With 50% of first marriages ending in divorce, it seems prudent to try and understand what causes this. While an array of factors contribute to the divorce statistics, most research cites arguments over money as the #1 cause of divorce. In fact, 22% of divorces are caused by money issues. Couples who argue about money once a week are twice as likely to divorce. Couples with $10,000 debt and no savings are more likely to divorce. Conversely, couples with $10,000 in savings and no debt are less likely to divorce. It seems that money is a powerful issue to be reckoned with in marriage. How can you and your spouse learn to use money in order to build unity in your marriage?
What Does Scripture Say about Money?
Money is symbolic on many levels. Many people display their wealth and status by having expensive cars, clothing, and houses. Money is often associated with power and influence. We have common sayings in our culture such as “Money talks,” or “It’s all about the money.” Time and again couples scramble to keep up with their friends and coworkers, or with other family members. They may get into debt, which can further strain their marriage. Scripture warns us that the debtor is slave to the lender. Scripture also has additional warnings regarding money and possessions:
Then he told them this story: “The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. He talked to himself: ‘What can I do? My barn isn’t big enough for this harvest.’ Then he said, ‘Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods, and I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!’
Just then God showed up and said, ‘Fool! Tonight you die. And your barn full of goods—who gets it? That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God. – Luke 12:18-21, The Message
For the love of money [that is, the greedy desire for it and the willingness to gain it unethically] is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves [through and through] with many sorrows. – 1 Timothy 6:10, Amplified Bible
Learning to View Money Correctly as a Couple
How can we put money in its proper place – as a tool to be used, rather than as a burden or an obstacle, and certainly not as an idol to be worshiped? The realization that all we have is not really ours but God’s is a great foundational truth. Money and possessions are mentioned in the Bible more than 2,300 times. In fact, 15% of what Jesus spoke about was related to money and possessions. Clearly, couples need to learn to view money and possessions correctly. When couples can acknowledge that they are merely the stewards of money, then they have taken the first step in allowing money to build unity in their marriage.
Your Family Background Influences Your Approach to Money
Think for a moment about how your own family handled money. For some, money management and the decisions related to it were discussed openly. Your parents may even have actively trained you in how to handle money wisely. But in other families, money is never discussed. You might have grown up in a home in which you never learned much about making good money decisions. Or your parents may have lived well beyond their means – you may have grown up thinking that the supply of money was limitless, or that large amounts of debt are fine. Still others have grown up in homes with very frugal parents who saved extensively and had little luxury in their lives. Whatever your financial background, you will tend to bring that influence into your marriage.
Talking with your spouse about how money was handled in your family can be extremely useful in building understanding about why each of you behave and feel as you do about money.
Personality Impacts Your Approach to Money
Personality is another factor that can lead to differences in how you view money. It seems that opposites often attract in marriage. As a result, a spender will marry a saver, which can create tension between the two. The spender may feel restricted by the saver spouse’s attitude. The saver may feel alarmed and overwhelmed by the spender’s laisse faire handling of money. The key is to talk openly and honestly about money and financial issues. Remember that God gave you your spouse to complete you. Your differences can help to compensate for areas in which you are each weak and you can learn to capitalize on each other’s strengths. For example, one spouse may be more detail-oriented and not mind paying the bills and updating the budget.
Capitalize on this strength. If you are not the detail-oriented spouse, don’t sit back and let your husband or wife handle all the finances. Take an active role by sitting down to discuss the bills, understand the bigger financial picture, and even set financial goals together. In this way, you can learn to celebrate your different financial backgrounds. God knew each of your unique backgrounds and chose to join you together with someone who was just the right fit for you. This focus will go a long way towards building unity in your marriage.
If you want to learn more about your money personalities, you and your spouse can take this assessment and then discuss the results:
Matt and Jessica have been married for 10 years. They have had their share of money struggles but are learning how to capitalize on each other’s strengths. Jessica is detail-oriented and loves technology. She jokingly considers herself a nerd and enjoys paying their bills and updating their spending plan. Matt, on the other hand, is creative and dislikes structure. Jessica calls him her “free spirit.” Matt loves to think deeply, make future plans, and inject adventure into their lives. Matt and Jessica are learning to appreciate and even celebrate their differences. They now go for breakfast twice a month in order to look over their spending plan, discuss any big purchases that either want to make, and then pray together. Jessica reports that she has never felt closer to Matt. Instead of money being a source of conflict for them, it now makes them feel closer.
Men and Women View Money Differently
It can also be helpful to consider that men and women tend to view money very differently. For many women, money is equated with security. For many men, being a good provider is a key part of his self-worth. Many men report that making financial provision for their family is a key way in which they express their love. Even in two-income households, many men still feel the stronger burden for providing. A wife should be aware that complaints and criticism about money can cause her husband to feel personally rejected, guilty, or shamed.
