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Straight talk no chaser, p.15
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       Straight Talk, No Chaser, p.15

           Gena D. Lutz
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  This man, who vowed to love you beyond measure, can’t show his love in the best way he knows how—by making sure he can tend to your most basic needs and even by giving you the things the two of you dream about as a couple—a nice house in a better neighborhood, good schools for the kids, a comfortable and safe ride, a vacation or two. Multiply that by a thousand if he actually loses his job—a scenario that’s not uncommon in our current economy, where men are taking the lead in the numbers of workers who’ve both lost their jobs and remained unemployed. A man who isn’t working not only suffers the blow of not being able to provide for you, but he also suffers the indignity of feeling as if he can’t protect you: if he can’t afford to pay your car note, then you’re on the bus; if he can’t afford the rent, he’s going to have to move his family to a neighborhood that may not be as safe and where the schools may not uphold the standard you had in mind for the kids; if he can’t pay the electricity bill, the family is about to be a little chilly come wintertime. All of these things can make a man feel as if he’s failing to love you the way you deserve to be loved. Consider, too, that if he loses his job, he’s taking a hit in two of the three cornerstones of manhood—what he does and how much he makes. And that takes a huge toll on his identity and dignity.

  You know what comes next: The two of you face down tough times with more arguments over spending. He checks out mentally and emotionally while the two of you grapple with hard financial decisions. He’s tense and a lot more anxious, his temperament is off. He is less romantic, can’t even think about sex because his mind is on twenty-four-hour churn, trying to figure out how he’s going to hoist his family on his shoulders and carry them through the financial mess in which he’s found himself. Most men want to do what they’re supposed to do and what’s required of them, and the moment they can’t, everything comes to a halt. I’m the first to admit that even now, as the primary breadwinner, I go into a shell if my family is feeling any kind of financial strain, and I don’t pull out of it until I can figure out how we can resolve any setbacks. During these periods, I’m not as talkative, I’m not as romantic, I’m not nearly as caring or attentive. I’m off in the corner with a look on my face that says, “I’ve got something on my mind and it will affect me and how I interact with you until I fix it.”

  Now, it’s nice when our women try to console us with the “I love you no matter what and we can get through this” pep talk—we appreciate you and thank you for your support and vowing to be with us ’til the end. In fact, we need that support. But it’s not going to change things—not going to affect in any way our mind-set. The pressure is on us as men, and no matter how much you say you understand and are in our corner, you cannot begin to fathom the pressure on us to produce, particularly in a man’s world. Witness us running into an old friend when we’re financially compromised and you’ll get a little taste of what runs through our mind at a thousand miles per minute: He knew I was the CEO of that company that tanked or that I was working at that plant that closed down a few months ago, and now when he asks me what I’m up to, my answer has to be, “nothing.” And when he asks me about you, I tell him, “It’s all good,” when he knows you must be concerned because things are tight now. A woman’s pep talk, no matter how heartfelt, won’t shake the feelings such an encounter can set off. And so we retreat.

  But there are some ways you can help draw us out while we recover and figure out how to get back up on our feet:


  A financial planner gave me this critical advice years ago: to really organize your money and help everyone in the house feel like they’re contributing and benefiting from their paychecks, every couple should have at least four bank accounts. One is the household checking account—the one where each of you deposits your paycheck. This makes one large family money pool from which a portion, for most of us the majority of, pays all of your bills and the necessities that help you live from day to day—the car note, the electricity and credit card bills, the tuition, the mortgage. The second account should be a savings account that requires two signatures to move any of the money. This is both the emergency fund—the cash you set aside for a rainy day and the fund in which you can save for life’s big expenses: housing, automobiles, tuition. It doesn’t matter if you transfer from your joint checking account 10 percent, 20 percent, or just $10 dollars a month; the point is that the two of you are using it to save, with the intention of using those savings for emergencies. The last two accounts should be individual accounts—one for him, and one for you. Those accounts comprise the spending allowances the two of you agree to keep solely for yourselves.

  Having these four accounts allows you to pool your resources together and work as a couple to get your finances in order, while helping you maintain your individuality. In some families, the car note may be her responsibility and the rent and tuition his. Now it’s all shared, even the child support. Now the two of you are linked together in a united financial front. In good times, that means the two of you are contributing as a couple toward the upkeep of your lives. In bad times, it’s the perfect way to help your man feel like he’s still got a handle on the finances, even if he’s not bringing in as much. If he’s writing the bills and the checks have his last name on them and he’s making decisions about which payment takes priority (or at least he thinks he is) and the lady down at the cable company is addressing him with respect—“Thank you, Mr. Johnson, for your payment”—then he doesn’t feel like someone is kicking him in the teeth every time a bill collector calls or another late notice shows up in the mailbox.

