I don’t want to be the person to dash hopes but someone has to be realistic
PROBLEM: We are a couple in negative equity and we have been struggling all through the recession. Our kids are now teenagers and they have huge requests for Christmas; I am finding this very stressful. Their expectations around Christmas are unrealistic, and my wife does nothing to discourage them, so I am left feeling like Scrooge. I don’t want to be the person to dash hopes, but someone has to be realistic. I am sick of being seen as the bad one.
Things are frayed in my relationship. We are already under an awful lot of stress without adding Christmas. This is a holiday we are all supposed to be looking forward to, but it’s yet another noose and financial crisis. It recently tipped over into absolute rage between me and my wife, and I realised that Christmas was only the trigger.
The kids just look at us in disgust and tell us to get a life, and I feel so embarrassed. I really feel that my wife just sees me as the breadwinner and does not understand my frustration or the fact that I feel so trapped. I can see this going on for years until we have paid for colleges, and it is a horrible thought.
How can we patch things up? How do we go forward? There is the ongoing financial stress plus the taking each other for granted and the despair of never being understood.
ADVICE: That you are asking how to address all these issues differently is a very good start, as it seems that the current situation is leading to unhappiness and stress.
You feel very isolated in your effort to keep the family afloat, and the only closeness that is happening is when you fight with your wife. Financial pressure can put a serious strain on couples and families, and because this has been going on for some time, that strain has become the default position in the family.
No doubt everyone has different ideas of what form a solution would take, but at the moment it seems as if no one is listening. When we are not listened to, we feel dismissed or discounted, and there is a possibility that the explosion came from this place for both you and your wife.
In terms of changing the way your family operates, the starting point has to be the couple. If you and your wife manage to come to an understanding, you can then both be on the same page regarding the teenagers.
Money is often described as one of the most difficult things that a couple have to talk about. Many people evade the topic or let one person carry all the worry.
I wonder if you and your wife could agree the structure of these conversations, for example that there is a money conversation every Monday at 7pm for the first three months, and once a month thereafter. This would mean that not everything has to be loaded in to one conversation, and solutions or suggestions can be discussed, changed or revised over time.
It may be that you need some help with this at the beginning. Is there a relative or friend who knows about finances who could facilitate these early conversations so that there is a possibility of both of you staying to the end without fighting?
You acknowledge that there is more at stake in your relationship and your capacity to appreciate and understand each other is declining. Do you know what it feels like to be your wife in this situation? How can you find out in a way that will not lead to defensiveness? Does she know how much you are struggling and how trapped you feel?
What we are talking about here is deliberate inquiring and listening. This requires time and space. Initially, you might not be able to achieve this in the house, which has too many associations with arguments and pressure; you might suggest a nightly walk or a Saturday coffee somewhere nice. Not only will the effort you are putting in be noticed, but it will be very good for your children to see their parents cordoning off time to spend together.
Your children, too, need to be involved in a family conversation about the financial restrictions. Perhaps their advice could be sought about how to make everyone happier. Teenagers often have unrealistic expectations about money, and these need to be limited without overburdening them with worry. Have faith in your collective abilities and be patient with change.