Dear Dr. Yael,
I am, baruch Hashem, happily married, but there is something about my wife that drives me crazy! When she is upset or sad about anything, she goes on a shopping spree to help her feel better. I understand that she is looking for an outlet, but the bills she generates are insane. When I complain to my wife about the bills, she tells me it is ‘retail therapy’ and that I wouldn’t complain if she was going for real therapy, so I shouldn’t complain in this situation either. I want my wife to be happy, but is this normal? I mean does she really have to go for retail therapy on a weekly or bi-weekly basis? I would spend $200 a week on a good therapist for her, so should I be ok spending $300 a week or more on clothes and accessories? I love my wife; however this seems extreme.
We can afford this retail therapy, though I wonder if I should be pushing my wife to go for real therapy instead. Overall my wife is a great mother and wonderful to me as well. Additionally, many of the purchases are for the children. I guess I am worried that this may get out of hand and would rather my wife find a better way to get rid of her frustrations and let-downs. What are your thoughts?!
A Loving, But Bewildered Husband
Research has shown that about 52% of Americans admit to engaging in retail therapy (shopping or spending money to improve one’s mood). If you can afford it, it’s not a terrible way for your wife to boost her mood as long as she keeps it in moderation. It is definitely possible to overdo retail therapy, so I will share with you some warning signs that you should be aware of and look out for.
1) lying or hiding purchases from loved ones
2) feeling guilt or shame about shopping
3) missing work or other obligations to go shopping
4) feeling that shopping is no longer fun but a necessity
If you see any of these things happening, then it’s possible that your wife’s shopping habit has gotten out of control and that she may need to seek help for this ‘retail therapy.’ However, from your description, this does not seem to be the case.
The best thing to do is to sit down with your wife when she is feeling calm and happy and try to work out a plan together that makes sense for you and your family. You can talk about making a budget for retail therapy and some rules around it. In this way, you will help your wife continue what she enjoys in a more structured way. You can also encourage your wife to try to take on some chesed projects, some art/baking classes, an exercise class, a shiur, or some more work hours, so that she has less time to shop and something to help her feel more fulfilled. Most of the time people engage in retail therapy because they are bored or feel an emptiness that they want to fill.
Ultimately, that high that your wife gets from shopping will not last long term, as stuff will not make her happy. Thus, shopping in moderation when she feels the need, will help her get things she actually will use, which may make her feel better in the long run.
In my experience, women who are not working are more likely to engage in retail therapy because they need something to do and they may not feel as accomplished as women who work and enjoy their jobs.
Of course women who are stay-at-home moms have a lot to do during the day, but sometimes it isn’t as fulfilling as going to work outside of the home. You did not specify if your wife works, but if she does not work, then it may be good for you to get her involved in something that will help fill that void.
Perhaps if she is very good at shopping, she can become a personal shopper or an interior designer! Shopping for a living can possibly fulfill both these needs! Furthermore, women who do not work sometimes forget the value of money.
It is harder to spend money when you work hard for the money.
Women who don’t work sometimes do not realize how hard it is to earn the money and will spend the money more easily. Volunteering or taking on some work, can help your wife value her money more.
If your wife isn’t interested in working or this is not something that will work for her, it would be good for her to take on an exercise routine or a class that can become a hobby for your wife. You MUST make sure to be loving and not preachy in this conversation! You can start a fight with your wife or hurt her very deeply if she feels that you do not value what she does for the family or if she feels belittled by you. Please be very careful not to sound presumptuous or that you are telling her what to do. Hopefully if you present your ideas lovingly and without judgment, your wife will accept them! Hatzlocha!