Wednesday, September 5, 2007

My husband won't let me
~ by Jay

Sam and I are taking a drumming class. It's a lot of fun and I'm even starting to think I'm learning how to drum. Sort of. Sam came home after the first class and said "I need a bigger drum". So he went and bought one. I joined the class midstream, and I'm borrowing a drum to use on the theory that these are big suckers and we don't actually need to own two.

So last week one of the other women in the group looks at me and says "so he won't let you buy one, either? My husband says he needs to hear me play more before I can".

Maybe before our next class I can figure out what to say in response, since I just sort of stared at her. I wanted to say "just go buy one" or "if that bothers you, get a job", but those seemed, well, rude. I know she doesn't draw a paycheck - she's a stay-at-home mom - but it still astonishes me to hear women acknowledge their economic dependence nonchalantly, as if it's normal and acceptable. It's like the whole name-change thing: I just don't get it. Sure, I read the commentser who said having the same name unified the family. If you want unity, I really like Ponderosa's plan to pick a new name for the new family (although that would make the Mormons work a lot harder). I can respect changing your name, but I don't get it - deep down I wonder why other women don't feel the same way I do. And that's how it is with "he won't let me". I just don't get it. I couldn't tolerate it. Honestly, it's easier for me to understand why a woman would stay in a physically abusive relationship. (I am NOT equating the two, and I am NOT condoning abuse. I'm just saying I have more empathy for an abused woman than the "my husband won't let me buy that" woman.)

This is not about being a stay-at-home mom. I get that, I really do. I couldn't do it myself, but I get why other people want to. But a lot of the stay-at-home-moms I know are like my mom: they actually control the money. It was a standing joke in our house that Daddy never had any money, and when he wanted to buy something extravagant - like our first color TV, back when they were the coolest thing going - she often stopped him. At least temporarily. So I grew up in a one-paycheck family, but it was clear to me that Daddy didn't tell Mom what she could and couldn't buy. If anything, it was the other way around.

So I don't know what to say to this woman. I'd kind of like to come up with a fast answer (well, a week later means it wouldn't be "fast" - maybe witty). I don't know or like her well enough to get into an earnest discussion about feminist principles. Maybe I should have gone with my first response, which to slap her the way Cher slapped Nic Cage in "Moonstruck" and yell "Snap out of it!" I'd do that, but my husband won't let me.


Orange said...

My husband brings in over 90% of our income, I make whatever spending decisions I want to, and he persists in asking for my consent before he makes any big-ticket purchases—and then still dithering for an extended period before he actually buys the thing.

Women who get "an allowance" or have to wait for their husband to hand over money or authorize spending—I don't know how they can live like that. There's no equity in it.

Mary P Jones (MPJ) said...

I had no idea you two were taking a drumming class.

I'm not going to comment because, I'm determined to write some kind of follow up post to this -- I have to get my Two Women groove back on, um, started... ;)

Perpetual Beginner said...

I make so close to no money of my own that it really makes no difference, but like your mother, I control the checking account and run the finances. We tried it the other way briefly. It was an utter disaster. I felt like I had no right to spend any money. Any money my husband did give me, I felt obliged to use for family purposes. Plus, my husband isn't actually a fabulous money manager. So we switched, and while I still spend a lot less on personal stuff/toys than he does, I no longer feel like I have no right to. When I don't buy myself something I want, it's because I'm being thrifty and saving funds, not because I'm a non-person.

Jay said...

Money stuff is complicated and emotionally loaded, even when there's enough of it. I think you have a good point, Orange, about equity. We have our kid on on allowance, and that reflects her standing in the household. Adults shouldn't have that sort of position relative to one another.

Jenn said...

I make half the money in my marriage, and both my husband and I enjoy an "allowance" if you will. We both get the same amount, and that money is what I like to call Non-Accountability money. That means, that My husband doesnt have a say in what I buy. I could buy a drum, or a skateboard, or new clothes, or I could blow it buying all my friends breakfast.

I dont think it makes a difference who makes the financial decisions, wether its the husband or the wife. If the money is handled by someone who can handle it, then it should be fine. Maybe your friend is just really bad with money, so her husband controls it, and she just chooses to make him the bad guy.
Or maybe she should just go buy a drum.

Dianne said...

This is a good illustration of one of the reasons that being a stay at home mother (or father) is a high-risk job: because, ultimately, you have no recourse. If the money earner doesn't want you to buy something you have no independent means to tell him to go screw himself and buy the dam thing. (Note that I'm not saying that being a SAHM/F is bad or wrong, just that it is high risk. Sort of like becoming a professional sky diver is high risk. If you want to do it, go for it, but don't let anyone pretend that it is the "safe" option.)