  The pep talk that keeps him focused is the one where you tell him no matter who is putting what into the account, you need him to handle the money and keep the bills as current as possible—and that you trust him to do it. This goes a long way in helping him maintain at least some financial dignity while he works to get back on his feet. For the women who feel like this is handing over too much control, know that you still share the responsibility; the two of you still need to talk about the finances, no one can dip into the savings without checking in with the other, and the two of you still have your separate accounts that give you the autonomy you need for yourselves without any questions from your mate. If he wants to buy a box of cigars, he can dip into his individual account to buy them, no questions asked; if you want to get your nails done or buy a cute pair of shoes and you have the money in your individual account, he can’t say anything about it. See? Everybody has some control.

  Now, if your man spends frivolously, isn’t taking care of business, and doesn’t seem like he’s remotely interested in climbing out of his jobless state, you’ve got a problem—and I don’t have the book to help you with that guy. Rest assured, a man who isn’t taking care of business is going against what I think are his natural instincts, and if you happen to be hitched to him in any way, you have the absolute right and power to walk away. Or you can hang in there—and good luck to you.

  But the bottom line is that when you make the move to be with someone, from the get-go you have to play the game like you practice the game. If you have the hard conversations about finances and how the two of you handle bills and saving before you get in deep, and put into place this practice of handling money together in both good financial times and bad, then the sharing is going to work, even when something goes wrong, especially when things go wrong.


  We’ve already discussed that telling your partner you love him when the chips are down is something that, while appreciated, may ring hollow with a man who’s down on his financial luck. But showing him you love him is something wholly different. My parents didn’t have a lot of money, but they made it. And I’ve got news for you: you can make it too. All that history together, all the time you’ve loved each other, is worth preserving. Show him that by reminding him what made him love you in the first place—by focusing on the little unexpected things. Make his favorite mea
l, hold his hand, send him love notes. Do things as a family that don’t cost money: rent a DVD, make popcorn, and have movie night; spread a blanket on the living room floor and have an indoor picnic; after dinner, take a family walk around the neighborhood; go swing on the swings at the playground; park your car by the airport and watch the planes take off and land; drive to the suburbs and look at the Christmas lights; learn how to play one of his video games, then challenge him to a duel. While you’re out on those impromptu “dates,” take care to enjoy each other’s company. Don’t bother talking about the negative things or the problems. Just take the time to really connect; even if the connection is short-lived, make it count. Encourage him to find solace in you, even on the days when he’d rather find a corner and get really quiet. Building a loving relationship takes work, but keeping that love and romance alive in times of adversity takes hard work. But your relationship is worth it.


  You have to remember that if money is tight, anything you say to him about money is going to amplify the situation in a negative way. A scenario: You come home from a tough day on the job to a mailbox full of bills, and before you can get into the house, the phone rings. It’s the cable company, informing you once again that if you don’t pay the bill, they’re going to shut down service. Now, your man knows the bill is late but you hang up the phone and huff, “The cable bill is due.”

  In his mind, you might as well have said: “They’re about to shut off the cable and if that happens, I won’t be able to watch my shows after a hard day’s work and I’ll be doggone if I’m going to be the one going out here and getting the money and you’re sitting here doing nothing while they take away the one thing I do to relax. You got us into this mess; what are you going to do to get us out of it?”

  Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter that this isn’t what you intended; it’s about the perceived attitude and tone, which can come across even when you don’t realize you’re doing it. He’s already disappointed in himself, and he’s just biding his time until you show that you’re disappointed in him, too, until you let it be known that he’s failing as a husband, father, and man because he’s not providing for and protecting his family.

  You know the bills are due and so does he; there’s no need to bring it up unless you’ve got something concrete to offer in terms of how to dig yourselves out of the mess in which you’ve found yourselves. Otherwise, your words—whether they were said with attitude or meant as a simple observation—might just have him taking a trip down to the pawn shop, or dialing up a loan shark, or going down to the corner to do some things he has no business doing. All I’m saying is tread lightly.


  What’s happening in your bank account—whether good or bad—is your business and your business only. Keep your financial information between the two of you, and share it with no one because believe me, no matter how much—or little—money you have, it’s news to somebody. Tell a girlfriend that you went for the promotion on the job in hopes of earning more money because your man is out of work and “somebody’s gotta do something,” and the next thing you know, your entire world—family, friends, acquaintances, and enemies—will be standing at the ready to use that information against you. All you need to do is consider what happens when someone hits the lottery: as soon as the lottery winner pops up, and they’re on the news with that oversized check, everybody’s got their hands out. And in the instances when they lose all that money, spend it on foolish things, make some bad investments, get taken advantage of by people using and abusing them for their cash, the first thing everybody does is talk about how dumb they were. In other words, people get jealous and use whatever information they have to make you feel bad and themselves feel better. This hardly ever changes. Keep your information to yourself, and no one gets the opportunity to put your business in the street, pass judgment, or make you or your man feel bad about your financial situation.

