What to do with a flaky husband?
May 2, 2006 3:08 PM   Subscribe

How can I help my husband to be responsible? This time, he’s really pissed me off. He’s gone and acquired himself (us really) a $15000 tax debt that he could have avoided or reduced if he had done as I asked him to do 18 months ago, 12 months ago or even 6 months ago. (I really don’t like nagging). He still hasn’t sorted out his employment so that tax is withheld, or even wage paid regularly. And that has gone for 18 months too. And yet, this all, I could cope with, fairly well. This time, he has suggested, in an attempt to be more “responsible” that we separate so that I don’t have the burden of the tax. Of course, he neglected to consider that I would then have the burden of the upkeep and cost of the house, caring for two teenagers, etc ad infinitum. He claims he doesn’t want to move out, that it would make him desperately unhappy, but he was trying to come up with a solution. (Hey, how about going to an accountant and getting it sorted out?! And yes, I’ve suggested that.) The result of my anger at this suggestion was a sort of revolting little boy repentance and answering when spoken to, but not volunteering information/ideas. And he still doesn’t get why I would be angry that he suggested splitting up.

Anyway, I don’t want to be game playing. What can I say to him to make him understand that I want a partner, someone responsible and accountable, someone who makes adult decisions? Where can I send him (links please, not destinations) to develop these skills? I certainly haven’t been able to teach him in a decade and half.

Lastly, I know here the usual plan is to say, “dump his arse”, but he gives me companionship and unconditional love and he laughs at my jokes, so I probably want to keep him. Also, I’d have to cook.

In my search, I found this link http://ask.metafilter.com/mefi/35028 but it’s not getting things done that's the problem, it’s him knowing what to get done and why.

So in summary, how can I help my husband to be responsible?
posted by b33j to Human Relations (34 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: by request

Are there certain areas that he normally flakes out on? "How to be responsible" is kinda a large area.
posted by occhiblu at 3:20 PM on May 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm a regular participant on the boards over at the Motley Fool and a lot of people both in your situation and your husband's situation come through and get a lot of help.

The problem in your case is it seems like your husband might not even listen to the suggestions you come up with, and that might be where you need to work first. I don't know exactly what you've been doing, but perhaps try avoid dealing out blame (even though he's to blame) and ask him if you can help him and both sit down together and go through it all logically and come up with a realistic plan?
posted by wackybrit at 3:22 PM on May 2, 2006

Counseling? Of perhaps both the marriage and financial types?
posted by NucleophilicAttack at 3:23 PM on May 2, 2006

It sounds to me like he is overwhelmed by what he "should" be doing. He is not communicating back to you because he does not know what to say. While it might be that what you have asked him to do seems pretty straight forward to you, it may be too big a bite to chew in one go for him.

This is not to disparage him or his intelligence. Rather, many so called "right brained" people find systematic organization extremely difficult. Their energy seems to go into creative activities which are usually outside the box. Things like taxes, banking or dissecting a big problem stymie them.

Since you are clearly motivated towards fostering and preserving this relationship (my admiration to you) you might consider using your more organized approach to break the situation down into small, manageable steps. I can see from the way in which you have stated your problem and your preferences that this would come naturally to you. This approach can be used without nagging, but in a spirit of "let's combine our talents and solve this together." You might find, for example, that the IRS would accept an offer in compromise if it meant that they could count on being paid rather than force you to try to avoid the issue or prolong things.
posted by RMALCOLM at 3:24 PM on May 2, 2006

Thank you for your quick responses. I'll work backwards.

I already spoke to the ATO (Australian IRS) and they will cooperate with a pay-back scheme. He's a self taught database expert (after being a very successful self taught computer technician), so while he's creative, he certainly has logical thought processes, in some things.

I'm usually the one who handles all the financial decisions, and I'm tired of being the bad guy who says, "no, we can't afford that. No, we should wait to meet our financial goals before we spend more money etc."

I hadn't considered counselling (after all - wryness - i don't have a problem) but I will look into it.

Thank you - that will help me, but there's probably too much there for him to sort though and retain interest.

Isn't it just huge? Responsible like thinking of not consequences and not taking ingrown toenail daughter for a ten kilometre walk, and making sure he's going to get his wage paid before the house payment's due, and not upsetting his wife by saying "hey, let's split up, it'll be easier on you." I don't know where to start with it all, really, there's so much.
posted by b33j at 3:33 PM on May 2, 2006

Regarding the "split up" thing: I could be wrong, since I only have the information from your post to go by. But marriages have two components -- a legal part, and a moral/religious part. It's entirely possible to have one without the other. I suspect your husband proposes dissolving the legal part, which means you won't personally bear the burden of his debts, but leaving the moral part intact, which means your relationship stays unchanged in all aspects.

