Linda was on the phone with her husband, and it was clear she was mad.
“You did what?” She demanded, a little louder than most of her phone conversations. “What were you thinking?”
She paused as he offered some defense to her. “I don’t care. That is simply too much money for you to spend – for either of us to spend – without planning. I am so angry right now I can’t even talk to you.” She hung up.
Later, when she calmed down, she was able to share the story. Her husband had purchased a used car that they didn’t need – they had three working cars. And he had done it on his lunch break, on impulse. This was the same man who, just weeks earlier, had consulted with her over buying gel inserts for his work shoes – a $5 purchase.
“He didn’t ask me because he knew I’d say no,” she finally decided.
The importance of partnership
Linda’s relationship was in trouble, but not simply because of this one purchase. It was in trouble because her husband had clearly abdicated his partnership. He was not taking control or working with her to manage the household finances.
Instead, he was acting almost as a child with a parent. He wasn’t making any decisions. He knew the right answer, so he decided to avoid her in order to get what he wanted.
Any sort of power imbalance is troubling in a relationship. When one partner carries all of the financial decisions, or all of the responsibilities for caring for the children, they are working almost as employees rather than partners.
This is not to say that tasks should not be divided. Of course one of the joys of uniting your life to another is the ability to use your resources like time and money more wisely. However, if there is not a partnership – sharing in the major decisions in the relationship – one or both individuals will feel left out, insignificant, or simply miss out on the hard work of the relationship.
What does partnership look like?
In Linda’s case, there was an easy fix, and there was the hard work beneath it.
She and her husband were quickly able to agree on a dollar amount each of them could spend without consulting the other. Anything over that amount required consultation IN ADVANCE.
But there needed to be a conversation about the car. More specifically, they needed to discuss why he chose not to ask her about that purchase.
It turned out that it reminded him of a car that he had when he was learning to drive – his first car. He didn’t like driving his van everywhere and didn’t mind looking slightly cooler in this sportier coupe. He even softened Linda a little by reminding her that they dated in a car like that.
The hard work was the discussions around what her husband was missing. With their three children, and living in the house where Linda had grown up, it had been a long time since he felt young and free. They’d gotten married soon after high school and, twenty years later, he was yearning for that freedom he had before they married.
In order to strengthen their relationship, they needed to let the other person influence them. Linda couldn’t simply hold on to that anger, and her husband shouldn’t get to keep the car.
Guiding them through conversation about what their dating life was like, they reached a new plan to regularly re-create the freedom. One night every other week, they would go to a movie without the kids. In a time they chose to match lighter periods in both their jobs, they would take a 3-day vacation, also without the kids.
And they would fund a lot of this with the money from the car, which her husband was able to sell back to the previous owner for $100 less than he bought it.
An expensive lesson, but one that might help to save their marriage.
Let your partner influence you
It’s easy, over time, to define yourself in opposition or separation from your spouse’s quirks. Weeknight out with their work friends, a dirty or noisy hobby, or similar situations aren’t bad for a relationship – space and separation to be individuals is actually a sign of a thriving partnership.
But you can’t continually define yourself that way. Soon those little jokes become microaggressions, and your blessing on those becomes resentment, if you don’t let your partner influence you.
Use one or more of these techniques:
- Ask about their hobby and find some part of it that is interesting to you
- Bring something home from your independent time and ask their opinion on it
- Ask their opinion on a major social or political issue you have not discussed
- Listen respectfully when they bring up something you usually tune out
- Ask for their help with a problem at work
- The next time they complain about a request from you, ask them to find the reasonable part of that request
Practice these (and other) techniques to keep your marriage strong and vibrant.
But if it feels like it’s all going sideways, or you don’t know where to start, Sakina Issa might be able to help. A trained therapist and experienced counselor, Sakina can help you identify and change damaging patterns in your life and relationships.
Simply hit the red button at the top of this page to schedule a time to talk – no commitment.