  Similarly: don’t compare yourself with other couples. People specialize in making outward appearances shimmer; they’re driving the bigger car or living in the fancier house, but chances are that something is probably wrong in their world too. Their car note may be two months behind, or they may be trying to work out a smaller payment on their mortgage loan. They’re fronting and flexing and making you feel inferior for not having what they have, but they may well have problems even worse than yours. Whatever their financial business is, stay out of it and keep yours to yourself.

  This is the advice I had for a listener who wrote into asking for advice on how to handle family members and friends who started asking him for money after he and his wife opened a successful barbershop in their neighborhood. He’d made the mistake of telling a few people at a family get-together that leaving his regular job and starting his own business was the best financial decision he’d ever made—that he was making triple what he did working for someone else. Well, when people started passing that story around and eyeing the brisk business he was doing and seeing his wife driving around town in her new car, people started counting his money and making demands on his bank account. “I make good money, but I don’t make enough to take care of everybody else. I’m just getting on my feet and people don’t understand what it takes to run my business,” he wrote. “How do I get them out of my pockets?”

  I told him to start by keeping his financial business to himself—to stop announcing his financial success at the family barbecues. No one but he and his wife need to know how much he makes, what they do with their money, where they put it, and how much they spend. “Take everyone out of it,” I said. “And if anyone asks, keep the details to yourself, be as up front and clear as you possibly can: tell them your financial business is between you and your wife and that’s that.” And this is how it should be with all couples.


  Of course, there will be some relationships in which everything is fine financially and your man will be earning what he needs for the family while you set about the important work of keeping the house together. Please understand that even if you’re not the primary breadwinner in your home—or a breadwinner at all—you still have power in your relationship. Most men I know give our ladies a lot of credit for holding down the fort. I know I need my wife to function and when I’m onstage performing, I frequently give her and the work she does at home a shout-out. A woman who is at home—I call her a home executive—is an incredibly valuable piece of the pie and has to be respected as such because she tends to things at home that make a man’s life so much easier to handle. For instance, Marjorie is in charge at our house. People are constantly saying to me, “Hats off to you,” because I married a woman with three kids and took them all in as my family, but what she did was no less. She’s accepted my children from my previous marriages as if she gave birth to them herself. She’s opened up our home to my kids and loved them, taken care of them, chastised them when they went astray. She’s helped raise them, and while I’m going about my business, I know my kids are being well cared for and nourished emotionally and otherwise. That’s major. More, I haven’t a clue where the electric bill is, how much the cable costs, what it takes to keep my phone service running, how the groceries get purchased and cooked and set out on the table. Do you understand the peace this creates for a workingman? I can’t put a price on what my wife does for me and our family. And it would be extremely unfair of me to act as if she somehow contributes to less of our financial stability because she isn’t bringing home a check.

  We’re in the twenty-first century, and even women who aren’t working have power in their relationship. A man can’t put a price tag on what it means to return to a peaceful home, night after night, a place that’s clean and full of food, a place with lights and electricity because the bills have been paid on time, a place where the kids are attending school and doing well. That’s priceless. It allows us to flip into man mode and do what we have to do to make s
ure you and our family are well cared for.

  If, however, your man is taking you for granted and isn’t recognizing the value you bring to the relationship, I have some news for you: you can make him recognize it. This is what happened to a friend of mine when he made the mistake of taking his wife for granted. Every day, he would walk through the gate to a yard and house that was in order; nothing was out of place, the kitchen was always clean, the beds were always made, the kids were always fed, clothed, and clean. But he never said “Thank you for what you do” to his wife; he just acted as if this was par for the course.

  One day, he came home and got deep into a conversation on the phone with one of his friends. His wife overheard him telling his friend, “Oh, she’s great—living the life. She doesn’t do anything; she’s got her feet up on the sofa, watching soap operas. She doesn’t do anything all day long. I tell you, she’s got the life.”

  What did he say that for? The next day he came home and walked through the gate and the yard was all messed up; toys were strewn everywhere, bikes were lying in the grass, and sippy cups were out on the steps. He walked into a house where the sink was full of dishes and crayons were spread out across the carpet and tables. The kids were running around like banshees, and there was no dinner on the stove. The first thing out of his mouth was, “What have you been doing all day?”

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