Sunday, October 15, 2006

How She Responded

In my last post, I provided a redacted copy of the letter I gave to my wife on Saturday morning. I didn't have much time to provide information on the events that led up to the delivery and what happened afterward. This posting attempts to fill in some blanks.

I woke up sometime before 5 a.m. on Saturday morning with a sour stomach, so I decided to make the most of my time alone by composing the thoughts that I wanted to express to my wife. I had planned on discussing them with her verbally on Sunday when the kids were down for nap. I finished up the text, a five page document with graphics, just before 7 a.m. and then went to lie back down.

I got up with the kids, my three year-old waking up sometime between 7:30 and 8 a.m. and my 20 month-old waking up just before 9 a.m. Fortunately, my older daughter tolerates snuggling on the couch, so I was able to rest some. My wife woke up after 10 a.m.

Shortly after getting out of bed, she asked me what I had been doing in the middle of the night. I told her that I was writing something that attempted to express my feelings to her. I didn't want to dodge the topic any more, so I told her that she could read the text herself right away if she wanted to. She asked me whether it was going to ruin her day or make her cry. I told her that I didn't think it would.

She also asked me whether I was asking for a divorce. The thought of divorce must have been on her mind, given that the best friend who set us up on a date over 14 years ago was separating with her husband of 12 years starting this weekend. I told her "no", and handed the papers over to her.

She took between five and ten minutes to read the document, with a couple of distractions from the kids. After she finished, we discussed things further. In retrospect, providing her with a letter was probably a better move because it allowed me to deliver my thoughts without her trying to turn the table on me in mid-thought.

On the bright side, she admitted that our finances had been in bad shape, that she had hidden the credit card activity from me, and that she was willing to talk about boundaries. She even volunteered the idea of setting up a separate checking account for paying bills and ceasing to charge on the big balance credit card.

On the down side, she faulted me on several matters:
  1. I shouldn't have held in things for so long. She said she felt like we had regressed since our last joint counseling session because I wasn't as involved with the kids and on the computer more.
  2. She said that she hid the credit card transactions from me because of the fragile state of our relationship in the summer and my sour mood in the fall.
  3. She thought I was using my ambivalence over my job as an excuse to avoid finding a therapist so that I could work on my own issues as I had said I would at the end of our marriage counseling.
  4. She said that the disparities between pay deposits and total debits in the checking account failed to tell the full story, making things seem worse than what they appear. I then brought out the large stack of statements and showed her how I pulled the numbers from a given statement. She cited as a counterexample an $881.88 sum that passed recently from her PayPal account through our savings and checking accounts to pay off charges made on the credit card that she and her best friend use to purchase children's clothing from consignment shops. To her, that should not have counted in the total debit pile since it was a zero-sum transaction.
  5. She also argued that using a pro-rated monthly income as a baseline for a budget wasn't fair because there were usually only two paychecks per month, which occur on alternating weeks.
  6. She said that I didn't have to go to the trouble of gathering all the statistics and writing them up for her in a big report like that, saying that it almost seemed like I was trying to shame her.
Her description of her credit card transactions reflected my observations: occasional big ticket items and smaller purchases when she knew we were short on money in our checking. One of those items was the $376 swing set that she purchased in late July. She said that she wanted to purchase that at the time because she said I had agreed to it earlier in the year and didn't think we'd getting around to do it until next year if we didn't do it right then then. I could tell that she was basing that purchase on emotions, which raised a red flag for me.

Giving in to the temptation to take her personal inventory just a little, I asked her whether she thought that she sometimes bought things to make herself feel better. The motivation was to get her to consider whether she might have a compulsive shopping problem. She said she didn't think so, arguing that she tried to cut back on her shopping immensely, relying more on consignment shops for the kids' clothes than new purchases at Gymboree, which is her favorite.

I asked her whether the topic of money had come up in her private therapy sessions. She said that it had in the context that our finances were tight but not because she was overspending. She argued that little things just add up more than what I expected. She offered to dig up her old credit card statements and go over them with me. I told her that I wasn't interested in rehashing the past. I wanted to learn from it and avoid running into the same situations in the future.

She also told me that while she would pare back on purchases for friends and family this Christmas season, she would have have a meltdown if she was not able to buy for the kids. She said that she would try to keep the costs down and asked me to go with her to Wal-Mart on Sunday to pick out items and put them in layaway.

I asked her about her and her friend's eBay activities, since it involves making large purchases from the consignment shops on a credit card and then attempting to sell them at a profit. I wanted to know whether they tracked closely how much money that they were spending and whether they were making any money off of all of it.

She said that they did keep close track and that all costs associated with the activity were restricted to a dedicated credit card. I didn't get a straight answer about whether they had turned a profit. She said that they were not losing money and that they were putting their earnings toward the purchase of new clothes. She said they had a lot of clothes that they still needed to list on eBay, but they were holding off on some items for seasonal reasons.

I apologized for having been withdrawn over the past few weeks and said that it was a struggle for me to summon the courage to express my negative feelings.

I think I have her buy in on increasing austerity, but it sounds like I will have to be the one to draw the boundaries, set up the infrastructure, and enforce accountability. She realizes that we are spending too much money every month, but she thinks that I am exaggerating the severity for recent account activity.

The thing that struck me through all of this conversation was the absence of remorse on her part. While she apologized for hiding the credit card information from me, she didn't want to own the possibility that she was overspending either consciously or compulsively. Ultimately that is her problem. There is nothing further I can do to raise her awareness. Hitting rock bottom may be the only thing that jars her back into reality.

I am faced with the challenge to summon the courage to leave the marriage if she continues to hold on to that slice of denial. I don't want to hit the bottoms of bankruptcy with her.
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