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I have been married less than a year and we are both quite young, which is partly why I'm posting on here for advice.

My wife has recently been 'complaining' that she finds it difficult that she can't buy many nice things or go on holidays as often as she used to when she was single. She's mentioned it a few times now, and I want to discuss it with her but I don't know how to broach the subject.

My wife used to work, but since we married she stopped working because her anxiety and depression got worse (I'm fairly sure this isn't to do with me as we are very much in love, but I think the new city/new home/new responsibilities has had an impact.) Therefore I am working to pay for our house, bills, car, food etc on my own. That leaves a little left over but not a lot.

My intention had been that she would continue to work, although I'd hoped she could drop to an easy part time job as she'd found her full time job (at the time) very stressful.

In short, the plan was that I'd pay for all the basics, and her wages would pay for all the treats. And since she's decided not to work, we aren't getting the treats, or very few.

I completely understand if she feels she can't work, and I want to support her. She definitely contributes in our house by cooking and cleaning more than I do, so she's not lazy. However, the comments about how she's getting less nice things are hurtful because I am slogging it out to pay for the basics and some occasional nice things.

How can I address this with her? My biggest concern is that I come off as uncaring about her anxiety and depression, but I want to convey to her that the reason she isn't getting these things is because she's not working for them. And I guess that she's making me feel bad though I know that won't be her intention.

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    Is she in therapy for the anxiety/depression? – AsheraH Jul 3 at 18:19
  • She has discussed it with her doctor and they've gone through some options for her which could include CBT or psychology appointments down the line. She's not currently in therapy though. – Onux Jul 3 at 18:30
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    Have you two had any kind of "budgeting" discussions where you go thru the various expenses? – DaveG Jul 3 at 18:35
  • Not as such.. I deal with all the bills etc, so we haven't sat and broke down each item together. However I've very much been clear that "we have a budget of X amount this week for food" or "we can afford to do Y but not Z this month" etc, so she's not unaware of our money constraints and if she asks something specific I'll tell her. – Onux Jul 3 at 18:40
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    Does your wife has money to spend on her own (either in her account or a shared account), or does she rely on you for any payment? Is she adverse to dealing with bills (it can be stressful), or do you think she could appreciate being more involved in handling the household budget? – Matthieu M. Jul 4 at 12:27
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Unrealistic expectations are just that: unrealistic. It is unfortunately common that our expectations don't actually align with reality, and someone has to bring us down to Earth. Ultimately, you want to help your wife adjust her expectations, but this is not an easy thing to do. There is a difficult conversation that needs to be had. As a consultant, I often have to have difficult conversations with clients (often because they have unrealistic expectations). My company has a framework for handling these situations, and I'll walk you through the high level concepts.

Difficult Conversations

Establishing Safety

The first, and most important step is to establish the conversation in a way that you both feel safe to be open and honest. Since you are married, I assume that you have some baseline of trust, but I know that every marriage is different, and with you being married for less than a year, your baseline may not be extremely high yet. There are a few things you can do to establish safety for the conversation.

  • Acknowledge her perspective
  • Empathize with how she feels
  • Avoid blame
  • Avoid judgement

Acknowledge her perspective/Empathize with how she feels

I put these two items together because it's been my experience that they go hand in hand. The easiest way to acknowledge her perspective is to state your understanding of it. For example, you might say

I understand that you want to be able to buy nice things and take vacations

From there you can easily transition into empathizing by explaining your desires in that area. If you have specific reasons why, you can also include them.

I get burnt out from work and wish that I could take more holidays to spend with you.

I often use this speech pattern to set up my conversations with clients. I'll tell them that I understand what they want and why I want that thing too. This helps to establish that you understand where the other person is coming from and that you have a shared goal.

Avoid blame and judgement

It is really important that you avoid blaming her or sounding as if you are passing judgement. Don't mention her not working in conjunction with why her expectations aren't being met. If you were to say something like

I want to do them to, but with you not working we don't have the income to do that

It sounds like you are blaming her, and now the issue has shifted from "we don't have the life we want" to "you are holding us back". Even if you don't intend to imply that it is her fault, she will likely still interpret any mention of her not working as you blaming her, which will absolutely kill any chance at conversing about this. I've made the same mistake too many times to count with my fiancee.

