I hope that the story I’m about to share cuts to what the core of what it means to be human in relationship with other humans. It’s a story of conflict and love; a story about connection and fear and unrequited love. It’s the story of how my husband bought a helmet mounted camera.
I think it’s fair for me to say that one of my deepest yearnings is to feel a connection with other people. I long to know and be known. At the same time, I fear extending love with abandon. No relationship highlights this for me more than my marriage.
Love in its very nature is not self-seeking. When I love Rob well, I’m vulnerable. I’m not seeking my own good but his. This feels dangerous. It is dangerous. “Keep your guard up!” is the self protecting battle cry of independence, but when I love I put my guard down. I’m open to attack.
The person who can hurt me the most is the person who I love the most. If I choose to love Rob well, he could choose to abuse my love and me. Thankfully, Rob is not the kind of man who abuses me or my love. He receives love from, and he nurtures the connection that grows in the soil of love. Like me, he puts down his guard, and shows love.
Thus we live in blissful love… until we don’t. Maybe Shelley woke up a few too many times in the night, or I just failed at something work related. Maybe the world starts to overwhelm me. Or maybe Rob wants to spend money on something, and I want to spend that same money on something else. At moments like those, I could ask, “How can I love my spouse?” but I normally ask, “What’s in it for me?”
Why I ask what’s in it for me?
Asking, “What’s in it for me?” is a self-protecting question, and I admit it’s often the first question in my mind when Rob tells me that he wants to budget for something that doesn’t directly benefit me.
Rob and I create a unique budget every month, and every month Rob makes a case to buy something to fix a problem that I didn’t know was a problem. He spends several minutes painting the picture of some dire situation, and I nod along and tune out. When he appears to be done, I ask, “And how much will that cost?”
Most of the time he says something like “two sixty nine” and I clarify, “Two hundred and sixty nine dollars?”
“No,” he says, “Two dollars and sixty nine cents.”
But every so often, Rob likes to ask for big things. Over the last few months, he’s asked to budget for a mattress, orthotics, physical therapy, bike refurbishing, and most recently a helmet mounted camera. All this while we’re paying expensive hospital bills and transitioning to one paltry income.
Yes, these big requests stress me out even though Rob brings them up at the right time (during budget meetings). The stress of these big requests makes me feel edgy and angry and vulnerable. The thing that I hold dear, transitioning to stay at home momhood is on the line, and Rob mentions these hundred or thousand dollar purchases as if we’ve got nothing to lose.
At times like these, I feel unloved, and I respond with a mental question, “What’s in it for me?”
The question forces me to respond
The question forces me to respond to myself. I mentally say, “We don’t have enough.” I think, “What about the things that I want?”
The vulnerability of expressing my fears hurts to much, so I put on my armor. I’m ready to fight, and I do. I say things that indicate to Rob that he doesn’t really deserve equal access to our money. A sucker punch to the gut.
But what if I could respond differently? I can’t stop myself from asking, “What’s in it for me?” but I think I could train myself to respond in love rather than with a fight, but what’s the right answer to what’s in it for me?
The right answer
I was surprised when I realized that there is a right answer. The thing that I can gain from a vulnerable budget meeting is the opportunity to demonstrate love. When I keep myself vulnerable, I get the opportunity to love my husband with a pure undemanding love.
When I feel myself asking, “What’s in it for me?” I can make the choice to respond, “This is an opportunity to love Rob.”
At our most recent budget meeting, I practiced this technique. Rob wanted to purchase a helmet mounted video camera, and I became fifty shades of scared. I put up my defenses (Rob wants me to say that I girded my loins), and I was ready to fight. Then I remembered the opportunity to love Rob.
Instead of digging in my heels, I explained how vulnerable frivolous spending made me feel. I didn’t want to steal his joy, but I wanted money in the bank. I didn’t demand it, but I let my desire sit. Rob nurtured the love. He said he didn’t need the camera, and that we could save the money.
We both came away from that meeting feeling loved even though I got what I wanted and Rob didn’t. A few days later, Rob came to me with a proposal. He asked to sell a few old things and then keep the proceeds to buy the camera.
Yes, Amen! A thousand times Amen! My clutterbug husband willingly sold things.
He sold our old mattress, a laminate cutter, old electronics (though I couldn’t convince him to part with the old speakers) and more. He got his helmet mounted camera, and I got a cleaner bedroom.
In this case, we got what we wanted materially and relationally. I don’t expect such great results every time, but I’m thankful for the opportunity to remember that budget meetings are for love not for gaining the upper hand in our marriage.
What’s in it for me? An opportunity for love.
I'm a wife, a mom, an employee, and a personal finance nerd who is devoted to spreadsheeting my way through life.