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Everyday Ethics

Like most couples, my husband and I have limited funds. Deciding how to spend them can be a source of tension, to put it delicately. Last night, my husband and I had one of our “delicate” moments. My hubby wanted to take a class at the local college. I wanted to repaint the apartment a nice moonlit yellow. To do either one would put off any number of other projects/pleasures we’d had in mind.

The result?
moneybag.png


Major pouting.

I couldn’t see why he didn’t consider a nice home environment a benefit to the both of us. (He could care less what color the walls are.) He couldn’t see why the happiness of his intellectual life didn’t seem important to me.
At the crux of it was my fear that, if we spent our money on individual things that only benefited one or the other of us, we’d never get to do something as a couple – like that trip to Europe we’ve had our heart set on.
But even that, apparently, is more my dream than my hubby’s. So what’s to do when you want different things, and you can’t afford to do them all? Do you do none of them? I’m asking as a person who’s been married only slightly longer than 2 years.
I suspect the short, ethical answer is: compromise, compromise, compromise. When you live in any society, the good of the whole outweighs the good of the individuals. And marriage is a sort of a society you commit to, isn’t it? One that grows with each child you put into it? (We’re not there yet.) Thing is, this part wasn’t covered in our oath of citizenship – the wedding vows. Maybe we should have gone all medieval, and set out a contract divvying up our chattel before we said our “I do’s”, or ultra-modern, and done a pre-nup, but I don’t think either would have applied to these in-marriage circumstances. 
By this “good of the marriage” argument, we’ll only ever fulfill our most uncontroversial needs and wants – most likely, what to have for dinner, what entertainment we’re going to watch, home repairs and holiday gifts for others. Anything else is going to be a major speed bump. 
If we both compromise, and wait to fulfill our individual wants – I won’t paint until next summer and he won’t take that class until next semester, after we’ve amassed enough dough for both – how do we keep resentment and gloom at bay? Do we, instead, simply eat Ramen noodles, take out a loan, work a second job, and immediately gratify both our wants, as is the American way? Paint half the house and audit half the class? Go to Bismarck, ND instead of Piedmont, Italy?
Really, this whole responsible adult thing is turning out to suck. I’d like to find some huge spirit of generosity in me that said, “I don’t want the house to look pretty as much as I want my soul mate to feel fulfilled” but the honest truth is I know that would end up simmering a deep, deep resentment in me. Yes, that makes me small and petty, but since it’s the case, I don’t want to set up my marriage for a big old sand trap later on by pretending like I’m all selfless now. Unless I could make that gesture truthfully and not regret it, I’d be an ass to make it at all.
So, when couples fight over money, are we really fighting about money, or about wanting some individuality, some room to go back to putting ourselves first like we did when we were still single? I’ve tried reading some of those cereal-box internet advice articles offering “12 Biggest Reasons We Fight Over Finances” and how to work them out, but I find them only marginally helpful. I suspect the hubby and I are in for a few uncomfy nights to come as we sort our conflicting priorities out. Too bad we don’t have a tie-breaking vote to give us a majority rule in our marriage!
Anyone out there have a similar dilemma? Or a creative solution? I’m all ears.

Oh, and P.S. – I’m solving the ethical dilemma of airing our marital dirty laundry by showing the husbeastie this post before publication. It has his stamp of approval. But commenters, please be gentle – on us both.

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