Life, love, family and more. Your questions, answered.
Dear Kate, My husband and I are in continual disagreement over finances and have been since we married. He frequently makes big purchases that I don’t feel we can afford and are more for his pleasure than the family as a whole. There have been several times he has mentioned purchasing something and I have asked him not to, and he eventually does it anyway — and we are not talking about a new pair of golf shoes. I manage the household finances and am fully aware of our financial situation, but when I attempt to bring it to his attention, he brushes it off. We both work full time, but he makes about 30 percent more than I do. Part of me feels guilty for my frustration because he does make more, so perhaps he should be able to spend more. I’m frankly sick of the argument and the frustration. Any suggestions? D. N.
DEAR D.N. When it comes to finances, taking care of your family’s needs is priority, but maintaining some autonomy is pretty important, too. It’s important for both you and your husband to spend money on things that are important to you without bearing guilt or resentment.
It sounds like there is one lump account you and your husband work from, so you witness every transaction, whether it’s made with your blessing or not. Have you considered maintaining a joint account for home and family matters and creating personal accounts for you and your husband?
Determine your monthly household expenses, and figure what percentage of your combined income it will take to cover this. Both of you then contribute an equal percentage to the family account, and the remainder is deposited into individual checking accounts. Or alternatively, continue to deposit both salaries into a joint account, and agree on a monthly personal allowance for each of you to spend as you please. Draw this out at the start of the month, and spend at will.
Whatever you do, ensure it’s fair to both you and your husband. You are a team, and despite the difference in pay, you both work full time in your careers as well as at home.
Dear Kate, Simply said, I’m unhappy with the state of my person. I am about 30 pounds over my cruising weight and severely out of shape, and I don’t need anyone to tell me that the fact that I don’t exercise and consume the majority of my meals out of wrappers play a role in this. Oh, and I should probably mention I’m a smoker. The past year or so my overall physical health has been weighing heavily on my mind. I have made a number of valiant attempts to stop smoking, eat healthy and exercise daily (sometimes all at once), but each attempt lasts a week at most, and then I return to my old ways with gusto. I am frustrated with myself because I do want to make some changes and feel better, but I don’t know if I have it in me. H.S.
DEAR H.S. Sometimes when we decide to make a change, we bite off more than we’re really ready for, and the desired change lasts about 30 minutes. Then we feel like we’ve failed and we’re attempting the impossible, so we resign ourselves to failure and revert to old behaviors while battling feelings of guilt and shame.
Typically, implementing changes such as “I will never eat at another fast food restaurant” (when it is daily fare) or “I will be at the gym seven days a week” (when you haven’t seen the inside of a gym since high school) is setting you up for failure. It’s not that you can’t do these things; it’s that it takes time, planning and practice to make the change.
It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. What can you realistically do? What are you ready to do? It’s more important to take small steps and be successful than gigantic ones and not be able to maintain what you started.
You are squarely in the middle of making a change and have been for a while. Check out Prochaska and DiClemente’s “Stages of Change Theory,” which provides a comprehensive overview of how we humans navigate the change process. It sounds like you are in the preparation/determination stage, which is smack in the middle. This stage is critical to sustainable change; it’s where you lay the groundwork for success.
From what you shared, it sounds like there are several lifestyle changes you want to make. What feels the most pressing and possible to start with? Select an area you feel ready to tackle, and develop a plan for change. Instead of eating fast food daily, make it a twice-a-week treat. Pick some form of exercise you think you would enjoy, and start with 30 minutes, three times a week. Build off the initial changes you make until you reach the goals you have set for yourself.
Kate Smart Harrison holds a B.A. in psychology from Loyola University, New Orleans and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Missouri. Kate also attended a graduate program in Austria for peace studies and conflict transformation.
Disclaimer: The advice provided in this column is for general informational and educational purposes only; it is not offered as, and does not constitute, a therapeutic relationship or psychotherapeutic advice. None of the information presented is intended as a substitute for professional consultation by a qualified practitioner.