I don't get it either. Frankly, "I forbid you to buy X" (assuming X cost less than, say, a new sportscar), would be an absolute dealbreaker for me. I think the problem may be that women who stay with men who do that sort of thing are abused. Maybe not physically, but mentally, to the point that they no longer have confidence in their ability to make decisions and function as independent adults. So then the abuser uses their lack of confidence to undermine them even further (i.e. I bet this woman's husband starts telling her she's a horrible drummer and doesn't need a new drum because she can't play well enough to make it "worth" buying her one.)

So, a suggested response. Give the woman in question a card with your number and a domestic abuse hotline number on it and tell her to call if she wants help. This response may just puzzle her, but maybe she'll get the point eventually. Or ask her why she, as an adult, lets someone make decisions like whether or not she can buy a simple musical instrument, which might get her thinking about her relationship and its dynamics.

Guilty Secret said...

Poor woman. There is no way I would give up work without first coming to an arrangement that involved me having fair share of financial control. This woman works full time raising those kids and she should be allowed to buy herself a drum!

I like the way Jenn does it: non-accountability money is a great idea to take the edge of combined finances.

Anonymous said...

I have long wondered about the "my husband won't let me" comment. I could never understand how a woman would let her husband tell her what to do; as if he is a parent to her.

I know many couples where the husband earns most of the money and the wife controls it. My brother and sister-in-law are an example. My brother turns over his paycheck to her. She gives him an allowance and manages the household with the rest. My brother readily acknowledges that if they didn't do it this way, he would spend his whole paycheck and leave them with nothing. Since she controls the money she has made sure they have a lovely home, a comfortable cushion in the bank, can afford to take a vacation every year, and a tidy sum tucked away for retirement. She is thrifty and makes every dollar stretch. Even though their lives are more traditional than what I am comfortable with, it works for them. I commend her for being responsible with the money and not just spending it on herself, as some wives in this role might do.

longvowels said...

"He won't let me" sounds like living with your parents and I don't get it when it comes from a grown person.

plastic druid said...

Yes, domestic disenfranchisement is a terrible thing, and this example has sparked a lively and worthwhile debate, but none of us know what's going on inside that particular relationship. Suppose this particular woman had only six months ago spent a lot of money on an electric guitar and amp and then decided not to carry on with it. Suppose further that her husband was the one who managed the money (it often is just one person in the relationship who fulfils this role) and that he could see a crisis looming. He might very well want to see some sort of long-term commitment to the drumming before dipping into the family's finances. He might also be denying himself some sort of discretionary purchase for the same reason. In that case 'my husband won't let me' might just be a play for sympathy.

I'm not being an apologist for the imposition of financial tyranny (which certainly does happen) and I do agree these are principles worth debating, I'm just saying there are alternative explanations for this particular set of circumstances and it's wise to not take sides without knowing the facts.

Tori Castillo said...

I earn all the money in my home and my husband has all control over it. I give him my money when I get home from work and I keep no money for myself. I had to wait 2mo to get a hair cut and I have to ask him to let me. I hate it.

Anonymous said...

Many women don't realize their husbands are like this until they have their kids and become stay-at-home moms. It doesn't happen until they are financially dependent and the children are already in the picture. Then they have to make the decision between leaving for their own happiness, or staying because they feel it is better for the kids.

Anonymous said...

I can relate to the last comment. I have been married for 19 years and have two children. We have also moved over ten times. I worked full time up until I had my first child. Since I've had kids I've run a small web design business out of my house. I am dependent on finding my own clients, which is never easy, especially when we move so much. Since I became a homemaker, my husband has always kept the homes and cars in his name, and he dictates where we move. What little money I've earned doing my business my husband has controlled how it has been spent by deliberately not paying certain bills, etc. I became chronically ill and unable to work six years ago. I've had four surgeries in five years, one of which took me 24months to recover fully. I have no savings and my credit is poor. My husband treats me like a child, controlling how much money he puts in a joint account. He puts in so little that I can't even go buy $100 in groceries at any given time. There was a point when he went behind my back and closed the joint account, and I had no access to any money. I've put up with his crap because of my health and for the kid's sake. But I'm finally starting to feel healthier and stronger and am finally seeing the scope of his abusive control and I'm really angry and really fed up.

Anonymous said...

My name is Katherine Gallagher.This story is similar to mine. When I got breast cancer and was unable to work much he took total control and I was too ill to fight it. IHe was also sending money to his mom and brother (both healthy) while screaming at me over a little dress I bought for my daughters graduation. People have told me I can call the IRS on his mom and brother. Frankly, i don't know how to stop this.I would prefer not to divorce because Im ill and also have no breasts from the cancer. I also need the money he sends his mother for meds.She refuses to stop cashing the checks. Selfish would be a nice way to descibe her. Imagine asking a sick daughter and law and son who makes little right now for money. I gues the apple doesnt fall far from the tree!

Anonymous said...

