Q: I come from a traditional Pakistani family. My husband and I have been married one year and we don’t want children yet. So we are both working full time. Wanting to be a good wife, I decided to have him manage the money. I started giving him my paycheck. Well, now he controls everything. I can’t even buy toothpaste without him asking me how much I spent. He is that stingy. If I tell my husband that I need more freedom, he tells me I am not responsible enough and that I need to trust him. If I argue, he gets angry and I get very scared. I don’t know what to do anymore.
A: This is a challenging situation and it sounds like you feel very alone in it. If your husband is controlling even a $2 purchase, it reveals that he feels very insecure and doesn’t trust you. Controlling you through money gives him power over you and it is how he feels safer. To you it can feel like emotional abuse. You are obviously going to have to deal with this, otherwise you will live under his tyranny forever.
There are several approaches you can take to begin to change his behavior towards you. First, you need to get some support. Do you have relatives or friends you can talk to about this? This will help you vent feelings, get feedback, and not be as scared. You can talk more about why you handed over your paycheck.
Is there anyone in his family, his brother or sister, that you trust to share this with? This will also help you understand how he was brought up and why he may be like this. Was his father or mother very intrusive or controlling? Did he suffer a major financial or other loss that terrifies him when you spend money? See if anyone in his family wants to talk with him about this issue.
Avoid getting into arguments with him, which is easy in such a situation. Instead, create a time where he gets to just listen to you tell him your experience of living under his control. This will take a lot of courage on your part. If you don’t feel that he is respecting your need for this and won’t listen, you’ll need to get another person to sit with you to do this. Then he is less likely to intimidate you through his anger.
If talking doesn’t work, start changing your behavior. Stop giving him your paycheck. Don’t tell him how much you have spent, especially on small purchases. When he asks, don’t answer him. He is not your father and you are not a child. He is not your bookkeeper or accountant. He cannot be trusted with your surrendering of your income. This will make him very angry, but you need to see this side of him, so you know what is really behind his anger and controlling behavior. When he sees that you are strong he may start backing off and realize you’ve got more power than he thought. If things don’t get better, you’ll need to seek counseling.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in Palo Alto and San Francisco. (415) 205-4666. www.wholenesstherapy.com