Recently, a stay-at-home mom told me that her laid-back husband had recently become a “control freak” about how much money she was spending on things. She was upset that even though he made a good income and she always stuck to their budget, he had begun tracking their bank account every day and had taken to looking through her shopping bags to see what she was spending on gifts for the kids, household decorations, clothes, and the like. She wanted to know how to stop the constant arguing over it: should she just hide the shopping bags?
Ladies, have you been frustrated by your man’s “sensitivity” to how much you are spending? Even those of us who make a decent income of our own might see this pattern – and be just as frustrated or indignant. Especially during higher-expense seasons like holidays or birthdays, when we feel a need to be spending more, we might want to march up to our man, give him a piece of our mind, and tell him to lighten up and not be so controlling!
After all, most counselors emphasize that we need to communicate about financial expectations, budget and spending, right? And boy, are we are ready to communicate!
But before we say a word, we need to take a deep breath and pause. Because what we probably don’t “get” – but need to – is the emotional issue that is probably underneath our man’s words and actions. And it is probably the opposite of control.
You have probably heard that men “want to be the provider” for the family – and not understood the intense pressure that comes with it. In my surveys, the vast majority of men said the responsibility to provide for the family was constantly pressing on them; they were never free of it. Even when the family wasn’t in a high-expense season, and even if his wife made enough money to support the family all by herself, the pressure was always there.
That would probably be more than enough all on its own to cause a man to be a bit sensitive to what family members were spending. But it turns out, it’s not all on its own. There’s another emotional issue layered on.
For your husband, taking care of you and your kids (if you have children at home) is also likely to be a key way he says “I love you,” and shows that he is worthy of you. But that comes with far more insecurity than you might think. In his mind, there’s an ongoing risk of failure. If he’s like most men, he is constantly, subconsciously, evaluating his current and future earnings prospects, and whether he can provide enough to support you and make you happy.
Now, with all that underground insecurity in mind, consider what your man might feel when he sees you adding on extra spending (even if it is in the budget and isn’t really “extra”). You can see why he might seem unusually sensitive. In other words, the issue probably isn’t about control but fear: a fear that he won’t be able to keep up. That he won’t be enough. 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? Well, when you, um, communicate with your man, do everything you can to set aside your indignant-wife hat. Instead, as much as you can, put on your grateful-wife hat. He needs to see that you truly appreciate him and that you want to understand and respect his concerns in this area. Tell him how thankful you are for all the work he does to provide.
And only then should you inquire about this concern that you’ve seen recently from him. 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 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 you reduced your budget 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 talking about it with compassion for the pressure he probably feels – rather than the frustration and indignation you probably feel! – will make all the difference.
Do you want Shaunti to share these life-changing truths at your church or event? Inquire about Shaunti speaking, here.
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.