Murphy’s Love: Advice on Intimacy and Relationships

Her Coping Mechanism: Shopping

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Dear Stacy,
My wife likes to shop a lot. I know how cliché that sounds, but it’s true. Her definition of a great weekend always includes a shopping trip. We have planned vacations around this “hobby” and I have indulged it, I’ll admit. The problem is that we are trying to save money to get out of our starter home and her behavior is not helping that effort. We have had conversations about her spending and she seems to get it in the moment, but I still find shopping bags all over the house and we have delivery boxes on the doorstep at least once a week.
I’ve tried tough love and I’ve tried empathy — the former got me nowhere and the latter got her to tell me that she thinks it’s something she does to calm her anxiety (she is not happy about the current political climate). I want to help her with this, but I am out of ideas.
— Wanting to Save More

Dear Wanting:
I am so impressed that you could see that different tactics got you different results on this one. I’m also impressed that Wife has noticed that shopping is something she’s doing to alleviate her anxiety. I would imagine that there’s a statistician out there somewhere preparing a fascinating analysis of how existential anxiety — before and after the election — has driven online shopping revenues … but that research won’t help your immediate situation.
My advice is that you keep the empathic-style conversation going. Wife is looking for ways to calm her anxiety. What else works? What do you do when you, yourself, get anxious? How can you help each other? What can you do together that’s a little more adaptive than spending money?
Sure, you could fashion a budget plan, cut up credit cards, create a reward system or become Dave Ramsey devotees. But that would only be managing a symptom. Why not look for a cure that brings you closer together and gives both of you skills to manage future anxiety? Shopping is a coping mechanism; we don’t need coping mechanisms when we feel heard, known and understood. That’s your job (and her job, as well), so start looking at ways to understand one another more deeply.

Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor in Georgetown. Visit her on the web at stacymurphylpc.com. This column is meant for entertainment only and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Send your confidential question to stacy@stacymurphylpc.com.

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