‘I didn’t realise that my wife spent more than €20,000 on cosmetic work’

Tell Me About It: ‘I’m not annoyed about the procedures, I’m just sad she did not discuss them with me’

PROBLEM: Myself and my wife just spent a week abroad with my family and we had a great time. I had only seen my brother and sister, and their respective partners and children, regularly on Zoom during the pandemic. My wife spoke to them on the telephone during this time, but hadn’t actually seen them for more than two years.

One night during the holiday, myself and my sister stayed out later than the others and polished off more wine than we should. My sister asked me what I thought of all the cosmetic work my wife had got done. I said that I knew that she was looking very well, but didn’t think she had ever done anything like that. My sister quickly changed the subject.

On our return to Ireland, I asked my wife about this, and while she was annoyed with my sister for mentioning it, she admitted she had spent more than €20,000 on different procedures over the past while. I know that I should have noticed and of course I have no objection to her doing what she wishes with her body, that is not my business, nor is it my issue.

My difficulty is that over the past two years, when she was getting this work done, we had both been laid off work and when surviving on the PUP we struggled financially. I knew she had some money from an inheritance put away but at one point when we were unable to buy the family groceries or our growing son clothes, I suggested we dip into her money. She refused, saying it was her inheritance and that she had plans.

I am not annoyed about the procedures she got done, I am just sad that she did not discuss them with me, especially when the money could have helped with basic survival issues at a time that we really needed it. I am not so sure that I can trust her anymore.

ADVICE: There are a number of issues here: the hiding of the spending when the family was strapped for cash, your inability to notice what is going on with your wife when you were almost cocooned together, the meaning money has in your relationship, and the possible insecurity your wife feels and how that is supported in your family.

This is an important moment in your relationship, and it demands attention for the complex issues that it raises, so do not withdraw into silence or condemnation but keep it front and centre for as long as it takes. You said your wife had this money as a result of inheritance, so the first inquiry might be to discover the meaning money had in her family of origin. For many women in the past, having money to spend on themselves was not an option and for your wife to have a nest egg of her own might have meant a level of freedom and independence that meant a lot to her.

Of course, we do not view money in relationships in the same way these days and many couples strive to have full disclosure regarding spending, but this denies the impact of familial habits and the maxim that “money is power”.

You also need to look at how money has been talked about in your relationship with your wife. Is there a differential in earnings and who gets to decide how discretional income is spent? We are often coy about money and couples can struggle with financial conversations, as these often come with guilt, righteousness or demands. A good suggestion is that a money conversation should be had once a month on a particular designated night, and this will, over time, take the heat out of the discussions and perhaps allow more real conversations to take place.

Then there is the fact that you did not notice the changes in your wife’s appearance, or her post-procedure recovery periods. It would appear that this is something that needs to be addressed in your relationship. How is she visible to you? What consumed your attention, during a time of unemployment for both of you, so that you did not see either the physical changes or the intense need she had for improvement? What is going on in your relationship that results in some important issues being kept under the surface or not even noticed?

These are questions that you both might struggle with and if you do not address them now your relationship will be the poorer for it and you can expect more breaches of trust in the future. If you do not have a history of meaningful conversations with your wife you may find that you need the help of a psychotherapist, or psychologist, to assist you and engaging with one could be the first step towards mending the breach of trust in your relationship.

To talk as a couple to a therapist requires vulnerability, but it also is a big statement that your relationship is worth the effort and commitment. Are you prepared to give your relationship the attention it needs, and are your own attitudes and actions open to scrutiny?

A positive response to these questions is needed if both you and your wife are to learn, and grow, from the situation you find yourselves in.