It was an innocent mistake. Norma and I had been settled for several years in Branson, Missouri, but still had bank accounts in Phoenix, where we used to live. I thought it would be good to combine everything into one bank, so I closed the accounts in Phoenix and invested the money in a fund I had at our local bank.
A couple years later, I was meeting with our accountant, who asked me about a bank account in Phoenix. "I closed that a few years ago," I told him.
"Then why is there still activity?" he asked. He told me about a number of deposits and the amount of money there.
I thought that was strange, so I called Norma and asked her about it. She explained that it was a special savings account she'd set up. Each month she put some of her paycheck in the account, which she uses for our children and grandchildren. Suddenly I realized that she didn't know I'd "closed out" the accounts. I'd forgotten to tell her—and she'd kept making deposits.
I told my accountant, who then wanted to know what had happened to the money I'd withdrawn.
"I reinvested it," I explained.
My accountant, a wise man, said, "Gary, I think we should go together and explain this to Norma."
So we drove to my house and told Norma the situation. She frowned for a moment, then said, "I wondered why that account was so low. Now I know who stole it!"
"No, no, I just reinvested it!" I tried to explain. Then she laughed and kidded us some more about it. I breathed a sigh of relief; she didn't seem mad. Everything was okay!
But everything wasn't okay. Periodically she'd say something like, "I'm never going to trust you again with my personal funds," or "I can't believe you stole my money." She said it lightheartedly, and it took awhile before I realized something was bothering her. So one day when Norma referred jokingly to my taking her money, I asked her why she kept mentioning the incident.
Norma explained: "Gary, you don't understand that you stole my money, and you haven't given it back."
"I haven't stolen it," I protested. "I simply reinvested it. It's your money. If you want it, take it."
"No, you don't get it. I don't know what account that money is in, so I don't have access to it. It's not even in my name."
I really didn't understand why she was so upset, why it was such a big deal, but I decided to fix things. "What do I need to do to repair this situation?" I asked.
"Go to the bank and get a cashier's check for the amount you withdrew—plus interest. Then give me the check."
"Okay, I'll do it." And I did.
I kept racking my brain to figure out why this was such a big deal to Norma. Finally I asked a few other women about it. They all understood exactly what Norma was saying—and they all agreed with her! Even though it didn't seem like a big deal to me, I needed to make things right because it was important to Norma.
Left to fester, this situation could have divided us. In fact, in many marriages these simple misunderstandings can have catastrophic consequences, depending on how couples choose to process them.
It has to do with how we understand and respond to our mate's needs. While these needs may be verbalized, often they're unspoken expectations. Fortunately, my accountant helped me begin communicating with Norma. After cluing in to her "hints," and being willing to understand her real need, I was able to make things right with her and for our relationship. More important than the money or the process was my responsibility to listen to Norma and value her need!
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