Back to the finances, it sounds like you know what you need to know regarding household finances, budgeting, and planning. Does he know any of this? Techie types understand cold, hard numbers better than vague concepts (I am one, I should know). Make up a chart or two showing your daily account balance for a month, one showing what it should look like, and the other showing what happens when his wages are paid late.

I can't guarantee anything, but seeing actual numbers is what prompted me into fiscal responsibility for myself. I can tell myself all day that I can't afford to eat out so much, or that buying RandomNewThing will put me in the red, but without seeing the numbers behind that, it doesn't actually mean anything to me.
posted by CrayDrygu at 3:43 PM on May 2, 2006

Sounds like he cooks and you are the responsible one who takes care of finances. Everybody has their role. Any reason you couldn't have taken care of this (or going forward take care of this) for him? I know you're tired of being the responsible one when it comes to money, but somebody has to be. You can't really force people to change. People don't change fundamentally unless they really want to, and even then...

Your best bet seems to be to develop a strategy to compensate for the failings you know about and can anticipate.
posted by willnot at 3:43 PM on May 2, 2006

Instead of trying to change your husband to be more competent in the financial area of your marriage, why didn't you reshuffle the work share between you and take over the financial nuts and bolts yourself? He would feel more relaxed, you would feel that things were under control, you probably wouldn't be in debt now, and everything would be hunky dory.

You let this "happen" to you so you could be pissed off at him later, and obviously took no personal responsibility in the matter.
posted by Nicholas West at 3:55 PM on May 2, 2006

RMALCOLM's suggestion to break it into smaller steps and working together is an excellent one.

In addition, it sounds like your husband may have anxiety and shame surrounding the issue. Perhaps he suggested separating because he felt so ashamed, or felt he had so shamed his family, that he didn't see why you would want to stay with him any longer. Reassuring him that you love him and want to stay with him, even through the rough times, and that's what you both signed up for when you married is a good start.

Working through the needed actions, one by one, and perhaps also working through the fears-- how do you feel when we talk about this issue, have you felt this way before and what did you do about it then, what's the absolute worst that will happen, what could we do then if that were to happen-- could be beneficial to the situation. It sometimes feels like one is nagging when asking these questions, but reassure yourself and him that you are only asking to understand him and the situation better, and that the end goal is for the two of you to work together and solve the problem.

Avoidance caused by anxiety is not reserved to creative types-- it happens to most people. Some people want so badly to be perfect at something that if they forsee any little problem, they will then avoid the whole situation rather than risk failing and feeling really low. The first time my therapist told me I was a perfectionist, I wanted to call her an idiot and walk out. But it's pretty much true, I want to do everything just right, and if I can't, or I don't think I can, I just don't even try. I'm not saying for sure that is an issue with your husband, but I am saying that I think therapy (especially cognitive-behavioral therapy, which is great for anxiety) might help. Good luck to you and your family.
posted by sarahnade at 3:56 PM on May 2, 2006

The "let's split up" line is his way of abdicating responsibility to you -- "take me as I am or let me out of this deal." Screw counseling -- you already know what's wrong and you should know that you'll never change him, that you won't make him responsible, so if you're going to keep him you'll have to make yourself responsible for the things you know he'll screw up.

To fix your taxes, you need to get the paperwork ready, get him to sign it, and submit it to the right offices. Maybe he'll see how relatively painless it is to get it taken care of before it becomes a $15,000 burden, but I think it will always be your problem.

You need to manage the household and (financially, anyway) treat him as a beast of burden in your yoke. You don't ask your ox to calculate his feed requirements. You take care of it, you make sure the yoke is adjusted properly, and you keep the reins in one hand and the whip in the other. Maybe he'll learn by your example, but probably not.

As for messing up with the kids -- you need to give him a strong warning about everything you can think of (assume he won't think of things) and give him a good bollocking about specific errors as they occur so he and the kids will remember that, for example, he has to be careful with the ingrown toenail.
posted by pracowity at 4:00 PM on May 2, 2006

If there was *ever* a relationship that needed couples counseling, this is it! Find a good therapist and get started as soon as possible.