It's not always a money thing. My best friend grew up in an atmosphere of domestic violence. Her husband is an emotional abuser, and he's incredibly gross, doesn't shower or brush his teeth for example. (after years of enabling this I finally told her what I thought that he's so gross and I don't get it).

She says "he won't let me," all the time, about basic decisions. Yesterday she said that and I finally knee jerked reacted with, "you can't say that to me it's nails on chalkboard. What are you in 3rd grade and he's your dad?"

It's more than feminism it's about mental health. I also told her I know you want to feel cared about but that is just creepy.

k@ye said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Before you judge a woman or say the dreadful words every woman in a domestic violence situation hears "why do you let him treat you like that?" Or "why do you stay with him?" Let me tell you that when you are in the situation your abuser makes it so you can't leave. He manipulates, brain washes and emotionally takes over you life. You lose control of everything and there is no where to turn. You go to court get an order of protection and he breaks it on numerous occasions not being arrested because he didn't harm you physically, yet he can still verbally abuse you, threaten you and make you feel so small. What's the point of getting help?! He's still able to torment you! Victims try and leave their abusers at least 7 to 12 times before they finally leave. Its a cycle of abuse. People ask why don't you just leave? how do you expect a woman with children who has been abused mentally and physically to up and walk out without a cent to her name? These woman aren't weak for staying with them, if you think about it they are strong for having endured torture for years before they can leave. I'm aware this is an old post, but I'm hoping it will shed some light to you before you go judging women without knowing how it really is to be a victim. I should know I was one for 8 years.

Jay said...

I do know better than to say "why don't you leave"?, but I don't know it from the inside and I appreciate the stories here. Thank you. I wish I could do something substantive for all of you - but please know you have been heard.

I didn't mean to suggest that this woman was being abused. That's certainly possible, and honestly if I'd suspected the relationship was abusive I would have understood the "he won't let me" comment. What I really don't get is why women put up with this when they're *not* in abusive relationships.

OTOH, I suppose that statement says something about the power differential, and I don't know where the line of "abuse" is drawn.

Anonymous said...

I was the July 10 he won't let me commenter. Shortly afterward I decided I couldn't watch or listen to this train wreck anymore it wasn't healthy for ME.

So I broke up with a very good friend and it's so great for me not to have to listen or be involved in the drama anymore. I miss her and wish she wanted more for herself. But 7 years of giving support, direction and solicited advice didn't go anywhere.

Anonymous said...

I say that. More than anything i want to please him but it never works.

Anonymous said...

New to this, but just wanted to say I am a highly motivated, confident woman of 40 who is throwing away all of my fabulous heels because my husband feels intimidated that I am taller than he is. I got sick of the comments, eye-rolling and air of disapproval. It breaks my heart. I see them sitting there- about to go to a consignment shop (I am going to get something our of them in the end!!) and I cannot believe I am letting my husband's serious issues persuade me to actually shorten my stature to make him feel better. To top it off- I am a therapist!! I counsel people all the time against this sick behavior. But- I guess I have to say that the benefits outweigh the detriments right now. Although- all you smart girls out there will see the flaw in my logic- it is just the beginning and going to get worse. What else am I willing to give up? Well- since we married I have made no friends, have gone to coffee twice, have been to no classes all because he feels threatened. Why do I do this to myself??It is soooo pathetic. I tell myself he is working on his stuff- he sees his issues- and yet I get days of distancing and suspicious questioning when I take a day off or try to go to a class. He says dramatically "Our relationship has changed. It is so sad that you need friends now when you only needed me." I also earn 90% of our income, and pay all the bills, manage our lives and care for his two children when they are with us. What am I doing? When it is good it is so good. I can't believe I have succumbed to this. I related to your poor drumless friend. My husband would just moan and sigh and manipulate me through his dark cloud of disapproval. At least her controlling husband is up front about it!! So sad- I know. Please don't be too cruel when you respond. I know I am deeply pathetic. :(

Anonymous said...

Oh your story broke my heart, Therapist-with-emotionally-abusive-husband. At least you see it. That's the first step.

I had to write because while I found this lively debate interesting, I noticed a glaring double standard. Why is it ok when men have no control over the money? When a woman has no control, there are cries of abuse and failed feminism, of pathetic it ok for men to be pathetically dependent? That's so lame. This isn't a war nor are things so black and white. As several commenters have noted, we don't know the family dynamic - much less the financial status of the women with no spending money.

Anonymous said...

