The kids are in their rooms, asleep or getting ready for bed, the house is quiet but for the drone of the TV in the den, you’re enjoying the calm at the end of the day as you finish the dinner dishes. Your husband walks in, clearly aggravated: “How are we supposed to pay for all this?” he asks, waving a sheaf of bills at you. You wipe your hands on a dishtowel, “Like we always do, I guess. Why?” “Why? Because it’s too much, that’s why.” He peels off the top bill “Why such a big department store bill? I thought we agreed, no shopping sprees.” Your jaw drops. “Shopping spree?! That was for the kids – they needed back to school clothes. I haven’t bought anything for myself in -” “Well what could they possibly need that cost this much?” He glares at you. The battle is on.

You toss the dishtowel on the counter. “Clothes that let them fit in, that’s what. Clothes so they wouldn’t get laughed at in school.” “Nobody ever worried about buying me clothes to fit in,” he snorts derisively. You roll your eyes. “You don’t know what the kids are up against today.” “Yeah well, maybe if you didn’t indulge their every whim, we could afford the car payment!” “And maybe if you didn’t have to have the latest “I” thing – ipod, iphone, iwhatever, we could afford it!!”

And so it goes until one or the other of you gives up in exasperation, stomping out or melting down, the evening ending with you both in bed, lying as far away as possible from the other, staring at the ceiling in hurt silence, enemies to the core.

Which is not exactly what marriage or couplehood is supposed to be. Somewhere in the slung accusations you’ve forgotten that you’re allies, friends, in this thing called life, together – by choice! Instead of focusing on the “we” that you are, you’ve separated yourselves into a “him” versus “me” and lost the possibility of working out a mutually satisfactory solution in the process.

You see, when you become a “him” versus “me” you don’t think in terms of solutions that might satisfy both of you, you think only of how to get what you want, and often that means wresting away from him what he wants. It becomes “kids clothes” versus “ipod” instead of “how to deal with the shortfall in our income.” Your relationship becomes a tug of war, with one side inevitably landing on its behind, and the other victorious but unbalanced. Your relationship suffers. You become competitive rather than cooperative. Competitors rarely make good bedfellows.

The response to “department store bill” doesn’t have to be defensive. What’s done is done. It can be “OK, I didn’t realize we would be short. Let’s sit down and review our budget,” and then proceed to that review not with “well it’s not my fault” in mind, but rather looking to solutions that sit well with both of you. Maybe the two of you figure how to stretch the dollars by trading services with someone. Maybe you dig out your old sewing machine and help your daughter make “school garb originals.” Maybe your husband decides to carpool to save gas and car expense. Maybe you get up the gumption to ask for that raise.

Once you think of your spouse as an ally, not an enemy, you’ll be surprised at how many ideas you can generate together to the benefit of the whole family. The process becomes a creative one, where you mutually support each other’s ideas. The end result is one you can look at with pride, your relationship strengthened, the bond between you deeper.

And instead of lying there, far apart, staring at the ceiling, you’ll be much more likely to cuddle up as you appreciate that wonderful partner, your spouse.

Author's Bio: 

Noelle C. Nelson, Ph.D. is a respected psychologist, consultant, speaker and author. Her most recent book is "The Power of Appreciation in Everyday Life" (Insomniac Press, 2006). Her new book, "Your Man Is Wonderful (Free Press) will be released in January 2009. For more than a decade, she has helped people live happier, healthier lives through appreciation--at work, at home and in relationships. E-mail:, website: