This is the second post is an ongoing series about how to handle financial matters in a relationship that is close to, or has gone over, the edge.
For years, I held on to as much disposable income as I’d manage to save. I was hesitant to buy anything, especially anything new. If I did buy something, even if it was refurbished or on sale, I would feel guilty doing so because I felt that I was taking money away from my daughter. I didn’t join a gym because that was money my family needed. I didn’t write or engage in any hobbies because I couldn’t spend money (or time) on myself. I rarely went to the movies, concerts, shows or anything else I enjoyed. I believed that what my daughter needed (or wanted) was more important than anything I could possibly need. I just could not justify spending money on myself. For anything. I looked terrible and I felt terrible but I got by telling myself that I was doing it for my daughter and for debt repayment. I was doing everything I could do to justify not taking care of myself. Which is not healthy.
But I have a confession: I have been on a spending spree lately. In the last 8 weeks I have purchased:
- A new comforter
- An iPhone 4s
- A trip for my birthday next year
- A family trip to Disney World (for the whole family. It’s something we’d been planning since our daughter was born. It’s a long story.)
- Clothes and shoes
- Various odds and ends including: nail polish, music from iTunes, lunches out, make-up, concert tickets and nights out with friends
In the last 2 months, I cannot think of a week that’s gone by where I have not bought something. The trigger for my unbridled spending? My husband’s infidelity. After I found out that my husband cheated on me, what little self-esteem I had left was decimated. There was nothing anyone could do or say that would make me feel better (and quite frankly? There still isn’t). So I started buying stuff.
At first, I started buying things because all I wanted to do was get rid of everything that was reminiscent of him and our marriage and start fresh. I couldn’t get rid of my house; the best I could do was start replacing things. Buying new clothes and make-up and nail polish and shoes made me feel like a new person, most likely because a) I started buying stuff that I normally wouldn’t buy and b) it felt good to buy stuff that fit properly (never underestimate the value of a good bra). I was using improving my physical appearance to compensate for the fact that on the inside, I felt like shit.
Shopping provided a distraction from what I was really dealing with: the emotional fallout of having an unfaithful husband. When I was shopping, all I was focused on was trying things on or deciding what matches or if I thought the pattern was pretty. I didn’t have to think about real things like how ugly and awful and worthless I feel or whether or not I’m going to get divorced. I didn’t want to face those decisions because they hurt too much. I didn’t want to face those decisions because then I’d have to admit that this was really happening to me. For as much as I knew that this was what my life had become, I didn’t want to acknowledge that it was true. I wanted to pretend that I was watching this happen to someone else. As long as I was shopping, I could pretend that everything was normal. Except it isn’t.
A few good points: Although I’ve been on an emotional spending spree, I have not incurred any debt. Everything that has been purchased has been done with cash; I worked my ass off to get out of credit card debt and I certainly am not going to take on any more. After all, if I’m going to be on my own, the last thing I need is debt! My spending spree has also not affected the payoff plan for our one joint remaining debt (although we both are obligated to our car payments, we have agreed that–should we get divorced–I will take on my car payment and he will take on his). And, as shallow as it may seem, having clothes that I feel good in actually, on some days, makes me feel just slightly better. Planning trips and spending time with my friends brings a little bit of fun back into my life. Having a new comforter on my bed makes it easier to sleep.
I have started to accept my new reality. I have started to accept that no amount of clothes, nail polish or vacations are going to bring me back to where I was 8 weeks ago. I am well aware that shopping is not going to change the fact that I have to face this situation with a clear head; avoidance only lasts so long. While I don’t advocate having an emotional spending spree, it has been slightly cathartic. Having a few moments to just forget what’s going on has been nice.
And that is priceless.