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How to Talk About Money in Marriage

by Chuck Bentley May 20, 2016

Dear Chuck,

My spouse and I find that talking about our finances is so stressful, we would rather just avoid the topic altogether. We sort of go our separate ways, but try to avoid things like debt, and we agree on tithing. But I wonder if we would be doing better as a couple if we could really talk about money. How can we tackle an uncomfortable topic?

Married and Mum on Money Talks

Dear Married,

You are certainly not alone as millions of couples find talking about their finances a very difficult and painful topic. But it is a topic that cannot be avoided. You’ve heard the phrase “talk is cheap,” but the truth is NOT talking about money decisions can be very expensive when you’re married and trying to live happily ever after.

In fact, a study from Kansas State University found that arguments about money were the best indicator of divorce – more than conflicts over child rearing, sex, in-laws or any traditional areas of tension. I believe that being on the same page with your spouse on financial issues is one of the keys to a strong marriage.

Harmonious communication is key because your financial future depends on working together toward mutual goals. Since we all bring different beliefs, methodologies and goals into our marriage, a helpful first step is to seek to understand where your spouse stands on these issues.

Commit to learning and truly understanding each other’s financial philosophy. To help accomplish that Crown developed the MoneyLife Indicator, an assessment  that can help you and your spouse clearly identify your financial perspectives. For instance, if one of you is a spender, and the other a saver, bringing those two value systems together can bring acceptance, unity and thus progress towards your goals. The free assessment is a way to start a dialog about what you each care about, keeping in mind that we should show love and respect as we learn of our differences. 

My advice is to take the free assessment, then pick a time, convenient for you both, to just go over your reports together.  Make this a time to encourage each other as you understand how God has made you to think and operate with money.

Next, commit to get organized and on top of all your financial information. Everyone needs to know where to access the budget, accounts, and important documents because you never know when you will need them.  This is NOT a date night activity. Keep your romantic time free from financial conflict when you pick a time for a family financial meeting.

Then, learn to capitalize on your differences. Counseling couples, I’ve seen that in some marriages the husband is better with money, while in other marriages, it’s the wife. Ask which of you is good with deadlines, likes to keep track of important papers and is comfortable with details. And which of you is better at researching options or making a plan for the big picture. There is no right answer, so talk together about what you each like to do and what your skills are. Like in sports, some are good at offense while others excel at defense. It takes both to make a good team.

And don’t forget to make a plan for the tiebreaker. When you have conflict (and you will have conflict), a plan should be in place for how you make financial decisions. In my marriage, I have a higher tolerance for risk than my wife Ann, but I’ve learned over time that if she is uncomfortable about a decision, I need to wait until we can go forward in unity.

Ephesians 5 describes a marriage in which both husbands and wives consider the other, noting in verse 21, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Crown has a great outline for building a functional budget, which can be a good conversation starter, and remember that when you promised to stay together “for richer, for poorer” that life usually contains a bit of both. If you need expert help with debt, consider talking with financial professionals, like those at Christian Credit Counselors, a trusted not-for-profit that helps folks develop a debt management plan for eliminating expensive consumer debt.

And finally –– prepare for mistakes. No one makes the right choice every time, and even with a good plan, cars break down, accidents happen and investments fail. You’ll have a more peaceful marriage if you can forgive each other when the unexpected happens, stopping to pray together instead of making accusations about who is more to blame for the calamity. Remember to practice gentleness during the conversation. Proverbs 15:1 holds a wonderful promise: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

I’m writing a book right now to encourage couples who feel broken by financial set backs. It is possible to unify and conquer these challenges. I have witnessed it over and over. Don’t let money divide this beautiful union that God has joined together.

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