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Cash Clash: What's Below the Surface?

Fifth grade science taught me that appearances can be deceiving. I learned that when looking at an iceberg, we only see the small portion that sticks out of the water. The largest part of an iceberg — typically 80-90% —remains unseen, hidden below the water's surface.

Financial conflict is like the tip of an iceberg. Many couples cite money problems as the reason for marital strife when the true source of their conflict is a larger issue lurking below the surface. In my years of working with couples in crisis, I've found that financial issues are usually a surface problem driven by deeper issues.

It's easy to mistake finances for the real issue if you argue about it on a regular basis. However, the fact that the same financial arguments happen over and over without being resolved indicates that the real problem is something deeper. That "something deeper" is what we call a core issue. If core issues are not dealt with, surface issues — like finances — will keep popping up. It's kind of like trying to keep a balloon below the surface in a pool of water. You keep pushing it down, but it keeps right on coming up.

If you've tried to resolve arguments related to finances, but they keep popping up, it may be time for you to look below the surface. Here are a few questions to ask:

  1. Do we have a breakdown in communication? If you fail to communicate your thoughts, desires, preferences and so on, your spouse is left to guess what they are. Guessing often leads to misunderstanding, which can lead to hurt feelings and even resentment.

    If the only time you try to communicate about finances is when you're already upset or angry, your emotions will get in the way and the conservation will most likely lead to harsh exchanges of words and end up going nowhere. It's important to talk about sensitive issues in a way that is comfortable for both of you.

    Try writing down your concerns or desires versus trying to explain them when you're feeling emotional. Be clear about what you need from the other person regarding spending, budgeting, help with balancing the check book and how to get out of financial holes. Don’t begin your conversations in a negative tone and expect something positive to come out of it.

    Be kind and compassionate to one another…—Eph. 4:32(KJV)

  2. Am I harboring unresolved hurt or resentment? Sometimes it's easier to argue about money than to admit when we have hurt feelings. If your spouse has hurt you and you're still harboring that hurt — or maybe even resentment — you're going to see everything through that filter of hurt. When your spouse tries to discuss financial issues, you'll be more likely to overreact.

    Instead of letting hurt and resentment hinder your relationship, gather the courage to deal with the hurt. Bring it out in the open in a healthy way. Do it before tackling financial issues. That way you'll be able to discuss your financial issues without the extra burden of emotional baggage.

    Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. — Eph. 4:26 (NIV)

  3. Am I afraid to face the truth? Are you afraid to talk about money for fear that your spouse will discover you made an unwise decision, spent money you shouldn't have, didn’t pay the bill when you were supposed to, or have kept other financial secrets?

    Dishonesty always reaps a negative outcome. If you make a significant financial decision without talking to your spouse, your actions will almost never be well received. If you've been hiding something you did or did not do, the real issue is not about finances, it's about being honest. Dishonesty destroys trust. When trust is destroyed, your spouse will not trust you to make future decisions, which can leave you open to feelings of resentment, and the cycle repeats itself. Trust has to be rebuilt in a marriage before sensitive and important issues like finances can be addressed properly.

    Speak the truth to each other. — Zec. 8:16 (NIV)

By communicating in a clear and loving manner, getting rid of emotional baggage and embracing honesty, you and your spouse can lay a smooth foundation on which to build your financial future.