Your user page puts you in the middle of the ocean, but in your answer above, you make it sound like you're in Australia.? Perhaps the most excellent people over at the Dulwich Centre can help you find someone.
posted by jasper411 at 4:04 PM on May 2, 2006

Splitting up for these reasons seems really stupid, but noble, like faking a death to give your family the insurance money.
posted by holloway at 4:07 PM on May 2, 2006

I have taken control of the financial and family and medical for the last 15 years. But I cannot make his employer do things. It would be very bizarre if I rocked up to his workplace and said "please sort this out." Yet he doesn't seem to be sorting it out. He has endless meetings, but no conclusions.

It doesn't seem very marriage/partnership like that he could totally abdicate responsibility to me for these things, yet a large number of you think this is reasonable? This means I get to be mother to 3 children and check what he spends his money on forever? Try and work out every possible contingency?

Maybe I should take him up on his offer.

(I'll fix the coordinates later - depending on how you read them, me and two others live in or near Brisbane and I copied the style of those two).
posted by b33j at 4:30 PM on May 2, 2006

Sounds like you're married to a 14-year-old. Maybe he needs a nanny, but I guess if he's avoiding an accountant he'll avoid anything that forces him to behave like an adult.
posted by luriete at 4:30 PM on May 2, 2006

b33j, you wouldn't be the only wife who arranges her husband's work stuff. We had one client who told us (imagine cute Japanese accent) "I am the C.F.O. of this household! Don't address ANYthing only to my husband!" (So we don't. Though of course we had to okay it with the husband, too.)
posted by small_ruminant at 4:35 PM on May 2, 2006

do you work? ... is it possible in australia to have extra withholding from your paycheck to compensate for what he's not having withheld from yours? ... (he does hand over his paycheck to you, doesn't he? ... he should)

i think he's simply got to learn that he should do what you tell him to financially, because he's not capable of handling it himself
posted by pyramid termite at 4:44 PM on May 2, 2006

he laughs at my jokes, so I probably want to keep him.

I know you're just being flippant, but if you treat him like a pet, he might act just like one.

Or perhaps he is pulling the old "passive aggressive revenge against exasperated wife" routine.
posted by Aghast. at 4:46 PM on May 2, 2006

You've been with the guy for 15 years. You know what he's like. If you're still expecting him to be something he isn't or to suddenly change into someone more convenient to be with, you're fooling yourself, and you have been for quite a while.

So you can either take matters into your own hands, or continue to let him handle them(or fail to), but whatever you do, deal with the reality of the situation, not what you'd like the reality to be.

I definitely second the calls for therapy, because there are clearly communication issues here, and working on those would not only help solve this specific problem, but bring you closer as well. Probably would help with some of the passive-aggressiveness too...
posted by Mr. Gunn at 4:53 PM on May 2, 2006

"This means I get to be mother to 3 children and check what he spends his money on forever?"

How much of his paycheck is spent on housing costs, utilities, food, supplies, and other things that are mutually beneficial to the entire household? Now I ask you: is that part of his paycheck his money, or the family's money?

As the fiscally responsible person in the household, it would be wise of you to watch over the family's money.
posted by CrayDrygu at 4:55 PM on May 2, 2006

In the US, there's a tax filing status called "married filing separately" that is intended for spouses who are either separated or for whatever reason don't share information about their personal assets with one another. It doesn't require physical separation. If Australia's tax laws have a similar option, you may be able to reduce your personal share of the tax liability (going forward anyway). You'd need to work this out with a lawyer, which is probably someone you're going to see soon anyway. Good luck; I second the calls for joint and separate counseling.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 5:26 PM on May 2, 2006

Yes, it is normal and reasonable to have people in a relationship split up labor, such as you being the financial person. (As long as he has things that he does as well, this should work out just fine.)

I would recommend figuring out how much of his paycheck should go to household things and making sure that you have it to do that with. (Yes, talk to his work and sort things out with them yourself. It's not as weird as you think.) And, importantly, make sure that your husband has a portion of his paycheck to spend however he chooses. It should make it easier to not spend the rest however he chooses.

And you really do sound like you're at your wit's end with him -- this is generally the time for marriage counseling to try and make the relationship work better.
posted by Margalo Epps at 6:01 PM on May 2, 2006

Thank you all for your help. I'll be contacting counsellors. I'm still bewildered that it seems normal for people to abdicate responsibility. Perhaps I need to work on more tolerance in that area. Can anyone suggest some reading material for me (as the problem clearly is mine)?
posted by b33j at 6:07 PM on May 2, 2006

Why is he not listening to you? The answer to that question is key. That's why counseling seems like a good idea.

If he's secretly resentful, you very much need to work that out.

