15 May

Letterbalm Money Under Lock and KeyDear LetterBalm: I retired almost a year ago. My wife was a stay-at-home mom and did a great job caring for our three children, now grown with lives of their own. She and I talked about our dream to travel. We also wanted to take up some new activities and see our grandkids. But over the months, she’s become nervous about spending any money. This is out of character for her because she and I always decided all our financial, investment and major purchases together, as well as our end-of-life wishes and our wills. We own our home outright and have always been in agreement about spending. She knows we have enough to live comfortably. She’s reluctant to spend anything for groceries and ordinary restaurant dinners, she won’t buy anything for herself and she asks constantly whether we have enough money to pay basic bills. In every other way, she’s sensible and wonderful. I don’t know where to turn.

–Befuddled Husband

You have some reason for befuddlement. If, as you say, your normally sensible wife has begun to question expenditures over the past few months, she might be in the throes of a fixation affecting her mental abilities. Talk with her doctor and see if she’ll agree to a physical examination. There might be a neurological reason for her newfound worry. If everything checks out O.K., you and she might have a few sessions of couples counseling to see if differing attitudes about money, spending and financial security might be causing some crossed signals. Your wife might also have grown up in a household where money was topic A, or her parents may have been stingy or controlling about it. Ms. L.B. recommends that you sit with your wife and have a gentle conversation thusly:

Honey, I’ve noticed that you’ve become more and more worried about money since I retired. I’m not sure where this is coming from, since you and I have made all our plans together and you know our financial position is secure. Can you tell me what’s making you so nervous? [Listen quietly to what she says, and respond accordingly.] I know your dad made some bad investments, and your family suffered for it, but that’s never going to be our worry – we talked about it and provided for that contingency, remember? Would you feel more comfortable if you and I had a few sessions with a cognitive behavior therapist who might help us explore all this? And, while we’re at it, let’s have Dr. Jones examine both of us to make sure we’re healthy, so we can enjoy some of the things we’ve wanted to do.


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