Help! I married a shopaholic!
Consider it the dark side of all those Black Friday savings. For the estimated 5.8% of the U.S. population with Compulsive Buying Disorder, the annual holiday shopping kickoff often becomes a trigger for a shopping addiction bender.
A spouse’s compulsive shopping can be difficult to spot — until the addiction takes a hit on your marital finances and results in empty bank accounts, declined credit cards, repossessed cars, or even home foreclosure.
Financial woes rank as a top cause of divorce. Before your spouse’s shopping addiction threatens to end your marriage, read on for six tips on how to safeguard your relationship – and your assets – from compulsive spending.
1. Treat compulsive shopping like addiction — because it is one. Compulsive Buying Disorder is a dysfunctional way of managing difficult feelings, similar to eating disorders and alcoholism. Compulsive shopping is an addiction and it NOT the same as occasional “retail therapy” shopping spree. Compulsive Buying Disorder is commonly associated with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and OCD.
Signs of a shopping addiction include:
- Chronically spending more than they can afford.
- Constantly shopping as a reaction to feeling angry or depressed.
- Using more shopping as a way to feel less guilty about a previous shopping spree (“This time I was really good about buying only items on sale.”).
- Harming relationships due to spending or shopping too much.
- Losing control of the shopping behavior.
- Defensiveness when asked about shopping habits.
- Secretive behavior: lying about going shopping or making online purchases; hiding new items; hiding bills; locking access to Amazon and other online accounts; taking out secret credit cards; hiding packages that come in the mail; online shopping through a secret browser window.
- Financial consequences of excessive shopping: maxed out credit cards, unusual and excessive activity on bank account, tapping into retirement and savings accounts to cover shopping sprees, unpaid bills, collections and bad credit, loan defaults for nonpayment, poor credit, home foreclose and bank repossession.
2. Get professional help. Making an appointment with an addiction specialist psychiatrist or therapist is typically an important first step for diagnosis and screening for other underlying mental health issues. Intensive individual therapy is often very beneficial for bringing the addiction under control. A therapist will teach the shopper to be aware of triggers, learn techniques to assist with emotional regulation, and develop coping skills to be used instead of shopping.
3. Consider couples therapy. Because shopping addiction is often so secretive, when you do realize the extent of your spouse’s shopping addiction, the betrayal can destroy marital trust every bit as much as romantic infidelity. Couples therapy (aka marriage counseling) is a safe place to work through your spousal issues and gain clarity into the best next steps for you. Marriage counseling works when both parties are able to take accountability for their own behaviors. In other words, your spouse’s shopping addiction may be what landed you in therapy, but negative behaviors of your own may also be stressing the marriage and you need to own these.
4. Encourage your spouse to join Debtors Anonymous. Based on Alcoholics Anonymous, Debtors Anonymous is a12-step program that helps shoppers abstain from new debt. A sponsor will work with the debtor to confront the extent of the problem, take accountability, and make amends to the people they have hurt by over-spending. In group sessions, the shopper will explore issues underlying the urge to shop, i.e., what void does shopping fill?
5. Work with an attorney to create a structured spending plan.
Because compulsive shopping is an impulse control disorder, the shopper may initially need to have limited access to funds, and no personal access to savings accounts, retirement accounts, investment accounts, or credit cards. The spouse, or another designated person, can give the shopper a monthly allowance. The shopper may pay for purchases with cash, check, or preloaded debit card only. Other steps to take to curb shopping include blocking shopping websites or changing passwords and associated email addresses. (i.e., change the Amazon Prime password and the email address associated with the account).
This can be a difficult compromise to work out. Your spouse may be earning some of the marital money or may feel like these draconian measures are unfair. To avoid putting even more stress on your marriage, any kind of spending plan is something to be worked out with the help of a therapist or attorney. An attorney can draft up an agreement that the two of you agree to abide by until the addicted spouse has successfully completed treatment.
For example, an attorney can suggest that couples create a bank account held in escrow. During the period of the agreement, a portion or all of the spouse’s income can be deposited during their addiction treatment so the other spouse is not perceived as over controlling. Working out an agreement takes the burden off the other spouse of being the “bad guy” about money. Your attorney may also recommend putting a post-nuptial agreement in place for further asset protection.
An exchange policy that never expires
Marriages are often saved in the face of addiction when one simple truth is accepted: When couples shift from seeing the other as the problem to viewing the addiction as the problem, they can work together to turn a chaotic relationship into a healthy marriage.
Helping your spouse finally take control of their compulsive shopping may be the best holiday gift that you could ever give. Would you like more information about agreements around money that an attorney can help you create? Do you have questions about separation? divorce? safeguarding your kids and assets? We can help. Please call us today at 888-888-0919 to schedule your initial attorney consultation, or please click the button below.