I have noticed a pattern in the countries where I have worked (58 so far). The pattern is independent of culture. Each family has a spouse, either husband or wife, who is very money conscious and the other who is more relaxed about spending.

This is a source of a lot of conflict in a marriage. If the husband is free spending, the wife does not feel safe and protected. If it is the wife spending too freely the husband feels like a walking wallet, exploited and expected to bring in as much as she can spend. As the Dalai Lama said, “Who is rich? Who can earn one hundred dollars more than his wife can spend?”

This conflict over money can lead to divorce or a cold marriage with never ending arguments, mutual accusations and resentment.

What to do?

This conflict is not only true for marriage. It happens regularly in corporations. The marketing manager asks for more and more money, promising abundance if the company invests in marketing. The finance director, on the other hand, is tight-fisted with the company wallet and warns of disaster if the spending is not controlled.

How come there is no “divorce” in companies than?

Because there is a CEO whose job is to listen to both parties and make a decision. The CEO, in a sense, absorbs the anger the parties feel and redirects their frustrations with each other to himself or herself.

This reminds me of the relationship parents have with children. When children fight over something, it is the parent who decides what to do and puts a stop to the fight. It is not unusual for a toddler at some point to say to a parent “I hate you”. The parent absorbs the anger the children feel towards each other.

A parent who is afraid his or her children will be upset with their decision, is not capable of performing the parental role. The same is true with a CEO.

But who is this CEO or parent who will absorb and redirect the anger spouses feel towards each other when making a decision about how to spend money?

In traditional families in developing countries, it is the grandfather. His decision is final and there is no way to appeal his decision. In modern families this multi-generational structure is gone. The partners in a modern marriage are now on their own or have to go to therapy. But the therapist does not decide anything and has no supreme authority. Thus, the anger partners might feel towards each other continues. In the modern family there is no one to absorb anger.

What is needed is what they have in Serbia – something called a kum. This is a person chosen by a couple when getting married.

The kum is the guardian of the fire place, which symbolizes warmth and family integration.

It is similar to the best man or bride’s maid practice in the West. In Serbia however, it involves more than just honor to be close by the couple when they make their vows. It involves a serious responsibility. This is the person the couple will go to for resolution of their differences. If there is a divorce, the Serbian tradition says that the kum has failed in his or her role.

I suggest a kum is needed not only in Serbia. Every couple must choose someone who is their most trusted friend to make decisions for them when they cannot agree. Like a CEO or a parent. The kum is not an arbitrator or a mediator. He or she does no try to convince partners what to do; in this case he or she would not be absorbing the anger. To absorb anger, to redirect it from the couple, he or she should be a judge. Listen to the parties and decide. There is no appeal allowed after that. Like a parent decides. Like a CEO decides.

I understand very well what I am suggesting here is that when they cannot agree, a couple surrenders the freedom to decide over to someone else. That is not acceptable in Western society – actually modern society. In modern society, freedom is the driving force even if it leads to divorce.

OK then, we have a choice to make.

Just thinking,
Ichak Kalderon Adizes

Read “The Power of Opposites” by Dr. Ichak Adizes