Through the years, many of the conflicts I've heard in my counseling office have focused on money.
"I never know how much money we have because he won't let me see the checkbook." "All I ask is that she record the checks she writes. Balancing our checkbook is a nightmare." These are the kind of verbal spears couples throw at each other when they can't agree.
Most of our financial conflicts have nothing to do with how much money we have but rather our attitudes toward money and how we handle it. Here are some ways to make sure money is an asset rather than a liability to your marriage.
Gain a biblical perspective
The first step is to get a biblical perspective. Jesus said, "A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15). Many couples fail to take Jesus' words seriously. Instead, they act on the belief that more money will solve their problems.
No amount of money will make life meaningful. Life's meaning is found in our relationships—first with God, then with our spouse and family, and finally with others.
When we allow money to overly influence our decisions, we're likely to make poor ones. I remember the husband who said, "I moved my family halfway across the country against my wife's wishes. My motivation was a $50,000 salary increase. Two years later, my daughter is into drugs and my son's joined a religious cult. I've spent more money trying to rescue them than my increased salary."
Money was designed to be our servant, never our master. It's to be used to build our marriage and family and to honor God. Getting a proper perspective on money is the first step to solving financial conflicts.
Become equal partners
The second step relates to whether you handle money as partners or competitors. There's no room for competition in marriage; you and your mate are equal partners on the same team. Certainly one partner will need to pay the monthly bills and balance the bank statement. But this doesn't mean the bookkeeper controls the money. Together you must develop a plan for processing your finances. The bookkeeper simply follows the plan to which you've both agreed.
Consider the following plan: Give 10 percent of your net income to the causes of Christ. Save 10 percent for future needs. Use the remaining 80 percent to pay for housing, food, clothing, recreation.
Be sure to include some discretionary spending money for each partner so that neither has to ask for a dollar to buy a soda.
If either desires to make a purchase that goes beyond the budget, discuss it with each other, agree that it's a wise decision, and determine where the money will come from.
When couples object that they can't pay their bills on 80 percent of their take-home pay, I suggest two alternatives.
(1) Lower your standard of living. Most of us could live on far less, and in the process, deepen our family relationships. We don't need the most expensive cable tv service. We can drive our car four more years. We can do without name brand clothes and shoes. In short, we can spend less.
(2) Explore ways to increase your income. This may involve changing jobs or finding creative ways to make more money. If you're a stay-at-home mom, perhaps you could watch another child for additional income. One husband started a Saturday car wash in his backyard. Since his children were old enough to help, it gave him quality time with them as a bonus.
But if increasing income means adding more work hours to one or both of the partners, you must answer the question, "How will this affect our marriage and family?" Additional money that's accompanied by deteriorating relationships is a move in the wrong direction.
Money need not be a battlefield. If you both can't carve a workable plan, then reach out for help. Many churches have financial counselors and offer courses on money management from a Christian perspective.
Gary D. Chapman, Ph.D., author of Profit-Sharing: the Chapman Guide to Making Money an Asset to Your Marriage (Tyndale), has been married to Karolyn for 45 years.
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