It’s Narcissist Friday!
“Money isn’t everything, but it’s way ahead of whatever’s in second place.”
I saw that on a postcard behind the seat of my parent’s car when I was in third or fourth grade and have never forgotten it. It’s one of those sayings that makes so much sense but doesn’t make sense at the same time. We would all agree that money is not the most important thing, but sometimes money seems more important than anything else.
Many times I have heard people say that money problems are the number one cause of stress in marriage. I know, if you talk with couples about money, you would think that was true. I don’t look at money as the cause of marriage problems. Money is far more likely to be the symptom of marriage problems. Communication, control, lack of responsibility—these are far more likely to be the real problems.
At the same time, money is important. You can’t do much without it. The narcissist knows this.
When Bill and Susan were married, Susan had an inheritance from her grandfather in the bank. It wasn’t a lot, a few thousand dollars, but it was hers. Bill insisted that his name should be put on her bank account since they were married and now shared everything. Susan loved Bill and agreed. Bill had a good job with a great salary. Susan also had a great job, but when they moved away from their hometown, she couldn’t find anything quite as good. That was okay because she planned to stay home when the kids came. She worked part-time jobs for a while, then finally stopped. She let her credentials slip, the ones that would have enabled her to back to her good job. After all, she and Bill were happy, and the future looked bright.
If Bill needed a new car, he bought one. Susan was excited. When they bought the big house, it seemed a little extravagant, but Bill said it would be an investment in their future. After all, he wanted the people at work to know how successful he was. The boat and the camper were fun and would be great for the kids. Bill had a lot of toys, Susan thought, but he made good money.
Over the years, Bill became more and more controlling, even demanding. He spent more time at work than with the family, and his free time was spent with friends and his toys. He traveled more than he used to for work. Eventually, Susan discovered that Bill traveled with his co-worker, Debbie, and booked one motel room. Debbie was in the circle of boating and camping friends also, a circle where Susan wasn’t particularly welcome. She began to understand.
When Bill realized that his infidelity was discovered, his personality seemed to change. He became even more angry and critical. He blamed Susan for everything. In a few months, Susan went to a lawyer. She told Bill she wanted a divorce.
That’s when she learned that her inheritance was gone. That’s also when she learned that nearly everything they owned was in Bill’s name alone. The checking account they shared, the only one she thought they had, had little left in it. Bill quickly drained that, closed the credit card accounts, and gathered up whatever cash he could find around the house. He told Susan that she would have to leave the house and the kids behind. Then he changed the locks. Susan had only what was left in her purse. Bill said she could go with nothing or she could stay. That was her choice.
As terrible as this story is, it is simply a fictional compilation of so many stories I have heard. Some aren’t this bad. Some are far worse. I am troubled by hearing from so many that they cannot leave the marriage because they have no money with which to hire a lawyer. Some don’t even have enough money to get out of the house for a night. Narcissists too often separate their victims from support like families and friends. They also isolate (imprison) by controlling the money.
Yes, money is important. I usually counsel people who think they will need to leave a relationship to put money aside, little by little, and hide it from the narcissist. Even a hundred dollars would be welcome if there is danger to you or your children. Gas money. Food money. If you have to travel across country to get back to your support, you need these things. Call it escape money.
And tell your daughters and sons that they are entitled to keep gifts that were given to them and things they worked for. Cars, inheritance money, even a house can still belong to them. I understand the idea that couples should share things but listen: a loving husband would not expect to take your daughter’s bank account. He would be happy to let her keep it in her name. Same thing with job credentials like union memberships or licenses or further education. A wise husband would want his wife—even if the plan is for her to put work aside while she cares for the children—to have a way of providing for herself if something happened to him. He should want her to keep people in her life who support her and love her. He should want her to feel and to be free.
Marriage is not the prison the church has often made it out to be. It is to be two free and strong friends walking together through life. Yes, they have covenanted to stay together. Yes, they want to share that life in the fullest way possible. But we bring differences to marriage, and those differences build both people. If one is the prisoner of the other (and it can be the man who is the prisoner) then neither are blessed by the marriage.
Narcissists love to control the “purse strings” because control is what gives them power. At work, in the extended family, in the marriage, even among friends, money is a way to control.