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An Argument About Money May Really Be About Something Else

Aug 17, 2007
Five years into his second marriage, Jim was so frustrated with the haphazard way Cathy seemed to handle her finances that he was seriously considering divorce. Cathy wouldn't consider joint counseling, so he hired me to help him sort through the issues and make a decision.

Jim & Cathy were both well-paid professionals, and had a clear agreement to share expenses. Jim believed that Cathy wasn't really keeping the agreement. He gathered evidence to prove his point.

* Cathy kept forgetting her wallet or running short of cash, manipulating him into paying for all of their entertainment expenses.

* When he asked her to pay him back, but she never seemed to get around to it. He felt ashamed to make an issue of repayment, so he usually let it drop.

* Cathy did pay her share of household bills, but Jim was so worried about her "flakiness" that he frequently questioned her anxiously about whether she was up to date.

* At one point, after hearing her talk about wanting a new car, he carefully researched which new car would be best for her. He was appalled when she bought a more expensive, sportier model.

* He urged her to keep careful records of her personal expenditures and offered to help her review them. She refused angrily and they had frequent arguments about money.

When I asked Jim what he did to contribute to the problem, Jim recognized that he was the one who started the arguments by frequently asking Cathy about what she did with her money.

When I asked what he was trying to accomplish by questioning her, Jim first said he just wanted her to be responsible. When he dug a little deeper, he realized that he wanted to be sure she could take care of herself financially and not become dependent on him.

He also recognized that frequently questioning her was not accomplishing his goal. In fact, it was making the problem even worse.

Jim also discovered that he had mixed feelings about whether a husband should be financially responsible for his wife. This ambivalence kept him from discussing the only real problem-that Cathy was breaking her financial agreement to share entertainment costs.

I asked Jim if his unexpressed resentment about the broken agreement might be connected to his judgment that she was irresponsible about money. He already knew that the "evidence" didn't really support his judgment. Cathy was responsible for everything EXCEPT sharing entertainment expenses. The connection made sense to him.

Jim still didn't feel ready to confront Cathy directly about the broken agreement, but he decided to experiment with not asking her about how she managed her own money. He also decided to tell Cathy in advance whether or not any particular entertainment activity would be his treat.

A month after he started his experiment, Jim noticed that the arguments had almost completely disappeared. The bills continued to get paid, and Cathy was occasionally volunteering to treat him to dinner and other activities.

He decided to stay married.

Remember: Almost everything you do is done for a reason, but sometimes you have to look below the surface to discover the really important hidden reason for your behavior.
About the Author
Laurie Weiss, Ph.D., internationally known therapist, coach and author, has been helping people create conscious, loving relationships for over 30 years. See Being Happy Together: How to Create a Fabulous Relationship With Your Life Partner in Less Than an Hour a Week at www.BeingHappyBook.com
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