I am a stay at home mom with four children. I don't work because my entire paycheck would go to childcare and it would be next to impossible to get off of work to take the kids to doctors appointments. My husband always refused to take off for something that had to do with the kids when I was working with three children. He refuses most of the time to pay for anything I need and when he does he holds it over my head when he gets caught in a lie or wont tell me when the bills are coming in late. Our house and car is paid for. I have even had to sew holes in my underwear. I'm ok with doing without, I understand that is a sacrifice you have to make with only one income. I have become so depressed lately because he has even opened a checking acct. in his name only and even insists on buying the groceries. I have never spent money irresponsibly, even when we had two incomes. If I need new clothes (after baby four 5 months ago I needed summer shorts) I bought them second had with money I made from being a Independent Sales Consultant. I even feel guilty about eating now. I can't leave him because of the financial control an I have no where to go. I don't know what to do. I understand this topic all to well. Does anyone have any advice other than just leave? It's not that easy, even though I wish it was. Things weren't always this way, but have gradually become worse over the past year.

Anonymous said...

Hey, codependent much?

Sounds like this woman may have been just trying to be cute with her comment, and friendly. Obviously you don't connect, so that's fine. But she didn't ask for any help, and doesn't seem to have shown any signs of unhappiness with whatever financial - and personal - choices she and her husband have arranged.

For some of us, marriage (as well as other relationships) can be a source of mutually helping check each other - getting help in our weak areas with another's strong points while offering our strengths in areas where our partner is weaker. Maybe her husband is frequently keeping crazy spending in check and maybe she is able to afford extravagances such as drum lessons in part due to his stronger discipline than hers in some areas.

Maybe the veto on a new drum just yet isn't even financial - perhaps there is a room stacked to the ceiling with objets d'adventurous endeavors. There are other possibilities in a private relationship that strangers aren't privy to knowing.

To fantasize slapping people who are not like you seems a bit arrogant. Sounds like you may want to explore whether you have an overly judgmental attitude toward women who don't happen to make the same choices that you do. Wonder if you were so content with your own point of view if you would feel such a burning need to justify it and compare yourself to others.

Liz Brundridge said...

I just purchased a new stove and microwave to replace the broken ones we have. I received $2500 by cashing out my 401k and stocks from my previous employment because it was originally needed for something else, but in the end we were able to take care of the situation. So I was left with this large check and paid off another bill and spent $1100 on the appliances. I am scared of what my husband will say when he gets home. If we will get into a screaming match because he had other plans for the money from MY 401k and MY stocks. It's pathetic but this is life I guess

Liz Brundridge said...

I understand what you're going through. Maybe not to the same extent, but I understand. My husband lets me make small necessity purchases for myself or our son but I can't make any purchases on my own without his ok otherwise. If I do it's like WWIII and he breaks doors and puts holes in walls. I tried buying a stove to replace the one he broke. I cashed out my 401k to pay for it but it doesn't matter. I know this doesn't help you in your situation. I have often thought about leaving and no it's not an easy thing... I guess I just wanted to let you know that you're not alone.

Anonymous said...

Even working wives who control the money and have caring, non-abusive husbands have problems getting their husbands to let them purchase household items.

I'm a newlywed. My husband and I both work, but he is a doctor so he makes three times as much as I do. I save all my money, and we live off his salary. I work in a financial field, so I set our monetary polices. However, we're still trying to have 50-50 input on everything. What this means is that I have to present my case and then wait for him to give me the okay before I can take action.

Recently, I've been feeling frustrated because I feel that I can't make any home decor decisions without his input. We're still living with his crummy, hand-me-down bachelor furniture. Money isn't a problem, so there is no reason why we should keep on existing like this. I mean you can't even argue that the money is better off in savings, because we save half of our income as it is.

Even so, it is such a fight to get him to go to the store with me to pick out new furniture. It's taken me a year to convince him to purchase a new dresser and a bed. And he always works on the weekend, so we don't have time to go shopping. Or if we do, then he's tired (understandably after working 70 hours a week) and doesn't want to go. And he doesn't want me to pick things out on my own.

I can go ahead and buy things without his approval, but I figure it's his home too and he should have some say. Only when I do go ahead and make small purchases, he doesn't understand. Yesterday I told him that I'd ordered new chair cushions for the dining room chairs to replace the torn ones that we'd been using. His response was, "Oh, but we could have just sewn them up again!"

I told him it didn't matter. I didn't know how to sew and I had never liked the color anyway. But he doesn't understand the need because to him furniture is just functional and you should never throw out something that is still functional.

So I asked him whether when we got married he had just expected me to live for the rest of our lives with this same crappy furniture. And he said yes. I was so frustrated I almost cried.

I tried to explain to him that a woman really likes her home to be a source of pride and to reflect her personality. And then I said I missed the ability to just spend my money as I saw fit, which is what I had done for my entire adult life until I'd married him. He kind of understood that, but I'll still have to fight him tooth and nail to get him to go to the furniture store. And even then I won't be able to pick out exactly what I like.

He thinks we're so similar, but we're not. We have very different tastes and very different ideas of how a home ought to be run. And I'm starting to see why some men take so long to commit to marriage. Because marriage sucks. Everything has to be a compromise, and it never ever ends. I'll never be able to make my own decisions again.