I'll try to keep this to the point (and probably won't succeed, sorry).
I left a former employer 8 months ago for my new position. I wasn't happy with my new role and expressed my dislike to a former coworker. That coworker than pestered me for months begging me to come back to their group (different group than what I left). I stated I would rather stay at least a year, and they indicated that to make up for my leaving early I would get a significant salary increase.
They opened a position for me, I applied, I interviewed. Now it turns out the rules of my former employer limit how much extra money I can get. I am also beginning to question returning to my former employer, I left it for a good reason and have been more interested in trying to develop myself at my current place, even though my current job may not be what I want. However, my spouse was VERY supportive of my going back if the money was worth it. Former coworker has now back tracked and claim they weren't begging me to come back and they just thought they were doing what I wanted and that I was the one asking to come back, making it really confusing. However, the offer is still expected to come from HR/higher ups and it will likely be less than I currently make but a small increase over what I made there prior.
Ethically I would almost rather just decline the offer and walk away. Former coworker has indicated there is someone else they are interested in (though they still say they would love to have me) so I'm not really leaving them in a bind. But if I don't counter, my spouse will be upset that I didn't try to get the money we thought it was going to be in the first place. They are offering 7% over what I made before, my counter would be along the lines of 22% (over former pay). Is there a very short/easy way to ask for that without coming across as rude but also not so compelling they really try to meet it? Former coworker told me to just decline and they will go after their other person. But if I don't counter my spouse will be upset I didn't try. But I'm also not sure the 22% is even enough for the drama level. I'm looking for a very succinct script that I can counter-offer to HR that will satisfy my spouse that I tried but not really inspire HR to try to meet it without saying I don't want them to try very hard straight out. I know in an ideal world my spouse would be supportive of me not negotiating, but they are going to feel betrayed that I didn't try to get the money initially offered and I don't want that to be a point of disagreement for the next several years while I likely stay where I am at.