If you are interested in getting divorced someday, pay attention to this one simple step: Disagree frequently about money. Or, spend when your spouse wants to save. Or, invest when your spouse believes needs are not being met. Or, take a low-paying, easy job when your spouse desires you to take the higher-paying, harder-working one. Or, give money to your brother-in-law behind your spouse’s back when he or she adamantly opposes it.
Money fights and money problems are cited as divorce rationale in many divorce cases. As much as we want to believe love will keep us alive, let a few financial zingers test our resolve. If love was simply a feeling, finances would kill every relationship – even among millionaires. If you rely on feelings to indicate that you are in love, needing to handle money together will make you fall out of love every time. (So, just have separate accounts and everything is fine? No, not even close… I’ll talk about that below.)
When it comes to financial squabbles, no couple is immune. When Eric and I were newly married, we attended Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (FPU). We agree wholeheartedly with everything financial that he teaches. We volunteered to facilitate FPU four times at our church over the next two years (helping over 100 people go through the program). We even named our dog Ramsey (though Dave may not take that as a compliment, we intended it as one! lol). Eric and I agree about how to handle money in almost all cases. In fact, I would say we are more than 90% compatible in our beliefs about saving, investing, debt, tithing, giving, enabling with money, and budgeting. And, yet, we have still enjoyed some incredible financial arguments.
Breathe, Heather. It Will Be Over Soon!
When it comes to discussing the budget with Eric, I often feel panicked. When he asks me questions about the budget, my mind hits the pause button and I have difficulty expressing myself. From there, he asks me more questions and I become more flustered. Before we know it, Eric is frustrated because I am not answering him; whereas, I am in flight mode and all I want to do is get away. This feels like conflict. I don’t know how to answer all his questions. He does not understand what I am trying to say. Is he making assumptions about my silence? He asks me new questions before I have a chance to process old questions. He seems upset. Let me out of this room!
If two people as financially compatible as Eric and I are can still have trouble relating with and co-managing money, imagine two people who do not share similar financial beliefs and philosophies. Knowing what you believe about money, and what your future spouse believes, is very important if you want to mitigate unnecessary conflict in your relationship.
Time to whip out your Creed notebooks once again and work through the following questions/scenarios:
- How did my parents handle money when I was growing up? (Which of their financial behaviors do I want to adopt and which do I want to discard?)
- On a scale from 1-10, how important is managing money to me? (Explain your number.)
- What expectations do I have of my future spouse regarding money and money management? (Try to think of at least five expectations in order to encourage quality discussion.)
- What are my beliefs regarding debt? (e.g., Is taking on debt okay; and, why/why not? And if so, when?)
- What are my beliefs regarding giving money (e.g., tithing, offerings, giving to those in need, giving to family, etc.)? When is it good to give and when is it prudent to withhold?
- What are my beliefs about lending money (e.g., to family, to friends, to acquaintances, etc.)?
- What are my beliefs about the concept of building wealth?
- If I suddenly had $100,000,000 USD, what would I do with it? (This is a fun date question. Get a notepad out and have a blast. You can learn a lot about each other with this exercise.)
- Which of my financial beliefs, if any, do I deem important enough to include in my personal and/or couple’s creed?
- If I had to sum up my financial philosophy, I would say… (50-100 words)
Some people approach money with an iron fist – they are black and white (i.e, they believe there is a right way and a wrong way to handle money in all situations). Others live within subjective (and movable) boundaries and everything inside those boundaries are permissible – they may not have every dollar accounted, but they have an amount of money set aside for unforeseen expenses (or fun opportunities ~smile~). Then, there are those who have a “life is short; spend and hope for the best” philosophy.
Personally, I believe however a person (or couple, if married) chooses to handle their money is fine – if it aligns with Scripture – that is my only concern. If couple A decides they want to allocate 15% of their income to vacations, they are following Biblical teachings regarding tithing and giving, their debts are paid, and they are not idolizing their vacations, there are no Scriptural issues related to money management there. If couple B decides they want to save 80% of their money, live in a garage apartment for five years, and then be able to put 100% down on their first house… more power to them (since they too are not violating God’s financial laws in the process).
