pressure off.
Maybe he’s in a particularly dicey time at work and would simply feel better if your household had a spending freeze for a while. Or maybe he really wants to provide for those things he sees as “extras” but doesn’t feel adequate to the task, and confesses that it really would help with certain expenses if you got a part-time or seasonal job.
You won’t know what the answer is until you sit down and talk about it. But it will make all the difference to talk about it with a compassion for the insecurity that you can’t see, that may be hiding underneath the drive-you-nuts behaviors that you can see!
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Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and relationships, including For Women Only, For Men Only, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages and her newest, The Good News About Marriage. A Harvard-trained social researcher and popular speaker, her ﬁndings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times. Visit www.shaunti.com for more.