Discussing the Issue

When it comes time to actually address the issue and look for solutions, facts are a good starting point. When talking with a client about why the team can't meet a certain deadline, this is the point where I will bring in data (velocity charts, work estimations, etc). I lay out the key facts:

  • We have X amount of work to do
  • We have Y amount of time to do the work
  • Historically we can only do Z amount of work per week
  • We would need to work at X/Y pace to meet the deadline
  • X/Y is unreasonable because it is C amount more than we currently do

In your situation you would bring out the budgets. Talk to her about how much money is coming in, what the necessary bills are (rent, electricity, etc), how much is left, how the leftover money is currently being allocated. This is the point where you can help her adjust her expectations. Once you've presented the facts, you can start to work on solutions to them.

Suggesting she go back to work

The obvious solution to you not having the money to do all the extra things you want is (as you pointed out in the question) for her to go back to work. When you get to discussing this option, make sure you acknowledge why she stopped working, and the fact that this is ok.

I know that you stopped working to focus on your mental health. That's a difficult decision to make, and I'm proud of you for recognizing what you need and taking steps to make it happen. Have you considered taking a part time job to make a little extra money to spend on nice things?

When I was dealing with depression and anxiety, I occasionally had to do things because they were the best for my mental health rather than for my life situation or those around me. There was nothing as helpful for me as receiving validation from friends and family that what I was doing was ok even though it made certain parts of life harder. The other thing that is helpful in this situation is to present the idea of her going back to work as a question. This opens a dialog about whether she can or should go back to work. It gives her agency to continue to prioritize her mental health if she so chooses, while allowing you to point out that her taking a job would help resolve the issue of not being able to afford the lifestyle she was used to before getting married without blaming her for not working.

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    Do you think it would be helpful to present more alternatives? Since left-over budget is income - basics, another obvious alternative is cutting down on the basics (finding a cheaper rent, for example) and of course the OP could maybe find a better paying job. – Matthieu M. Jul 4 at 12:25
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    @MatthieuM. Your suggestions are about how to have more money at the end of the month, while OP wants to have a discussion with his wife about their situation. I don't think offering those alternatives would be helpful or relevant to the question (also, they're not about interpersonal skills). – MlleMei Jul 4 at 13:53
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    @MlleMei: They're not actual suggestions, they're fodder, feel free to use any other alternative. I am afraid that if the only alternative presented is maybe you could take a part-time job, then it may be perceived as "you're the only reason for this", whereas if multiple alternatives are presented, among which one is for his wife to potentially take a job, then it will look more like a brainstorming session. Even if at the end the conclusion is that the only viable alternative is that his wife should work, it's a conclusion you want to arrive at together. – Matthieu M. Jul 4 at 15:02
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    @MatthieuM. Ah, ok, I understand better what you meant by your comment. I know you asked Rainbacon, but here's what I think : first, OP's goal here is not to push his wife to find a job, but to make her understand why they're unable to pay for treats as often as before. Second, those questions on how to raise their income will come up if they have that conversation (I agree that OP shouldn't just tell his wife to get a job). But if I were OP, I wouldn't mention taking on more myself in that first conversation, where the goal is to get the wife to understand their current situation. – MlleMei Jul 4 at 15:16
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    Nice answer. I'd like to add that the feeling of accomplishment for getting a part time job (even if it's just making cookies at the cookie store 2 days a week) can be a boost to the psyche. She would get more familiarity with the new location, make some new friends, have some extra pocket money so she can save up for that Tiffany bracelet she found on sale... all good things come from just a little tiny effort. She's got nothing to lose. If cookies don't pan out, quit and start over. No biggie. – coblr Jul 5 at 18:46
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Right now I'm kind of in the same spot as you : I'm supporting myself and my partner (who lost his job two years ago), and we budget to be able to afford the basics, save a little, and also have a little fun. But this means that, for example, instead of taking a big vacation with friends or family and do some city trips like we used to, we have to choose one vacation (and choose cheaper accommodations, etc).

The basis of what I'd advice to you would boil down to part 2 of this answer I gave to another question here. You'll have to have a difficult conversation with your wife, and I think Rainbacon's answer covers that pretty well. I want to jump on some things you mentioned in your post and comments though, to help you understand on how you've handled those conversations in the past might have been lacking :

"My intention had been that she would continue to work."

