Money talks…and sometimes it yells.
At least that’s what the decibel level in our house was like when we were growing up. If the topic was money, we got out of the house, fast. Dad was going to give Mom a verbal dressing down for how she spent it.
That was my early, late and constant introduction to how money was managed. But this approach wasn’t really a problem as long as I was the one earning it and spending it. All that changed when I got married, 27 years ago. And the change was radical, painful and yes….loud. There was a lot of yelling in the early years and, on my part, not a whole lot of insight as to why.
The first time my husband and I engaged in combat over cash was literally prompted by how much I tipped a waiter. When I was flush (read gainfully employed) Pat and I used to love to eat out. Since we both worked in Center City Philly, there were a thousand different ways we could spend our money on dinner. And we did.
Pat usually paid the tab but one night, when the check came, he wasn’t at the table so I paid. When he came back, he looked at the tip and the total and asked one simple and in hindsight I have to admit, innocent question – why did I always tip 20% then round up to the nearest $5?
I didn’t know why And it didn’t seem like a big deal to me. But he kept asking – as we walked out of the restaurant, walking down the sidewalk to the car and all the way home – he kept asking. Pat was actually only asking why the tip had to be for an even dollar amount.
I thought he was questioning my right to spend our money on such a big tip. And I lost it. I think if he could have run, he would have. The tip battle was round one of an almost 5 year fight over whose money it was and who had the right to decide how to spend it.
We never got to the point that one of the couples we knew did – separate bank accounts and splitting the bills. But we did do some serious damage to each other and to our relationship. In this entire 5 year fiasco, I must admit, I was the one who was wrong and I had my Mom and Dad to thank for it.
I never would have figured it out and I am guessing our almost 3 decade marriage would never have survived if I hadn’t asked my brother Bob (a plumber who was also an extraordinary poet) a casual question about his desk drawer full of paychecks.
When he explained that he earned money but didn’t like it, didn’t spend it (his wardrobe consisted of jeans, t-shirts with his business logo on them and cheap sneakers) and did NOT want to talk about it, I recognized a link. And Bob and I talked it through.
I learned how much he was affected by Mom and Dad’s constant bickering and monthly brawls. And suddenly, I realized just how much they had affected me, too. I could also see very clearly how my parents relationship was affecting my relationship with my husband.
I went home. I apologized. I explained. And Pat and I began to heal the wounds that battling over money caused.
Was it fast? No. Even today, when a check is not written into the register or there is a question about an expenditure, I feel the wings of my meat-eating, money monster start to unfurl. Even today, I have to remind myself to breath, to relax and to work with my husband to get the answers he wants and needs.
I have to agree with the man behind the Retrospective Entrepreneur – money breaks up more marriages than infidelity. Think about that the next time you are putting on the gloves for yet another round in the ring about the cash.