After years as a financial counsellor, I’ve learned that money is the number one cause of divorce – not to mention the thing married couples fight about most. So if you and your spouse disagree over money, you’re normal.
But if arguments about finances cause serious problems in your marriage, you may need to learn new ways for seeking unity on money matters.
Free spirits and bean counters
It’s no surprise that money conflicts are so common. Opposites attract; and when spouses have opposite attitudes about money, that attraction can quickly turn into conflict.
Usually, one spouse is creative and spontaneous – what I call a "free spirit." That mate is less organised and tends to see budgeting as a form of torture.
The other mate has more administrative skills and more of a bent toward numbers. Deep inside of this mate lives what I call a "bean counter." The bean counter can be either the man or the woman.
If one spouse has all the budgeting responsibility, he or she is usually the one with the administrative skills. The bean counter takes care of the budget because the bean counter is the only ones who cares about it. The bean counter will do a flawless 17-page budget and present it to the free spirit like a gloating, benevolent dictator. The free spirit bows in appreciation but still does whatever he or she wants with the family’s money.
This unauthorised use of money upsets the bean counter, who then implements further spending controls. Meanwhile, the free spirit begins to feel stifled and bucks against the bean counter’s carefully crafted schemes. The budget wars are on. This is how many couples "manage" money.
The budget committee
There is a better way. Here’s how it works: First, the bean counter prepares the budget (because that is what bean counters love to do), but instead of the budget becoming "kingly law," it goes to a budget committee (made up of both spouses).
Bean counters, when you submit your budget masterpiece to the committee, remember to be quiet and listen. Free spirits will not come to any more meetings if you spend the whole time telling them what they are going to do and how smart you are for having figured it out.
Also, try to keep it short. You only have about 17 minutes before your spouse’s mind moves on to other activities that are more important to him or her.
Free spirits, your job is to show up and give input. The only way you can defend your ideas is to come to the meeting. And never again say, "Whatever you think, Honey." This kind of passive response undermines true partnership in financial decisions.
As you discuss the budget, both of you must realise you cannot spend more than you make if you want to have financial security. Your wants, needs and desires must be combined with your spouse’s, and the new total must be less than your family income.
Be realistic about what you can afford. One of the biggest traps I see young couples fall into is trying to have everything their parents have. Remember, your parents took many years to get to where they are.
Just because you got married doesn’t mean you have to overextend your finances in order to buy a house and all the stuff to put in it. In fact, I recommend newlyweds not make any major financial decisions during their first year together.
As you get your spending under control, it’s also important to look to the future. Set short-term and long-term financial goals. What do you want your financial profile to look like in one, five and 20 years, and what do you have to do to get there?
This process may not be fun at first, but stick with it. "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:11).
Learning to manage your money as a couple can eventually produce a rich harvest of peace, financial security and renewed unity in your marriage.