Money can be a slave driver, and also a home wrecker.
We spend a lot of time on this site talking about the different ways that money can make slaves of us, and how God’s word gives us wisdom to break free from this slavery and live our financial lives according to His Master Plan. One of the things that God wants is for our money to be a blessing to our families. Unfortunately, though, money often does more harm to a family than good.
The problem is that money can destroy your marriage. Or, more accurately, the way that you talk, fight and squabble about money can destroy your marriage. Think I’m exaggerating? Check it out for yourself — study after study lists financial conflicts among the top causes of divorce among American couples today. And even if there are other factors at play, a poor financial relationship can put a strain on a marriage that ultimately helps to contribute to its demise.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. Money should be a blessing in our marriages. We just have to figure out how to master money as a team, instead of letting our money master us.
So, how do we accomplish this? As with most things in marriage, the key is openness and communication.
Mastering your money is hard work. It involves creating a budget, making tough decisions about what you can and can’t afford, and perhaps making deep cuts to your lifestyle in order to pay off debt. You also need to be saving money for emergencies and big purchases, and do some investing to grow your wealth and provide for your future. Those things can be tough to do as a single person. When you’re married, there are two people involved. If you and your spouse aren’t on the same page about money, it can make those things twice as hard. If you have a unified front, though, you can be twice as effective.
In marriage, it’s very common for couples to divide up responsibilities around the house — one spouse handles the laundry, while the other does all of the lawn care. One cooks dinner, and the other washes the dishes. It’s a division of labor that makes a lot of sense. But all too often, couples consider “handling the finances” or “paying the bills” one of many tasks that can be assigned to one spouse or the other. That can create a dangerous situation where the couple isn’t really talking about money, and only one spouse really understands what’s going on in the family’s financial life.
So, how do we get on the same financial page as married couples? Here are some keys:
- Turn “mine” into “ours.” Once we’re married, everything that we have is common property. But our hearts don’t always make the transition easily — it can be easy to still think of things as “my stuff,” “my income,” or “his debt” once you get married, especially if you’ve been living on your own for a while. But this is a toxic attitude. Clinging to ideas of independence inhibits us from building real unity in our marriages. Mastering our money is going to take a united effort from both of us. So from now on, everything that either of us has belongs to both of us — even our incomes, assets and debts.
- Set goals together. In order to be successful with our money, we need to have a game plan. That plan is something you need to develop together. Talk about your life goals, dreams and hopes, and discuss the role that money plays in each of them. Do you want to have kids? Start a business? Travel? Give a lot? Retire early? All of those things have big financial implications, and will make a big difference in the way you handle your money as a couple. So talk to each other and decide what your goals are, and then begin to build a financial game plan.
- Plan together. Once you have a game plan in place, you also need to make sure you’re on the same page about how to execute that plan. One or the other of you may be better with math, or more “into” budgeting. That’s fine. But both spouses need to be involved in making decisions about the budget. How much money will you spend on rent, and how much are you going to save for a house? What luxury items are you going to eliminate to get out of debt faster? When are you going to make big purchases, and what will those things look like? Both spouses need to agree on financial strategies before buying things and putting a budget plan in place — if you don’t have agreement at the beginning, you’re going to wind up with bitterness or resentment at the end.
- Don’t hide anything. Secrets can be one of the biggest threats to a marriage. It can be tempting to hide things from each other, but secrets build division and mistrust. You need to be as open and honest about financial matters as you would be about sexual issues, family drama or other serious things. That means ‘fessing up to financial mistakes, blown budgets and bad decisions. And don’t even think about opening a bank account or credit card or making an investment without your spouse’s knowledge. Everything you do, you do together.
There’s a lot more that could be said about money and marriage. If this is an area of your marriage where you need some strategy and support, we encourage you to seek out some more in-depth resources. And even if you think that you have these things under control as a couple, it’s a good idea to come back to these principles from time to time and make sure that you’re still building in the best way possible.
Photo by Joelle Inge-Messerschmidt. Used under Creative Commons License.