After following Biblical standards for money management, what is most important is that you and your future spouse agree on how to approach your finances. So, work through the questions above slowly and thoroughly, and see what you unearth about your and your sweetheart’s financial beliefs.
What about Separate Accounts?
As relationship coaches, one question we commonly receive is: Should we merge our bank accounts? And, our answer is always the same: yes and no. Before marriage – even the day before your wedding – we do not recommend couples combine their finances. Get married, go on your honeymoon, come home, and then join your finances together. It will save you a lot of trouble if anything unforeseen happens.
Per above, once a couple is married, we strongly recommend they have one joint account; and, if they own a business, one joint business account as well. When a couple gets married, they become one flesh under God. Their two lives become one life. Their two bodies even symbolically become one. Money has greater meaning than simply the ability to buy items. Money represents where we are going – our hopes, dreams, goals, and plans. Having separate bank accounts is moving towards separate goals and separate dreams. You cannot build a “one flesh,” intimate marriage when your hopes and dreams are divided: “My money goes here and your money can go there. You live your life and I’ll live mine.” After several seasons of separate goals and separate visions, divorce will be imminent. Or, you’ll be in a lifeless marriage. And, practically, it is much easier to get divorced when couples keep their money separated. Each person already has their own account, so it paves the way for a much easier divorce. Combining your finances, and thereby necessitating you to work together on them, is one of the most powerful ways to safeguard your marriage against demise.
What Does the Bible Say about Finances?
He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 5:10, ESV)
Is it not interesting that those who live to gain more money are never satisfied with what they have (read: love)? No one is truly satisfied apart from Christ. Believe me; I have tried to fill the void in other ways. I have put my hope in entertainment, income, and even idolized naps, but nothing satisfies. Nothing but Christ will ever fill every part of our longing souls – not even the love of a good man or woman.
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6:24, ESV)
And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. (Mark 4:18-19, ESV)
This passage is in the context of people who hear the gospel preached but do not receive it due to the cares of the world which almost always involves finances. Even the wealthiest among us cannot trust in money. Money does not save.
Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf. (Proverbs 11:28 ESV)
Riches are not evil. Loving riches and trusting those riches is evil. Sometimes we take it too far and automatically view wealth as a negative; however, a rich man can have a loving and giving spirit which pleases God just as a poor man can have a prideful, bitter spirit which does not please God.
Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven. (Proverbs 23:4-5, ESV)
Do not let your relationship with Christ suffer due to your tireless pursuit of wealth. Do not let the acquisition of stuff put a wedge between you and your family. All it takes is one crisis for all that wealth to “fly away,” but what matters in life and eternity, once gained, is something you cannot lose.
The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender. (Proverbs 22:7, ESV)
Interestingly, the verse just before it is, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Growing up, I always thought of this verse in the context of teaching children about the ways of God. Is teaching children about being good stewards of their finances important to God?
Will Finances Appear in Your Creed?
I remember Dave Ramsey saying the Bible has more to say about money than love. When most of us think about God, we think of the verses, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8, ESV) Love is vastly important and the root of the gospel, so if the Bible has even more verses about money than love, it must be important.
As important as money is to the running of our lives, it does not necessarily need to be added to your personal and/or couple creed. However, it certainly can be if it holds a prominent place in your beliefs or worldview. Work through the above questions together. Have detailed discussions about your financial philosophies. Dig until you find at least a few places where you disagree – and then, continue to discuss.
As inconvenient as it feels sometimes, money does play a huge role in our lives. Just like food and rest, money can be an idol or a tool to spur us on to do God’s work. Money can also hold us back if not managed properly. Debt can cripple a person’s hope and spirit. And, sometimes debt is not due to foolish spending but to unforeseen circumstances. Thanks be to Jehovah Jireh, our Provider, that He owns the cattle on a thousand hills and can provide for our every need according to His riches in glory (cf. Psalm 50:10; Philippians 4:19).
Whether you ultimately decide to add your financial beliefs into your creed(s), it is still important to talk about money with your future spouse. And, do not only talk about it, but observe each other. How does he handle bills? When does she spend money? Does he stick to a budget? Does she give money to anyone who asks? It is a topic worth exploring from top to bottom. Even if you do not love discussing money, it is well worth your time and energy.
Do you and your significant other share similar financial philosophies?