Affluenza and Wealth Psychology: When Your Spouse Spends Too Much…

Client: “My husband and I both come from families of wealth and are lucky not having to had to work beyond managing the incomes our parents had created for us. In the five years we’ve been married we’ve traveled extensively, done philanthropic work – just this year, started a family. But there’s a threat to our lifestyle that I’m worried about: my husband’s need to always have the latest and the best material things. It isn’t just unseemly to me, the costs are getting out of hand and could undermine our core finances. How can I help him to resist the pressure of keeping up?”

There are several important elements in your quest for help that we need to look at:

Your first step is to understand and accept that your husband may not be open and/or willing to listen to you and therefore allow you to help him, and that you are probably lacking the professional knowledge and expertise to be able to help him in an effective way.

So what do you do?

Your brief description makes me believe that your husband may suffer from “affluenza” with an addictive element.

Affluenza in its simple definition is an unbalanced and sometimes dysfunctional relationship with money. More professionally described: “The effect of money, wealth and materialism on the individual’s subconscious, which manifests itself in unbalanced (and sometimes dysfunctional) relationships with oneself, others and money.” [Lami, 2001]

The symptoms can include:

  • More is never enough;
  • Preoccupation with externals;
  • Addictions or compulsive-addictive: i.e. uncontrolled materialism and consumerism;
  • High regard for outer self and low regard for inner self;
  • Lacking the ability to delay gratification and tolerate frustration.

It is important to recognize that the pressure to keep up is internally imposed, although most people resist it and blame the external environment in their own inability to control spending and their lack of true self-confidence.

As such, I suggest that you find the time to talk to your husband at a time that you are both calm and relaxed. Your aim will be to find out if he is aware:

  1. That he always needs to have the latest and best material things?
  2. That the costs are getting out of hand and it could undermine your core finances?
  3. Of his spending style and habits?
  4. That you are starting a family and that it can have a negative effect on your child (i.e. an unbalanced role model for spending)?
  5. How it is affecting you and what your feelings about it are?

Your aim here is stop “hearing” or “listening” to his rationalizations [reasoning] about his spending habits. Your aim is to find out if he is aware of it.

Prepare yourself for the conversation: get into a calm state of mind. Your aim is to ask the questions in order to find out the answers — without making him feel wrong, guilty, uncomfortable, judged, etc.

If he is aware of the above but does not know how to stop or change, you can help him by taking control or being responsible for your financial spending. You can also play a “game” where for one month he buys nothing new. If he manages well by the end of the month he is rewarded with something you both agreed upon in advanced. You can continue to play this game, extending the period of time. I would also recommend that you seek professional help for your husband or for both of you.

If he is not aware, or denies your concerns, you may want to consult a professional for several sessions.

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