By Amy Alkon
Q: My husband of a year is very tight with cash. It’s always save, save, save. I recently traded in my car, and I needed $1,000 more for the new one, but he never offered to give it to me. My parents ended up paying it. I make my own money, but not a lot, and I’m wondering what kind of financial arrangement makes sense in a marriage.—Confused
A: Your husband comes into the living room, and there you are—sitting on the floor with a Starbucks cup and a cardboard sign that says, “Anything helps. God bless.”
Unfortunately, the passive-aggressiveness of the wife-as-panhandler approach is toxic in the long run. However, the theatrics would get your message across better than the nonverbal forms of communication you’ve probably been using—pouting and closing cabinet doors a little more forcefully than usual.
Like a lot of women, you may assume that whatever subtle emotional cues you can read, men can also read. However, research by social psychologist Judith A. Hall finds that women are far better than men at spotting and decoding nonverbal signals in facial expressions and body language. Women’s having evolved greater aptitude for this makes sense, as newborn infants generally aren’t in the habit of expressing their needs with, “Hey, mom-lady … would you grab me a pack of smokes and a beer?”
So, yes, if you want something from your husband, you do have to put that out there in spoken-word form. But beyond that, you two need to sit down and hammer out a fiscal policy for your relationship—where the lines get drawn on “yours”/“mine”/“ours” and “what if one of us has a financial crisis and needs an alternative to, oh, stealing a mule to get to work every day?”
In coming up with this policy, it’s important to go beyond the cold dollars-and-cents view and discuss each other’s attitudes surrounding money, especially any issues and fears. Then, when there’s a conflict, each of you can maybe start with a little compassion for the other’s point of view.
It also might help to understand that our views about money are influenced by genetics and what behavioral ecologists call our “life history strategy”—a term that relates to whether our upbringing was stable and “safe” or risky and unpredictable. Child development researcher Jay Belsky and his colleagues find that a stable childhood environment tends to lead to a more future-oriented approach (saving, for example), whereas, say, growing up ducking gunfire or just having divorced parents and getting moved around a lot tends to lead to a more now-oriented approach (spendorama!).
Whatever your past, going off into the sunset being chased by creditors can be a marriage killer. Family studies researcher Jeffrey Dew finds that married couples with a bunch of “consumer debt” (owing on credit cards, loans for consumer goods and past-due bills) fight more about everything—from sex to chores to in-laws. And research by sociologist Carolyn Vogler, among others, finds that couples who pool their money (like their money got married, too!) tend to be happier. I would guess that the spirit in this is important—going all in financially … “us against the world!” instead of, “If you lose your job and can’t pay your share of the rent, don’t worry, baby. I’ll help you pitch your tent on the front lawn.”
Q: Pot is legal where I live, and it helps ease my knee pain from years of running. I’ve noticed that it also makes me feel more sensual. I want to share the marijuana experience with my boyfriend when we make love, but he says pot (even the “energizing” strains) makes him “inert” and “obsessively analytic.” How do I get him to be more open-minded?—Merry Jane
A: Pot does open your boyfriend’s mind—to a four-hour rumination on the meaning of burritos.
Welcome to what biologist Ernst Mayr called “human variability”—the existence of individual differences. We see it in how some of us enjoy a surprise kick of peanut butter in our chocolate milkshake, while for others, it’s, “Wow … look how I’ve swelled up, just like a human balloon.” Likewise, research on the cognitive impact of pot by neuroscientist Antonio Verdejo-Garcia shows varying effects on research participants’ “sustained attention” (among other things)—in line with which one of two genotypes they have.
Consider that being nagged to start smoking pot is probably as annoying as being nagged to stop. Sure, you have the best of intentions—sharing your sensual experience with him. And, if he smokes pot, you can—after he stops communing with the rug, asking the little fibers, “Did you ever consider that the tortilla is the perfect metaphor for human consciousness?”