The fact that money is a major stressor in marriage is not news. The way we spend and save can be a black or white issue for many of us. We think there’s a right way to do things (our way) and a wrong way to do things (often our spouse’s way). So it can be difficult to know how to get on the same page and be a united front when money – or lack thereof – threatens to divide your marriage.
Whether you’re looking to pay off seemingly insurmountable debt or you want to set a budget and stick to it to accomplish certain financial goals such as buying a house, travelling or retiring, it can be challenging to know how to move forward – especially if your spouse is not on board.
This is precisely what Brian Lowe experienced when he wanted to start paying off $127,000 in debt with his wife, Cherie. She, on the other hand, did not want to tackle that debt. The number was too scary. The task seemed too hard. And she was discouraged before they even started. What followed, though, was two years of Brian taking small, intentional steps to control his own spending without controlling his wife’s. His leading by example eventually got Cherie’s attention and the two of them paid off that scary number in four years – together.
Cherie’s book Slaying the Debt Dragon outlines, not only the practical steps to financial freedom, but also the difficult process of preparing their hearts for such a task.
They learned that, despite the wisdom they gleaned from Dave Ramsey’s books, website and radio show, they had to make their walk to freedom their own. While there is no one right way to get your finances under control – the Ramsey way, personifying your debt into a dragon you want to slay, or something unique to you – there are certain principles every spouse needs to keep in mind before taking those steps.
1. Address the lies and face your fears
When you’re facing a mountain of debt – or even when you’re avoiding the scary “B” word because budgeting seems too difficult or tedious a task – you start to believe lies that you’re the only one struggling. You think all of your friends are doing fine and they would leave you if they knew the truth.
These fears are what kept Cherie from turning around to face the monster she’d been running from.
“That darkness will keep you from sharing your story,” she writes, “prevent you from getting the help you need to get out of debt.” But facing your fears is the first step you have to take before you can even begin walking toward financial freedom.
Fears come from many different places. Your family of origin may have had money problems that became fears in your own life, especially if you grew up in a paycheque-to-paycheque family. Or your fears may come more from a place of shame and self-doubt. Maybe you’ve even tried to get a handle on your finances before and it didn’t work, so you wonder, What’s the point?
Cherie experienced similar fears and believed similar lies. Until eventually, she realized that facing the dragon that had become their debt was better than running from it. A plan was better than a “non-plan plan.”
“At some point, you have to ask yourself if fear has more value than freedom in your life,” she explains. “Is it better to bow at the feet of fear or to seek true freedom?”
2. Show remorse and ask for forgiveness
Once you’ve faced the lies you were believing – the lies that were isolating you and your spouse from taking action – you have to recognise your part in the mess of finances you may find yourself in by showing remorse and asking for forgiveness.
Everyone makes mistakes. And pride is what keeps us from admitting our own while simultaneously pointing the proverbial finger at our spouse. But dealing with the plank in our own eye is as necessary for finances as it is for anything else.
Showing genuine remorse is not a comfortable thing to do. It’s difficult, it’s vulnerable and it can be painful. Admitting the wrong you’ve done is never easy. But it’s a necessary step to enact real change.
“Remember that this type of forgiveness isn’t just about apologising and receiving grace,” Cherie explains. “It’s also about daily being willing to change what you do and maybe even rejecting lifelong practices and philosophies.”
3. Take ownership for your own actions, not your spouse’s
Brian first read Dave Ramsey’s book The Total Money Makeover a full two years before Cherie was willing to get on board. Two years of small daily decisions such as eating out less and no longer using their credit card would have been difficult for him, but that patience is what eventually caught Cherie’s attention enough to join him in their debt-slaying journey.
“He never demanded. He never dictated. He was patient and kind. He never forced me to do anything,” Cherie explains. “However, what spoke volumes to me was the way he began to change his own personal habits with money. Again, he did this without coercing or even convincing me to do the same. I began to sit up and take notice.”
You may be at a point in your financial journey where you want to make changes but your spouse doesn’t. Or you may be at a point where the thought of setting a budget, cutting expenses and getting honest about your financial reality is too terrifying to face. Either way, you will get nowhere fast if you start to blame your spouse for all of your money problems, taking the “I’m right, you’re wrong” tack.
If you’re the former, there are two things you can do: one is to follow Brian’s lead and make small, intentional changes in your daily spending and saving habits; and two is to pray for your spouse. Cherie and Brian learned that God is bigger than money problems, and the work He did in their hearts was more than they could have imagined. But it’s up to God to change your spouse’s heart, not you.
4. Be a team and fight debt together
When you and your spouse are both willing to take steps to financial freedom, it’s crucial for you to do so together. Paying off debt, setting a budget or even planning to save is not about what you do versus what your spouse does. You and your spouse are not on opposing sides. As soon as you find yourself thinking, Well, I didn’t spend as much as he did this month or If she would only stick to the budget, maybe we’d see a difference, you need to check your heart.
The way Cherie and Brian got on the same page was to see their debt personified as a dragon. With a dragon in the room, there’s no sense in fighting each other; they had to be in unity to slay the beast.
“Brian and I had to unite, ready to help each other do what was necessary to get our finances under control,” Cherie writes. “And we had to look to the third strand – God Himself – to keep us knitted together on the days when we disagreed or were discouraged.”
If you’re still on opposing sides, don’t forget the power of prayer and leading by example. For two years, Brian had to wait patiently while Cherie struggled through her own fears – but it paid off in the end.
“If you’re the one who is so excited about the potential of slaying your own debt dragon that you’ve already outlined fifteen steps your family can take to begin this journey, I have one piece of advice: slow down,” Cherie advises. No one will win if you push and shove your spouse before they’re ready.
However, once both your hearts are prepared to tackle whatever financial obstacle you’re facing, and you and your spouse find yourselves on a united front, you can start to seek out the best tools that work for you. Download an app, find a helpful program, sit down with old-fashioned paper and pen, seek the advice of a financial advisor, read books, listen to radio shows – find what works for you and fight the dragon together.
Remember, there’s no shame in starting small – even the smallest changes are better than nothing.
According to Cherie and Brian, “We began by taking small steps of obedience – changing our behaviours, seeking forgiveness, and acknowledging our overwhelming desire for hope for our financial future.”