If one spouse is home full-time with the children, the other spouse needs to be cautious to not minimize the contribution that this spouse makes to the family. If you consider the costs of childcare, meals, maintaining the home, and the countless other ways in which a stay-at-home spouse contributes to the family, then their contribution is significant. Much of this contribution cannot be measured in monetary terms. For help in understanding this value, consider this link:
The Importance of Gratitude in Your Family
Gratitude is key here. Each spouse should be mindful of what the other is doing to support the family and express their gratitude for it. Here are some ways in which spouses contribute to the family:
- Working at a job to produce income.
- Performing maintenance and repairs on the home or cars.
- Providing child care. One family with whom I worked cared for two additional young children. This extra income allowed one spouse to be home full-time with their own children.
- Plan and prepare meals – some even garden, preserve food, or coupon. Some spouses hunt or fish to help provide food.
- Part-time work from home. These days the options are endless – crafting, blogging, editing. One family with whom I worked set up a side business to pet sit and walk dogs. They used this extra income to pay off their student loans.
- Using technical or computer skills for the family.
Take some time to thank your spouse for all that they do. Expressing your appreciation will increase your sense of unity.
Transparency in Family Finances
Honesty is the best policy – when there is money in it. – Mark Twain
In marriage, full transparency is crucial in all areas if trust is to be built. Even before marriage, it is wise for couples to fully disclose everything that they owe, everything that they each own, and any special circumstances about their financial situations. Transparency should continue across the marriage. Purchases should not be hidden, all accounts should be known, and they should have shared access to them. In second marriages, it is critical to disclose details of alimony and any child support, as well as any lingering debts from the previous marriage. Spouses should openly discuss their views about providing for adult children or making provision for aging parents.
While many experts advise having separate accounts in marriage, I strongly suggest holding finances jointly. Splitting is a bad idea. It breeds an attitude of mine and yours, not ours. If multiple accounts need to be maintained so that child support is segregated, or self-employed income is easy to track, then make sure that each spouse has access to the accounts.
The Role of a Budget in Your Marriage
Many couples I work with cringe at the thought of having a budget. “Budget” sounds so restrictive to many. I like to call a budget a spending plan instead. If your budget allows for $500 to be spent on groceries, then you can relax in the knowledge that you can freely spend that amount. It is part of the spending plan. There are a multitude of resources available, both in books and online, to help you set up a workable spending plan. Try to choose a tool that is easy to use as you will be more likely to stick with it.
Once you and your spouse have chosen a tool, then sit down together and create the spending plan. You may need to review the previous year’s expenses in order to gain an idea of how much to allocate in each category. In some cases, creating a spending plan makes a couple realize that they are spending much more than they are bringing in. When you realize that something will have to change, try to seek agreement on what can be cut out or sold, or think creatively about how to boost your income. This is just another opportunity to build unity.
Money in Your Everyday Life
Never spend your money before you have earned it. – Thomas Jefferson
Couples will usually benefit from having a certain amount of discretionary money that they can use without having to account for every penny. This might include money for lunches, coffee, nail appointments, or other treats. You may also choose to save some or all of your discretionary money for a bit in order to buy something special for your spouse.
Many couples also choose to designate a maximum amount that either can spend without consulting the other. The amount can be $50 or $500 – the important point is to discuss this with your spouse and come to an agreement.
Seek agreement on all your decisions about money, especially the large ones. If you cannot agree on a financial decision, then wait, pray, or even seek wise counsel. Many couples who violate this principle find themselves at odds over a decision. Slowing down the process in order to allow time to reach agreement is the best practice and will increase your sense of unity.
How to Avoid Financial Pot Holes in Marriage
Here is some further advice for avoiding monetary potholes in your marriage:
- Build up financial reserves. A wise man prepares for the storms ahead – job loss, a home foreclosure, medical issues, an adult child moving back home, caring for an ill parent, or bankruptcy.
- Talk regularly about money, not just when there is a crisis.
- Affirm each of your contributions to the financial well-being of your marriage.
- Study the Bible together and seek to see money from God’s viewpoint.
- Pray together about your finances, for unity in financial matters, and for your future together.
- Offer grace to your spouse if a financial misstep occurs.
- Dream together. Set short-term goals as well as longer-term goals. What are you currently saving for as a couple: Paying off debt, buying a house, taking a trip, helping a cause you both believe in? What do you envision for your future together: Travel, owning a business?
- Make sure you celebrate when you reach your financial goals.
Christian Counseling Can Help You Address Money in Your Marriage
If you are having difficulty communicating about money or find yourself in a pattern of ongoing conflict with your spouse, please consider enlisting the help of a Christian counselor. Before becoming a Christian counselor, I worked in the financial world. I enjoy helping couples navigate their way through their money issues. Give me a call if you are searching for professional, Christ-centered assistance.
One Bed, One Bank Account by Derek and Carrie Olsen
Margin by Richard Swensen
How Do I Money? The Podcast
Money and Marriage God’s Way by Howard Dayton
The Dave Ramsey Show Podcast
The Blessed Life by Robert Morris
“Unity” Courtesy of Donna Cowan used with permission; “Couple on the Seine,” courtesy of zoetnet, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Couple on Holiday,” courtesy of MK1-FIESTA, Pixabay,.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “Sweethearts,” courtesy of Adnovak, Pixabay.com, CC0 Public Domain License;