If he's just forgetful, it may be that his mind is just occupied by other things - maybe he's got too many interesting things going on at work, maybe he spends a lot of energy on teaching himself to be a database programmer and coming up with ingenious ideas. Some kinds of creative effort demand your whole mind, and if he's contributing to the family (and the world) that way, it may be perfectly fair for you to take care of the finances - but it would be important to present this to him in a way that isn't _at all_ belittling.

Talking about him like some kind of pet or child, even in jest (even in jest), is not the way to convince him he's your equal partner. But if you're too angry, it may be difficult for you to talk to him as if he's a competent adult, and to show him that you do respect him and his contribution -- and you not respecting him could break his heart.

Again, I say counseling. Or start reading one or two of the several books out there that address financial issues between couples. I'm pretty sure you could find one that will help a little even if he's not all gung-ho about reading that type of book (as I wouldn't be, but my wonderful spouse-type-person is).
posted by amtho at 6:20 PM on May 2, 2006

Sorry, b33j, I didn't read your last comment before posting. I hope I didn't sound scolding - if I did, I didn't mean to.
posted by amtho at 6:24 PM on May 2, 2006

I happen to be the "financial person" in our little family unit - I couldn't stand trying to pay the bills otherwise, but then again, I'm quite type-A about this sort of stuff. I can tell you how we make it work and how I stay sane, but that's probably the limit of what we have to offer.

We have four accounts: Household checking, Household savings, my checking, and his checking. $100.00 of my paycheck every two weeks is put to savings automatically, same amount to my checking, and then when he's paid monthly, 100% of that goes to household checking. We autotransfer $75.00 per week to his checking account. If more than that needs to be moved, he lets me know, and generally I know why anyway because we're very open about how we spend our money individually -- the separate accounts are just to keep our "bullshit" money away from the money we actually need to pay bills.

It works great for us. I don't have to worry about recording or keeping any track of transactions that I don't know about, because he is not, by and large, transacting on the account from which we pay our bills. It works for him because he gets to have his own money that he doesn't have to worry about spending or remembering what he's done with it to tell me. Counselling, for sure, but also try to get him to help you think of a general money-arrangement that will work for everyone by allowing him some autonomy with money and you some peace of mind about paying the bills.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:26 PM on May 2, 2006 [2 favorites]

The problem is *not* yours - it belongs to both of you. Over the years you all have created a passive-hostle dependent relationship. It belongs to *both* of you. Both of you positively need to be involved with fixing it, or deciding it's not worth it.
posted by jasper411 at 7:27 PM on May 2, 2006

I may be way out of line but it sounds to me like your husband may be clinically depressed. I say this from experience (my own and a good friend). The kind of logic he's using makes sense to that kind of brain and he's unable to handle something relatively simple that seems to be overwhelming him.
posted by Manhasset at 8:01 PM on May 2, 2006

I hadn't considered counselling (after all - wryness - i don't have a problem) but I will look into it.

Actually, you have decided that you have a problem; you are uncomfortable with the level of financial responsibility your husband maintains within your family. Your husband does not seem to have decided that he has a problem. You cannot decide what the problems of other people are.

(I usually say this in threads about alcoholism and violence/abuse, but it's always true. You can't fix a problem you don't have. You don't have a problem until you see it.)

I do wish you the best of luck and I am not trying to be snarky. I want you to see that his vision of "the facts" does not perfectly match your vision. That's what it is to be human.
posted by bilabial at 9:19 PM on May 2, 2006

I think Medieval Maven's post should also be highlighted. It's the sanest financial solution yet.
posted by ruelle at 1:49 AM on May 3, 2006

actually, I wanted to highlight all the kind posts, all the sympathetic posts and all the posts offering some sort of solution. Medieval Maven's post is indeed an excellent one, and I use a version of that myself to handle our family funds, but as my husband's pay is erratic (up to two months late), I find myself transferring money from our savings account to our bill paying account on a regular basis and then, hopefully back again when he is paid, playing catch up. We both have our own separate accounts where "pocket money" is paid in, and we can spend that money how we choose. However, my husband sometimes makes choices on how to spend the household money that do not fit in with agreed upon goals and guidelines. If entering a grocery store to collect milk, he can not (apparently) leave without picking up 3-7 more items.

For those who are still reading, I did not use the word "keep" as in reference to a pet. I'm sorry that I gave the impression that I believe I own him.

Thank you for the suggestion of depression. I have in the past considered this, as I myself are very personally familiar with the symptoms. However, his behaviour and demeanour currently is very different to that time and he does not believe that he is depressed.

