Ask Chuck: Overcoming Financial Bitterness
Our best friends are on the brink of a divorce. A financial mistake occurred several years ago, and they’re slowly working their way out. But the wife is struggling to forgive. Any advice?
Dear Financial Bitterness,
This is a far bigger problem than simply fixing their finances. A divorce usually leads to a financial and emotional disaster. My hope is that this advice will help you give them guidance to save their marriage.
The Big Picture
Financial stress is a leading cause in marriage conflicts. Breaking up may not solve the issues. The average cost of divorce in 2019 was $12,900. This varies depending on location, child support or custody, alimony, and if it was settled outside of court or in a trial.
I know of several marriages that are in serious danger of failing because apologies and forgiveness were not implemented early on. When this happens over a period of time, a woman feels unloved and loses respect for her husband, or a husband does not get the respect he needs and is unable to show her love. It is what Dr. Emerson Eggerich calls The Crazy Cycle.
Marriage requires time and commitment. Men and women need to learn how to voice their emotions and listen well. It prevents bitterness from taking root. Some basic communication skills are important, and Drs. Lee and Leslie Parrot are great guides in this area.
Learning to Forgive
My wife, Ann, and I try to live by this simple little saying:
The first to apologize is the bravest. The first to forgive is the strongest. The first to forget is the happiest. But make no mistake, the first step is usually the hardest.
Ford Taylor has a tool he calls the Six-Step Apology. He says that it saves marriages and relationships—even those that appear beyond repair. Saying the words in each step is key. The process can lead to a change in behavior that can save or grow relationships. Learn the steps. Use them. Model and teach them to children. See what happens.
- State the offense. Whatever you said, or they said you said, repeat it back.
- Admit your error. “You are right. I did that. I was wrong.”
- Apologize. “I am sorry.” Or, “I apologize.”
- Seek forgiveness. “Will you forgive me?” Or, “When you can, will you forgive me?”
- Grant accountability. “I give you permission to hold me accountable not to behave this way anymore.”
- Ask if there is more. “Is there anything else that I’ve done that I need to apologize for?”
Believers know that we are to forgive one another. Many of us grew up memorizing some of the verses. In fact, shortly after Ann and I were married, we attended a newlywed Bible study and were encouraged to memorize Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
But, forgiveness is step 4 in Ford’s method. It comes after stating the offense, admitting the error, and apologizing. That may seem insignificant unless you are the one who’s been hurt. If you are in that position, those steps prepare you to forgive, forget, and move on. It takes humility to begin the process.
You can have a financially healthy marriage, but unless you learn to apologize and forgive, you will fall short of what God intends. We are to forgive as He forgives. Or think of it this way: We forgive because He forgives. When we choose to do so, we are able to experience peace and wholeness in our relationships. We obey Him and trust that He will work it all together for good.
Paul told the Colossians: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:12-14 ESV)
My wife, Ann, and I wrote a book, Money Problems, Marriage Solutions, that I would encourage your friends and you to read. In the book, we present seven keys to peace in marriage and help couples unite and conquer to resolve financial issues together.