They sit at his coffee table with Chinese food and wine. Hank expects an explanation session. They have to get off on the right foot; that is, agreement on his planned solutions to tough issues that are certain to arise. She expects the session to lean toward negotiating but be lengthy and perhaps argumentative. Her attitude has slid into a non-slip, non-skid readiness to jump out of their relationship. Why negotiate? She knows how to make everything work out, because they love each other. That is a proven; these ‘solutions’ of his may undo everything.
Jenny wonders. Why can’t they just go on letting their love of each other advise them what to do and how to live together?
Hank notes her reluctant attitude. Is she getting second thoughts? About his presentation? Or about him? He figures he should try harder.
He passes her a copy of the first item emailed to her and with space for her to make notes. She recalls her initial reaction to the eight-point email and makes a purposeful decision for this encounter: indirectness is out, directness is essential to protect her interests. She reads it.
Item 1. The purpose of life together is sharing; purpose of money is convenience; and purpose of extravagance is to please self at expense of someone else. He seeks agreement to no extravagance, neither in home, cars, nursery, Christmas presents, vacationing, nor child raising. They should negotiate a definition of extravagance for their home and life.
Hank opens the discussion. “I define extravagance as anything we don’t need to hold our marriage together. I know that many of what women call men’s toys will never see our garage or house, but I have to play my part too.”
Jenny overcomes her intuition to resent and resist; she responds: “Okay. How necessary are these to hold us together? Fine or at least decent clothes for me? Both for job and casual. I don’t want you telling me what I should wear based on your opinion of how it will impact our marriage. I dress for you and me, not our life sixty years from now. Nice cars for both of us? Personal taste has no influence? Entertainment costs determined by whose taste? Vacationing in pricey places or camping in the woods? I would choose the former and refuse the latter.”
Jenny can’t hold back. “Frankly, Hank, you’ve gone too far. We can’t make such a decision now, and maybe not ever, to define how extravagance will affect our marriage, I mean.”
Hank responds. “You make sense. Well, how do you see us keeping our spending within boundaries that prevent debilitating debt. The kind of debt that would curtail us living on the high end of decent and low end of extravagance? If I’m to manage our money, I need to know some of your values that will and will not hinder me.”
Jenny, frustrated, reacts pettily. “Why not some extravagance here and there? If something is important to us and our lives, we can live a little extravagantly and compensate with less important things.”
“In other words,” says Hank, “play it by ear and trust to our own and hopefully beneficial judgment?”
Sighing to herself that he may be getting it. “Exactly. Otherwise we bind ourselves to live a life of so much predictability that it becomes ultra boring, we become boring to each other.”
Hank recognizes the root of her attitude change. “I don’t foresee you as ever being boring, but I can accept that this isn’t the time to resolve views that may be contradictory. Save our differences for later. So, let’s move on.” She is already reading the next.
Item 2. Recognizing that financial success comes not from how much money a couple has, he intends to control what they do have. Consequently, he expects one or the other will maintain a budget to control finances, will merge their incomes, and allocate by prioritized needs and wants. He plans to propose this: first, a savings budget: second, pocket money budget for each; third, a home life budget for Jenny to manage; and finally a family budget—aka temporary savings—to cover the remainder with both to manage it. Zero is not allowed in any budget; all must have allocations, otherwise savings can be forgotten when new income arrives. Except for emergencies, big expenses are incurred only with approval of both. Hank has final say when they dispute, except as they negotiate something else. Jenny has full access to records and audit capability. The one most capable, willing, and successful handles the budget process.
“Hank, you have done well identifying the problems. I’m not so sure, however, that working out the details will be so simple or easy. I reserve some options about which I have equal sharing of responsibility for working out the details. Examples: We start with a savings goal of at least 10%. Not all of my income goes into our treasury, or I have two separate budgets, one for me—that includes tithing 10% of my income—and one for the home exclusively out of our treasury. I want a minimum about which expenditure decisions must be mutual; as of now I would expect the minimum to exempt ordinary consumables such as food bills, utilities, and car servicing. And I determine how I get full access to financial records etc. That will do for starters.”
Hank smiles big. “That’s the info I need. Thanks. You’re clear about what you expect; it’s another of your blessings. So let’s move on to the next item about sharing responsibility, authority, and personal influence within the relationship and home.”
They take a bathroom break.
Jenny wonders. Why does Hank seems determined to manage our future under the guise that it’s right for marriage? I can manage our future together, if he does his part with his job and income. If he wants to be responsible for our marriage, is this the way he would do it? Taking over control based on our lives today? Does he not trust me? He seems like another man from the one I’ve been dating. Why continue?
Jenny thinks, he won’t like it, but I intend to wrestle this charade into nothingness.
After the break, pouring more wine, Hank tries to continue. He expects Jenny to be unfamiliar with much of the next item. He begins with some of his history, a quick overview of his resumé to capture her attention.
Jenny interrupts. “Stop, Hank. You go too far. I’m no longer interested in your way of ensuring the success of marriage that has not yet happened. If we can’t do it on faith in one another, we are not right for each other. It is just that simple in my heart. Mutual faith based on mutual love or our marriage won’t work at all.
“What you describe puts cracks in my faith about you. Why do you over-analyze our future together and expect to resolve it in the present? It may fit your purposes, but belittle me and my role and you teach yourself to belittle your love of me. I can’t live with that.”
Feeling slapped, Hank’s anger rises but he calms it. “Honey, my convictions run deep about these matters. You say love and faith are essential. I say lack of respect and trust are the two biggest destroyers of an organization’s effectiveness, and family is an organization, albeit small. With respect and trust, people don’t mistreat others. Without respect and trust, and usually working in background, people torpedo each other’s ship and otherwise capitalize on interpersonal damage they have caused. It happens in homes as well as the work place.”
She is frustrated again. “You’re working on what keeps an organization from falling apart. I’m working on what makes a relationship successful. Two very different things. To me, respect and trust are incidentals that come up within an atmosphere of love and faith. They are factual instances in the present within the larger emotional context of love and faith that are connected and spread like a blanket over the life of a couple.
“I can live with my version but not with yours. Shall we call it quits? Ever since your weekend retreat, you have been another guy than the darling who dated me for over a year.”
Hank’s spirit melts. “Quits? Of course not (but he couldn’t help thinking of missing out on sex with her). No, we don’t call it quits. I still crave to have you as my wife. Perhaps more than ever. Tell me more about being another guy since my retreat. You make it sound as if I’ve disappointed you.”
Trying to figure out how to describe what she was thought, Jenny charges ahead as is she knows exactly what she will say. “You changed. Off all by yourself, I figure it this way. My not being present let you dream independently of all the manly achievements you could present to make us happy together.
“You missed two distressing points. First, your plans are not what makes me happy. Second, your desire to please me magnified your intentions and you doubled down with all you have to offer. Your intentions were good but they floated on an inaccurate reading of my wifely expectations.”
Stunned, Hank swallows his pride with the last swallow of wine. He needs time to think. He thought he had this marriage thing all locked up in mind and spirit. Maybe not!
Having finished the wine, they apologize to each other more liberally than they deserve, and follow it with passionate love up to her limit but short of his objective.