Disagreements over money is one of the top predictors that lead a couple to divorce. If we want couples to stick together through thick and thin, why haven’t we talked about it on #staymarried? Well, I’ll tell you… It’s because I don’t love talking about money. But, after this weekend, I really don’t think I can avoid it any longer.
If you’re just joining us, you may not be aware that we have coordinated with Rain City Church in Bellevue, WA for a six week message series called #staymarried. It is an honor that they have invited us to be a part of something like this. We get to go from writing and sharing on the internet to speaking live and sharing with a room full of people who are eager to listen. We have been working with Rain City’s Pastor, our friend, Jesse Butterworth to make sure we are sharing content that is relevant and useful to what married couples, and singles for that matter, are facing today. Months ago, as we were dreaming up what this series would look like, we all threw out the topics we thought we absolutely needed to cover. Jesse, in all of his wisdom, said, “We definitely need to do a week on money and a week on sex.”
I said, “Of course! You are totally right. Those are the top subjects couples fight about and struggle over…” and in my mind I said, ah crap!
Then we divided up who would speak when and I DID NOT volunteer for the money week. Jesse took it and this weekend I got to hear the message he prepared. You can, and you should, listen to the podcast here.
I listened to every word and walked out feeling both encouraged and challenged. I am so glad he was willing to talk about something so important that I was being such a chicken about. The thing is, money is a great big challenge for me. You guys probably all face your challenges head on, but I like to dance around them and pretend like they aren’t there for as long as possible. Remember how I hate apologizing? Confronting hard things is not my specialty. So, maybe we should back up a little bit…
Tony and Michelle and Money
I have always been in love with Tony. I’ve always admired his talent, looked up to him for his creativity, and been honored that he would pay any attention to me at all, let alone love me and want to be married to me. All of this is true, except for one teeny tiny little thing. I haven’t always respected him.
Ouch. It hurts to even write that out. But it’s true. There were certain things about Tony and the way he lived differently than I did that caused me to have a bit of a chip on my shoulder and look down on him. The most glaring example was in the way he handled money.
Before we were together, Tony lived in the same way as many American twenty-somethings and had a typically large amount of consumer debt racked up. His situation was so dire that at 26 he seriously considered filing for bankruptcy. I, on the other hand, only had one credit card and I only owed $100 on it. I paid for everything with cash, or I didn’t pay for it at all. I saved as much money as I could. Consequently, I drove an old car, lived in a garage that was sort of converted into an apartment and I wasn’t exactly the most fashionable chick at the office. He and I were worlds apart when it came to the way we dealt with money.
Before we were engaged and during the time we were planning our wedding, Tony worked really hard to eliminate the majority of his debt. He began riding the bus to work, eating bologna sandwiches, renting a room from a friend for really cheap instead of living in his apartment on his own. He sold a lot of his things and closed out one account after another aggressively paying off his debt. It was commendable. But, I was still pretty sure I was better with money than he was.
You might be saying to yourself, “But, Michelle, it sounds like you were better with your money than he was.” You’d be right. But, the bigger issue was not in how we dealt with money but in my attitude toward him over it. I knew I didn’t respect him, and I knew my heart needed to change if I was going to love and be married to this man. So, I made a decision that involved huge risk for me and my independent ways.
Soon after we got married, we closed my bank account entirely and joined me to his. I handed over the financial responsibility entirely to Tony. I didn’t express to him that I felt like it was such a big risk or that I was afraid. I certainly didn’t tell him that I was doing it because I actually didn’t respect him and I was testing out a tangible exercise in hopes that my heart would change. I just asked him if he would take care of it, and he told me he would.
We ran into a few financial speedbumps with him taking over the checkbook. I remember exactly what tree lined road we were driving on that autumn day when he confessed to me that we were overdrawn on our account. I remember that I had a choice right then, as he expressed his embarrassment, either to berate him or to be on the same team with my husband. I knew I had an opportunity to either be self-righteous or to be a safety net. I took a deep breath, grabbed his hand, and chose the latter. I decided that my relationship with my husband would be more important than the balance on our bank account.
