Husband saves money but could lose his wife

CAN THIS MARRIAGE BE SAVED?

November 13, 1994|By From Ladies' Home Journal Los Angeles Times Syndicate

"I carry a sandwich in a brown paper bag for lunch to my office every day just to satisfy Andy's money worries," snaps 24-year-old Beth, the supervisor of a stenographic pool in a large insurance agency. She is seriously considering separating from her husband of three years. "He's such a miser," she says.

In fact, from the beginning of their relationship, Beth explains, Andy took charge of all the money, and she was too timid to argue. Beth says he instructs her in every aspect of their life -- he even buys her cosmetics, clothes and shoes at sleazy discount outlets, tells her where to go for the cheapest gasoline and monitors her grocery purchases, with the sole objective of saving money.

"But carrying that brown bag is the worst," Beth explains. "It makes me feel like a file clerk. My colleagues think I'm a tightwad and laugh at me behind my back."

Beth insists she never spends money foolishly. But Andy's budget is so restrictive, it eliminates even the simplest pleasures or recreation. He told her, for instance, that they couldn't afford even a short honeymoon after their wedding. And his continued indifference to her humiliations is more than she can handle.

Andy holds two jobs -- one at a gas station, a second in a supermarket -- while he studies for his engineering degree at night.

His earnings pay for the couple's food, his tuition and college costs. Beth's salary goes toward mortgage payments and improvements on the huge old house they are restoring. "And if I dare question his judgment or decisions, he flies into a rage," Beth reports.

Andy's fear of money has even crept into the bedroom. "Our only pleasure in life was sex," Beth says, "but now he's so terrified that I might get pregnant when we can't afford to raise a child just yet that he regularly checks my supply of birth control pills to make sure I don't slip up." To Beth, such a glaring lack of trust is indicative of lack of love. She's ready to end a bad marriage and start fresh.

But Andy, to his credit, won't let her go so easily and insists they come for counseling first. "I've loved Beth since the first day I saw her," says the rugged 26-year-old, who looks exhausted. "But she has no sense of values about money or people. She can be so easily conned that she needs me to protect and look after her."

Andy refuses to admit that his concern over money is out of line. "Everything I've ever done is for her, for us," he insists. "I'm not being miserly, I'm being careful."

Andy recalls all too vividly the day, when he was barely 9 years old, that his father left his spendthrift mother because she refused to curb her wasteful, silly buying habits. He is terrified that unless he and Beth develop sound money-management policies now, they'll face bankruptcy just as his father did. "I don't want Beth to leave, but I don't know how to persuade her to stay," he says simply.

Solving money problems

"While Andy's desire to save money is admirable, he's doing so at the expense of his wife -- and his marriage," says Jane Greer, a marital therapist in New York and Douglaston, N.Y. Can two people who seem to have little in common work through their differences?

At every stage in a relationship, and certainly before they make a commitment to marry, couples must discuss their financial ideas, needs and dreams -- and not fall back on the myth that love will find a way. Yet talking honestly about money is almost as rare as talking about sex.

And the issue is such a volatile one, tapping into so many of our deepest fears and insecurities that most couples avoid it at all costs. Nevertheless, establishing a mature and responsible attitude toward money is tough but essential. And in this, as in all other aspects of marriage, what you don't say to each other is often as powerful as what you do say.

The next time you and your partner seem to be at loggerheads over money, or any other issue, ask yourself if you are presenting your complaints or frustrations clearly.

Instead of focusing on the problem, zero in on a solution. Be specific. For instance, your husband, like Andy, may be acting as he always has by calling the financial shots. Unless you tell him you want to be more involved, he doesn't know your ideas and needs have changed. He'll also be more likely to hear your concern if it's framed as a positive suggestion rather than as a rebuke or a complaint.

Once these two began to communicate honestly, Andy was able to understand the roots of Beth's bitterness. And once Beth learned more about her husband's financial plans and projects -- which he had kept primarily to himself -- she no long regarded his prudence in money matters as meanness.

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