For those who wonder why we don't communicate, on average, we spend at least an hour alone together every evening, walking and talking. We have standards of absolute honesty and no game playing, and use the model of "When you do this, I feel like that," so that no blame is attributed.

Yes, I do work, and I study, and I cooked for the first ten years of our marriage. No, I can't get his tax taken out of my wage because my employer doesn't work that way. No, we can not separate financially without separating physically.

For those who wondered why I didn't keep an eye on the finances, seeing as I am capable in that area - I did on a number of occasions, draw his attention to requirements, and he chose, for whatever reason or distraction to not follow through.

Trying to cover everything, (who know why?), it is not merely that my husband does not take responsbility for decision making, but that he actively works against it. Even with agreed upon (mutually discussed, i assure you) plans, he will say of a proposed impulse purchase, we can afford it, we have $X in the savings account. I will then have to say, no, that's so we can buy a car. I still think it is unfair that not only do I have to be aware of what our financial situation is and take responsibility for it, but I have to be the person who says no.

And finally, I was asking for help for him, because we have discussed this, and he agrees that yes, he can't walk into a shop without buying the item on the list and 1/2 doz others. He agrees that yes, he is an optimist and thinks money will take care of itself and therefore savings aren't necessary. He agrees that his lack of action (despite my attempts otherwise) has put us in an uncomfortable financial position.

Which is why my question was, how do I help my husband to be more responsible?
posted by b33j at 2:09 AM on May 3, 2006

Let me guess...I bet he'd do just about anything for you, so long as it doesn't involve handling his idea of 'red tape'. You're frustrated. You're stressed. Problem is, you love the guy, and he loves you. That's clear from your post (and I'm happy for you! I'm happily married, too).

I handle (or mishandle) finances for my household. If I had a problem with his paycheck, and he lacked the time, I'd think nothing of calling HR and talking to them. And we're a gay couple. (Being out makes life so much simpler). Easier for you, I would think (but my bias is American, maybe over in AU norms are different).

There are things with which I simply can not easily deal. I get sick just thinking about them. Childish? Maybe, but maybe simply human. Sometimes, you take your partner by the hand and lead them through things. It's called being 'supportive'. Yea, yea, I know, this makes your partner a bit 'dependant'. That doesn't have to be a big 'OMG!'.
posted by Goofyy at 2:23 AM on May 3, 2006

You could try this. Seriously, you have two choices: you can muddle on with things more or less the way they are (and there are suggestions here to help you do that a little better - maybe) or you can completely change the dynamics of the relationship. I actually believe the latter is entirely possible after 15 years but it will mean some big changes. Currently his motivation to do the things that you want done is to avoid criticism, nagging, and anger from you. If you stop doing those things, you'll allow him the possibility to get motivated to do them because they need doing and because it'll make you happy. And honestly, there is a huge psychological difference between "If I don't do it, I'll see the disappointment in her face and it'll break my heart" and "If I don't do it, she'll get angry and yell at me".

Given your financial circumstances it's obviously going to be tough for you to quite literally tell your husband (once, and at a well-chosen time) "OK, I'm handing control over to you. I want you to know that I am not going to check up on you and that the kids and I are now absolutely depending on your ability to be responsible" but if you want to see a serious, qualitative change I think you're going to have to be prepared to take that leap of faith. Somewhere inside your husband there is a confident, assertive, responsible leader.
posted by teleskiving at 4:55 AM on May 3, 2006

Based on your summary/follow-up, I'd say that he perhaps is being a bit passive-aggressive (though not necessarily on purpose) or has some self-esteem stuff going on -- he's treating money like a diet that he doesn't want to stick to. buys unnecessary things even though he knows it's making you nuts, and then brands himself the failure (hence the seperation "offer.")

What teleskiving said above about his motivation is very well said.

Really, look into family counselling, perhaps through your church (if you have one) or community. You're not on the same page, and at this point could both probably use a fresh perspective.
posted by desuetude at 6:26 AM on May 3, 2006

It sounds like a huge part of this problem is caused not by him, but by his employers. Just as you can't force them to do anything properly, he can't really force them either. But you know who probably can? ATO. If you've discussed repayment plans with them, you should also be discussing what enforcement options are available for making the employer comply with tax policies.

I'm not Australian, but in Canada, if a company was screwing over employees by not paying them on time, and messing up their taxes, both CCRA (the tax people) and the labour board would want to know about it.

This doesn't solve your overall problem with your husband, mind you, but it might help solve some of the symptoms.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:56 AM on May 3, 2006

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