Over the years, he has gotten better and better with managing our family’s finances. So much so that I rarely think about it at all. I don’t obsess about it; I completely trust him. Except, now we face an entirely different problem.
The problem before was that I did not respect him or think he was a responsible adult. The problem now is that I ignore our finances completely and hardly participate at all in managing the direction of our money. He wants to talk about it and I avoid it. I went from being a hyper-organized-super-saver to shrugging my shoulders when people ask me how much we pay for internet or what our utility bill ends up being. I have absolutely no idea. I’m pretty sure it gets paid and I don’t worry my pretty little head about it.
After Jesse’s message, I think I might be more ready to re-engage. He challenged us to ask ourselves four questions when it comes to how we think about and manage our finances.
4 Questions to Ask Yourselves About Money and Your Marriage
1.Who’s money is it?
The way you answer this question will have a huge impact in how you treat one another when it comes to your finances. Is the money in your family treated as “yours” vs. “mine,” or is it “ours”? What does that look like when it comes to your bank accounts and budgeting?
2. Where is the money going?
If you don’t know where the money is going, it’s going to be very hard to have a constructive conversation about it. When was the last time you looked at your bank statement together to evaluate what you are truly spending your money on?
3. Where do you want your money to go?
As the Cheshire Cat once told Alice, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” When it comes to our finances, we should be telling our money where to go instead of wondering where it went. Do you know what you want to spend your money on and where you want it to go?
4. Are your hearts aligned?
If you really want to know what you value as a family, take a look at what you truly spend your money on. You could clear up whose money it is, where it is actually going, and where you would like it to go. But, until you determine together that you are on the same page with what is important to you about money, you are still going to be on shaky ground when it comes to the way your finances impact your marriage. Take some time to dream together and talk with one another about what is important to you. Do you value your marriage, your family, and your relationships with others more than you value money? If so, what does that look like practically in your life? How does your spending reflect your greatest values?
Encouraged and Challenged
I said before that I was both encouraged and challenged by Jesse’s message. I’m encouraged because, while this is a topic I have largely avoided, we aren’t doing nearly as bad as I had come to believe. The reality is that we don’t have arguments about money, not because we are avoiding arguments, but truly because we have taken an “ours” approach to our money and we have purposely created an atmosphere of grace in our home so that we know we can be honest when we’ve made financial mistakes… Like, maybe that time I signed up for Zulily and downloaded the app and loaded my shopping cart with the intention of deleting stuff before I bought anything and then I bought ALL OF THE THINGS and had to confess to Tony that I spent a whole bunch of money… He wasn’t excited about it, but he was gracious. We try our best to be honest when we fail and keep the shame level low in our relationship. In the way we feel about money being less important than our relationship, in the way we want to be a team, we are doing pretty good.
Where I was challenged was in how lame I am as a partner when it comes to helping shoulder the burden and make decisions as to the direction of our finances. I know I have it in me to help our family, and up until now, I’ve basically bowed out. I make requests and suggestions, I mostly don’t overspend, but I am a poor excuse for anything other than a fourth child when it comes to being involved in any real decision making that needs to happen. I can do better and we can do better at not just feeling like a team, but actually working together as a team on our money.
So, how about you? Are you one of those over-achieving couples that has regularly scheduled meetings where you go through your finances with civility, kindness, and respect? If you are, gold star for you! I hope to be there someday. If you aren’t, then maybe you can join Tony and I on making a few steps at a time to get better at handling your money. If you weren’t there, listen to Jesse’s podcast. He had so many eye opening points that, even if you disagree with him, they can be great conversation starters between you and your spouse. Do what you can this week to make sure that, of all things, money is not the issue that will keep you from being able to #staymarried.
You are reading Yours, Mine, and Ours – Money and Your Marriage. If you enjoyed this, you might also like 3 Marriage Monsters and the Secrets for Defeating Them and A Safety Net. If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, we would love for you to share them.
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