Rebecca, recently divorced, said. “My ex and I actually went to marriage counselling because we fought all the time. When the counsellor asked us what our fights were about, we both said, ‘Money!’ We could hardly pay the bills. It was really hard, and it’s what ultimately tore us apart. We couldn’t fix our finances, and we couldn’t fix our marriage because it was consumed with arguments about money.”
A crisis brought on by finances usually involves more than just money. Anger, resentment and hopelessness often take over the relationship. Arguments intensify- or they emotionally withdraw from one another. A crisis can be even more challenging when the husband or wife contributed to it, especially when trust has been broken. One out of every five marriages end because of financial trouble. Often in a marriage, one partner is more of a spender, and one more of a saver. We all have different attitudes to money, generally formed in our young days.
People often react differently to crisis. Our experiences, family backgrounds and personalities influence our response to crisis. Some people react quickly and emotionally, others are more introspective and require time to sort it out. Some live in denial, while others want to aggressively deal with it.
So, why do couples get into financial trouble? There are both external and internal reasons – and interpersonal reasons.
An external change in economic circumstances can give rise to financial problems. This can happen as a result of losing your job, inability to work due to illness or an accident or income reduction through economic changes. Pressure on finances can come from life milestones like getting married, having children, the loss of a loved one, separation or retirement. Financial stress can come from unforeseen expenses such as major car repairs, or medical expenses.
Internal economic pressure come from poor money management, such as the lack of budgeting or planning, poor spending habits like impulse buying, ‘retail therapy’ to cope with emotional problems or on addictions. Debt is a major cause of trouble, whether it stems from internal factors such as lack of contentment, greed, envy or external factors such as the inability to pay debts due to economic changes.
I believe the major cause of financial trouble in marriage is an inability to adequately communicate with one another about their financial situation. Unspoken expectations lead to disappointment and arguments. Envy or jealousy that one partner may be earning more than another causes strife. Placing blame or financial power plays can cause huge problems.
I read about research, called “Couples have their dirty little secrets”, which indicated that as many as 80% of partners admitted to secret shopping. Nearly half said they were hiding economic information from their husbands or wives because they didn't want to fight about it. Hiding purchases and economic decisions from your spouse may be the beginning of the end. The reason? Trust, a necessary ingredient for any relationship is destroyed.
Most marriages, if not all, have communication problems! Learning to talk together about issues that affect your relationship is perhaps the most important discipline in order to grow in a marriage! For Christian couples, talking together with God is perhaps even more strategic in developing healthy finances.
Whatever the reasons, financial pressure and strain on a marriage is very real and a major cause of marriage breakdown.
How can we be become stronger in coping with financial pressures? Here are some steps which you could start to take.
Open effective channels of communication – share regularly on your financial situation
Accept each other and create safe environments where we can speak the truth without fear
Learn what the Bible says about navigating your finances – join a small group.
Adopt biblical principles for economic decision-making (a transparent financial administration, become free from debt, learn to be content, set goals, practice integrity, patience & self-control...)
Realize God’s unique design for the couple and recognize each other’s unique roles in the marriage
Make a spending plan together and have regular ‘money dates’ to evaluate your finances.
Design tools to solve common problems (for example, discuss individual spending above a certain limit, a regular financial evaluation together, use common accounts)
It is crucial for the husband and wife to support and encourage each other during financial troubles in every way possible.
Times like this can be defining in a relationship—bringing couples closer together or pushing them further apart. It can become the bridge that moves you from pain to a new level if closeness in your marriage. One of the biggest potential benefits is that when people experience a high level of pain, they will change. Look at financial problems as God’s invitation to learn from Him, improve your communication and navigate your finances – God’s way.