A question that appeared in one of the Shabbat leaflets I read: “My sister is getting married. I want a new dress for the weddin, but my husband says we can’t afford it. He manages all our finances so I kind of don’t know if it’s true. What should I do?”
The answer (in many more words) was approximately, “Try to explain to him how important this is to you, but if he still says no, submit to his opinion.”
Oh boy. So much to unpack here. I see at least two big problems with the situation above.
I don’t know the financial situation of this family and I don’t know what type of dress she wants to buy. If it’s a super expensive designer dress, then maybe “can’t afford it” is a thing. But if she just wants something new to wear, she can find cute dresses at about $50.
And if she has to ask permission to spend $50, then, Houston, we have a problem.
Whether she works and earns money or not, if she and her husband are on a footing of a daddy and his teenage girl who’s begging for some spending money, it’s not a real marriage partnership. When two adults are married and manage a household together, neither of them should beg and plead to buy a dress or a pair of shoes.
Does this husband, I wonder, consult his wife when he buys a new toolbox or a gadget for his car? Somehow my guess is that he doesn’t. So that’s the first problem.
The second, and perhaps more serious one, is that she has no idea what goes on with their finances. She doesn’t know how much money they have or how much is too much to spend.
Maybe she entered this arrangement willingly because she doesn’t like to handle money, finds bills and taxes tedious, etc. Entirely understandable. But this, again, puts her in a childlike position, depending on Daddy’s discretion.
The other possibility is even more sinister. This woman may have been manipulated and gaslit to such a degree that she no longer trusts her judgment regarding whether their budget can support a new dress.
Either way, I think the advice she got was stupid and dangerous. It confirms her situation of dependence, and it ignores the very real possibility of something bad going on.
If I could speak to this woman, here’s what I would say: it’s totally normal to have role division. It’s normal for one spouse to do the lion’s share of bills and bank account statements. But since you are an adult, you should still have at least some idea of your finances and how much money you have in the bank. Otherwise, you are making yourself extremely vulnerable in an event that, say, the husband gets sick and can no longer handle the finances.
Second, if you can’t spend $50 at your discretion, raise a giant alarm, because something here isn’t right.