By Jason Wright
Recently a friend and I enjoyed a rare day off and went to a matinee. We arrived early enough to indulge in one of our favorite pastimes: Drooling over the wares next door to the theater in a place called The Big Screen Store. It sells - wait for it - big screen televisions.
Walking in feels like you've been transported to a scene from an Indiana Jones movie. Sure, there are interesting things to see up front - treasures worth a quick gander - but the deeper you navigate into the store, the more jaw-dropping the sights. What Ark of the Covenant waits in the very back? What prize sits under a single spotlight, surrounded by a red-robed choir singing hosannas?
It's an 82-inch plasma television in a custom entertainment center so magnificent it almost made me cry the first time I saw it. I had to catch my breath as my friend slowly eased me into a luscious leather recliner. When my eyes opened, I was lost in seven-feet of television heaven.
Across the small faux living room, another customer sat on a matching couch staring at the mammoth set-up. He asked a salesman every imaginable question about installation, receivers, speakers, HDMIs, DLPs and DVDs until all his P's and Q's were A-OK.
My friend and I listened as the salesman played him like a fiddle, and not like a middle-schooler at the spring concert, more like Charlie Daniels at The Grand Ole Opry. The back-and-forth continued and my friend and I chimed in with our own curiosity about options and price. We enjoyed living the dream vicariously through this man who, for just a moment, seemed to represent us all.
Then came the moment of decision. The prospective customer took off his baseball cap, rubbed his head and raised red flag No. 1, "I wonder what my wife is going to say when you deliver this."
The salesman laughed and the customer continued, "What will happen when she discovers I maxed out the credit card to pay for it?" Hello there, red flag No. 2.
Then came a flag so big the entire store fell behind an eclipse. The man shrugged and said, "She shouldn't care, I pay the bill, right?"
I looked at my friend and whispered, "This guy just wrote a column for me."
Then I confessed that I actually felt sorry for this man's wife as her husband convinced himself to pull the trigger on a total package worth almost $10,000.
If you're lucky enough to know my wife, you know she's a wonderful, patient woman who has tolerated plenty of hijinks and more than a few of my impulse purchases through the years. But let's be clear, if a delivery truck shows up at Casa de Wright with an 82-inch plasma television and all the accouterments, my wife won't simply tell them to return it, she'll insist they take me, too.
The only television I'll be watching is whatever they offer at the Woodstock Hampton Inn.
Maybe this other man's wife will be overjoyed when the delivery arrives. Perhaps she'll spend the day watching "Little House on the Prairie" and waiting anxiously for her husband to return home from work. Why? Because she just can't wait to wrap her arms around his shoulders and kiss him sweetly on the neck. But what if it's actually his neck around which she wants to wrap her hands?
I'm not a marriage counselor, I'm not credentialed and nor do I have my own talk show. But I do that know marriage can be a struggle and, for most of us, it's real work. It's not always easy taking different tastes, talents, habits and upbringings and making a healthy family stew.
Why, then, would we want to invite a potential wedge into our marriage? In-laws can be tricky and beyond our control, serious illness can surprise, and things like job loss can wreak havoc on even the strongest of marriages. With so many unexpected ingredients, why intentionally add something so potentially poisonous to your relationship? Why tempt pride? Why open doors to mistrust and doubt?
Spending money recklessly, especially without the support of your spouse, is like sending an embossed invitation to Satan and inviting him to take his best shot at shredding your marriage.
Every marriage is different, but I suggest couples could benefit from determining what their "free-to-spend" number is. Will your wife mind if you spend $50 tonight on the newest video game without discussing it first? Will your husband care that you spent $40 on a blouse you didn't plan to buy today at the mall?
Maybe your number is lower. You and your spouse may determine that resources require consultation on non-essential items as inexpensive as $20. Or, perhaps, you'll decide that spending up to $200 is just fine without a phone call and discussion. In any case, we should know our limits and communicate openly.
Will saying "no" to a large, unplanned, non-essential purchase without the courtesy of discussion guarantee a happy marriage? Maybe not. But going about it alone without your spouse will almost certainly guarantee strife, heartbreak and embarrassment.
After all, what good is an 82-inch television if your best friend isn't there to watch it with you?
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters" and "The 13th Day of Christmas." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or jasonfwright.com.