Life is a series of trade-offs and compromises, not just in business, but in our families — even if we don’t always see it that way.
A woman I know told a story that shocked me and initially made me think, I would never put up with such a thing. She explained how she was with a friend, and they had gone shopping. She had taken her husband’s car. As they got back in the car and turned on the engine, the screen in the car flashed a message. It was a notice that their credit card had been used and showed an amount. It was the purchase she had just made at a store. Her friend asked why that happened. She said her husband tracked every purchase she made. Her friend seemed surprise.
Hearing that story, I was instantly disturbed. I could not imagine being with a man who would track and possibly question my expenses. I was a bit uncomfortable when this woman’s husband occasionally made sarcastic, condescending comments about her shopping habit. I don’t even think this woman is extravagant in her shopping or spending. They live in an amazingly large and beautiful house and drive nice cars, but they are remarkably down to earth and extremely generous people. But even though he is the breadwinner while she raises their children, his tracking of her spending seemed overbearing to me.
At first, I expressed that I would never put up with such a thing. And then I thought about the fact that her husband worked in computer security, and he was extremely cautious about fraud. I gave him the benefit of the doubt that all of that checking was at least partly because of his intense scrutiny over cyber security. After all, he has a lot to lose financially if he was a victim of identity theft, in a way I couldn’t relate. My family doesn’t have a high income. We don’t even have a stable income because of the uncertainty of freelance work and self-employment.
That’s when I thought about the trade-off and realized this habit may not have been worth fighting about from her perspective. I realized everyone has to put up with things they don’t like. No spouse or friend or family member is perfect. Everyone has their flaws and annoying traits. We love someone for their great qualities and forgive the ones we don’t like when we are in long-term relationships. At that point, I told her I could understand that was a small price to pay to have a very successful husband who was kind and worked hard to provide her and their children with a wonderful life.
She said that’s exactly what she told her friend. ‘Look at the car I drive,’ she said. ‘I guess I can put up with a little complaining or snooping about my shopping.’
I thought about my relationship and our financial situation. I told her I could definitely see how I could put up with someone being so controlling if I didn’t ever have to worry again about paying bills. And then I realized that I was pretty controlling myself, and I probably engage in this kind of oversight with my own spouse. I handle the finances in our family. He is more of an artsy type, and I am more of a numbers person. I complain to him when there are too many charges on the credit card, whether he earned more or I earned more in a given month. I suddenly became aware of the irony that my habits were similar to a practice that I was complaining about in someone else. It was a classic example of the syndrome of noticing negative traits in others that are actually part of our own nature.
“What we perceive as the faults of others are simply a reflection of our own. If we observe what is going on in the other person, we can use what we notice as a mirror to know ourselves,” said Ayya Khema in “Facing The Mirror.”
There are a lot of things that frustrate me about my mate if I start to think about them, but I’ve learned not to think about them too much anymore. We’ve managed to be resourceful enough to get out of debt before, and I know we can do it again. And it didn’t really get me anywhere during those years we used to argue about money. It didn’t change his habits — good or bad. My husband is one of those caring and considerate people who doesn’t focus on money. No matter where we go or who we meet, everyone loves him. He’s personable and relaxed and genuinely cares about people. On the other hand, I can be brash and bossy and more focused on our finances. People trust me in business and count on me to do what I say and get things done. But they always don’t like me when I hold others accountable, especially in a loud way after losing my temper.
So I have learned to accept a lack of financial stability in our family because I value the love and tenderness my partner gives me every day, and he accepts my outbursts because he respects my drive and responsibility that sometimes provides the glue holding our family together. We both strive to be better people, but we recognize our shortcomings are not easy to change. It’s no different than my friend accepting some annoying snooping by her husband because he is a great provider and a caring man.
There’s nothing wrong with accepting trade-offs and compromises when you know your life is enriched by what you receive despite what you lose. It’s a lesson not just for husbands and wives, but for business and politics as well.