A client says to me, “My husband and I argue about money constantly. It has gotten to where, when he comes in the room, I just freeze up and think, What is he going to say today? It is killing our marriage. All he wants to do is work on our budget, chat about the schedule, talk about kids, my sister’s stupidity, or his crazy mother’s new husband, who is going to ruin Mom’s finances.
“But she is not crazy, and the guy is a good guy — a bit flashy for me, but his mom loves him. My husband obsesses about our kids’ school work and why I bought flowers. He then wants to work on our marriage, as he calls it. Work? He wants to figure out how we can communicate better and if we can ever retire. I am so weary of always working on stuff — gosh, if we had a million dollars, maybe that would help. Shoot, I don’t even know how to make this into a question.”
I ask, “Are you happy?”
She answers, “Actually, you know, despite all this stuff, I feel blessed. We have a home, and the kids are not addicted to drugs and are doing well in school. But I feel like I am losing my connection to my husband.”
“Is he happy?”
“I ask him that all the time, and he says, ‘What does that have to do with it?’ Anyway, you’re a financial guy, and I am here, not to talk about happiness but because I am tired of arguing about everything with him. I figure we have control over how we budget and spend, so I want to see if we are as bad as he says we are.”
I had reviewed their budget, retirement savings, and educational goals for the kids. Their insurance and investments were all in good order. But all that stuff has to be in context, and that context is goals. I ask, “What are your goals?”
“To relax and not feel like I should worry about this stuff.”
I say, “You can worry if you want to, but you’re in good shape. Why didn’t your husband come with you to this appointment?”
“He wanted to, but our two-year-old got sick. He said I could use the financial advice more than he could. So, here I am.”
“Your husband needs to be here, too,” I said. “I suggest you come in again — together — and we can chat about his goals and your goals and see what path is best. By the way, a wise friend told me that in our harried society, we often have little time to just relax and enjoy each other’s company. We get in this habit of always working on an issue or solving a problem. Soon, our interactions are all work, and we quit looking forward to simply getting together. This wise man found that if a relationship fails, it is usually not because of any event; it is because of years of mismanagement. And that mismanagement starts with the idea that relationships are all about work and not about joy, ease, relaxing, smiles, and soft hugs.”
The client nodded her head. “He is going say you are wacky and a Pollyanna! We have to plan, budget, and be responsible.”
“Of course. But that planning should be consistent with your goals and needs. When you married, what promises did you make to each other? Did you say, ‘Gosh, honey, let’s spend the rest of our lives together arguing about money, planning, saying no to vacations, obsessing about the kids, worrying about a crazy mother and a spendaholic sister, whether we might lose our jobs, or if the house is too big’?
I doubt that was the commitment. Chat with your husband about your goals and what you want for your family. When you both come in, we can look over your finances and help you feel more ease so that you can relax and enjoy each other, your kids, and life.”
Paul Sutherland is president of Financial & Investment Management Group. See excerpts from his best-selling book, Zenvesting, as well as his latest book, The Virtues of Wealth, at SpiritualityHealth.com. To ask a question or chat, contact him at [email protected].