"I deal with all the bills etc, so we haven't sat and broke down each item together. However I've very much been clear that "we have a budget of X amount this week for food" or "we can afford to do Y but not Z this month" etc, so she's not unaware of our money constraints and if she asks something specific I'll tell her."

It seems that you haven't had real, in-depth, talks about money with your wife. You say your intention was for her to get a part time job, but was that the plan you both agreed on ? You say that she must know money is tight, but I wouldn't be so sure with the limited information you give her. All she knows is that you have money to pay only for X, but she doesn't know where the rest of the money goes. For all she knows, there's more money but you're doing something else with it. In your mind, you think "Yes, I'm paying the bills !", but from her perspective it's a big question mark.

What made me and my partner stronger and (almost) not have money fights is that we talk about it. We talk about it regularly, with no judgement of where the money comes or what we want to spend it on. I'm handling the budget, because I've done it when I was single (and he never had a budget before me) and I like it, but at the end of each month we take an hour to go over stuff. We see how the past month went, and we set up the new month. We see what money is coming in, what expenses are coming up, and we plan accordingly, together. This means that we're both very aware of what we have and what we can afford. When it comes to treats, we also talk about it. For example, we only have enough money for one small-ish vacation, we talked about how much we were ready to spend on it and made plans with that budget in mind. We also each have our little allowance every month, to spend how we please without having to check with the other.

I truly think that is what is missing from getting you both on the same page. She just doesn't have the same understanding of the situation as you do, because she's not involved in the money stuff. Invite her in, get her involved.

As a side note, if she's not better after a year, I think she truly should give therapy a try. If money is a concern, there are options out there for people who can't afford therapy. My partner became depressed after losing his job, and we're both kicking ourselves for not getting him into therapy sooner, we feel like we've lost a year of our lives. I've been where you are (still kinda am), it is not easy, don't be afraid to talk to your wife and to get help. I wish you the best.

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    "If money is a concern, there are options out there for people who can't afford therapy." One of the most common ways is therapists offering a "sliding scale" where you pay whatever you are able to afford (I know one who has offered as little as $5 per session for a client who is homeless). There may be other arrangements too if money is an issue; you just have to ask. – Thunderforge Jul 4 at 18:59
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    Another option is to engage close friends or trusted family. It usually costs little to share a few hours with people who may offer another alternative that you and your wife may both learn from. In my case, when I'm not able to get my wife to understand why her behavior doesn't align with her money objectives, her brother usually can explain it in a different way that she gets. Productive conversations usually come from discussing options to get what you want, not why you failed to; frequently, the resulting course of action is a conscious decision one way or the other. – Suncat2000 Jul 5 at 19:55
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I'm going to suggest a different explanation for her behaviour. If she is suffering from depression this may be an expression of that. I have some personal experience of this, and from the details you have provided the situation seems familiar.

Getting married is supposed to bring happiness. When someone is depressed they tend to think negatively about everything, so instead of concentrating on the fact that she is married and living with you and able to take time away from work to recover, her mind focuses on the negative things in her life. The lack of money, resulting in a lack of purchasing power and holidays.

If that is the case, talking to her about unrealistic expectations may not be very helpful. I am not a doctor, but a common and effective treatment for this is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which basically teaches you to recognize when you are thinking this way and stop those unwanted thoughts, looking for positives instead.

You could try responding to her complaints by talking about how it's just the journey to get where you want to be. She takes time away from work to recover, you have a bit less money for a while but she gets better and then you are both in a great position to do the things you want to do. It probably goes without saying that you should not blame her or say something like "cheer up", rather you should just explain your more positive way of thinking about the situation.

Ultimately though, if it is depression then getting proper help is the cure. Having suffered from depression myself, I can tell you that it was difficult to acknowledge and seek help. I think if someone had suggested I see a doctor it would have helped me. I didn't really understand what was happening to me, or that those thoughts and feelings were something that could be treated. Years later and I've recovered, but now my partner is in the same situation. Fortunately I have been able to use my experience of CBT to get her started with recovery, and because I had the same issues she feels less embarrassed about it.

protected by A J Jul 5 at 10:12

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