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OH NO! The credit card bill is here!
by Marlena Field

Would you rather be right than free?
Byron Katie, “Loving What Is”

Let’s imagine for a moment that there’s a wise ‘fly on the wall’ looking in on two different couples when the dreaded credit card bill arrives in their mailboxes after the holidays. 

The first wall belongs to Alice and Alex. Alice is checking through the mail and sees the credit card statement.  Immediately she experiences tightness in her stomach and feels a bit light-headed.  ‘OH  NO!’, she thinks, ‘the credit card bill is here.  I wish Alex wasn’t here right now so I could look at it in private.  I hate having him see the evidence of what I’ve spent, and that doesn’t include the items I secretly paid for with cash.’

A discerning fly may wonder if Alice is aware that by making choices during her holiday spending that were not congruent with her values, she has betrayed herself.  To the extent she has betrayed herself, Alice will feel a need to defend herself.

Alex:  What mail did we get? 
:  The credit card bill is here.
:  Damn, I dread this every January.  Let me have a look.
:  No, I want to look at it first.
:  Okay, but hurry up.  This makes me tense.
:  Don’t bug me.  Give me a minute.

Alex resigns himself to waiting while he watches the expression on Alice’s face.  He thinks, ‘This doesn’t look good.’  His irritation is growing.

Alice takes ‘too long’ checking the statement over and reluctantly hands it to Alex.  She watches his face and listens to his muttering as he looks through it.  

Alex:  This is worse than I thought.  I thought we set up some rules this year about how much we each could spend.  This sure adds up to more than that!

The fly wonders if Alex hears his self-righteous accusations while forgetting that he also had made choices that didn’t follow the ‘rules’.

Alice:  I hate having limits on what I spend.  I can’t always find what I want so I have to spend more.  Besides, there are always little extras that we need each year and I’m the one who always has to think about those things.

Alex:  Well, there sure are a lot of extras here.  Why do you overspend every year during the holidays?

Alice:  Me overspend!  What about you?  Give me that bill.  Look here.  Look at the money you spent on yourself and your side of the family and your friends.

Our fly knows that defensiveness is contagious and escalating.  The fly wonders if it wants to remain on the wall as the argument between Alice and Alex raises in temperature and volume.  Both of their points of view become stronger as their listening becomes weaker.  They blame each other for what was spent and defend their own choices.  They start going through the items making each other wrong.  They arrive at a stalemate.

Our fly sees that each of them is not aware of, nor acknowledging, how afraid and helpless they feel.  They don’t realize that their respective lack of taking personal responsibility for their spending has a negative impact on their relationship as well as on their bank account.

(If only each of us could be as wise as this fly more of the time!)

Then the fly buzzes over to Betty and Brian’s house.  We look in on another scene.  

Betty is checking through the mail and notices the credit card statement.  Her immediate reaction is tense although she reminds herself that she’s done better this year with her holiday spending.  She knows and accepts that she still has a ways to go.  She’s glad that Brian is home so they can look at the bill together.

Betty:  The credit card statement is here.  I hate opening it each January.                  

Brian:  Me too.  Well, let’s ‘bite the bullet’ and check the damages.  What’s the total?

Our curious fly wonders what will happen next.

Betty gives Brian the total and then quietly looks through all the items paying particular attention to her personal items, rather than comparing hers to his.  She and Brian had set guidelines prior to shopping.  The guidelines were not rigid nor were they made into rules.  This allowed for individual discretion and personal responsibility in making decisions.

After Brian had a chance to look things over they had a conversation about it.  Betty pointed out to Brian the items that she wasn’t very happy about; how she had made misguided decisions in a few places and that she needed to learn more about handling money.  Brian let Betty know that he sometimes went the opposite way and would have preferred to choose gifts more in relation to what felt openhearted and responsible to him and not be guided so rigidly by the price tag.  They agreed that there were more lessons to learn and that by being more aware they would spend more according to their values.

Our increasingly relaxed fly has noticed that Betty and Brian have stayed away from the impulse to compare or make each other wrong.  It is evident to the multi-faceted ‘eye of the fly’ that their relationship is based on the principle that each has equal value as a person and that each are responsible for her or his own decisions.  They are each committed to be aware that they impact each other.

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Marlena Field, PCC, CPCC, CBCC
Professional Certified Coach

Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada

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