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Coping With Financial Crisis and Maintaining Your Marriage

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Husband and wife work through financial issues together on computer
Dealing with money problems in marriage can be a challenge. But the process of handling a financial crisis well — whether it's an "act of God" or the result of poor choices — is basically the same.

It started out a typical Sunday morning. Our 1950s brick and stone ranch hummed with activity. Each member of our family of four scurried about, eating breakfast and getting ready so we wouldn’t be late for church this week. Or, let’s face it, so we’d be less late. Our younger daughter, Zoe, age 10, headed dutifully into the bathroom to brush her teeth in the final minutes before we departed. Filled with life and joy, she managed to sing a song while tending to her daily oral hygiene.

And then it happened. In a second, the happy sounds morphed into shrieks of terror. The noise of rushing water rose from the bathroom, too. My husband, Brian, and I flung open the door to witness a geyser shooting from the place the faucet handle should have been. Zoe, petrified and crying, was feebly attempting to replace it.

“I’m so sorry!” she cried as cold water spurted onto every wall and the floor.

Reacting in damage-control mode, Brian rushed to turn off the main water valve while I moved a soaked and shivering Zoe from the spot where she had frozen in fear. While the water was still spouting high in the air, I began frantically mopping up what I could. Thankfully, towels were still on the floor from the morning rush.

Thanks to Brian’s quick action, the water suddenly stopped. I glanced at myself in the mirror; makeup streamed down my face and my hair dripped as if I’d just run through pouring rain. Three minutes earlier, everything had looked and felt different. Our Sunday was now anything but typical. Brian and I put our heads together to decide what to do next — and how each option to fix the faucet and repair any water damage would fit within our budget.

Financial crises pop up in the blink of an eye for any family. You find yourself stranded on the side of the road with smoke pouring from the hood of your car. A puddle on the floor in the kitchen paired with a funky smell indicates all is not well with the freezer. Your child twists his arm in the monkey bars, and you’re off to the emergency room.

Every married couple knows the battle to remain unified amid chaos and confusion. Cultivating a thriving romance while dealing with money problems ratchets up the challenge even more. The process of dealing with a financial crisis — whether it’s an “act of God” or the result of poor choices — is basically the same.

Turn off the water

The gushing faucet caused Zoe to be paralyzed from panic. She stood stuck as the bathroom became waterlogged. Financial panic can play similar games with our hearts, minds and souls. Many of us stick our heads in the sand and pray for the best. We cry out “I’m so sorry!” without moving.

The first step in dealing with a financial crisis is for you and your spouse to quickly turn off your “water” (money problem). For example, additional spending on credit cards when you’re already deeply in debt will only lead to greater woes. You may need to cut up your card or (at a minimum) take it out of your wallet.

Clean up the mess together

Simply turning off the water isn’t enough. You have to begin the process of cleaning up the “mess.” One of you might be tempted to drag out the spreadsheets and crunch numbers rather than working to reach agreement with the other. Ask questions and think about how your marriage, your family, your community and God’s kingdom would look different if you weren’t tied down by debt or the stress that managing money often brings. Where would you go? What would you do? Whom would you be generous toward? How would the future look?

Focus on your shared dreams as you work together. A clear understanding of where you’re headed unites your hearts and souls. Fueled by your shared vision, you’ll have the motivation you need to begin.

Acknowledge that it takes two

We tend to view our own purchases as necessary and our spouse’s as frivolous. If we’re not careful, we can skew our own contributions as more important, too. You both have strengths and weaknesses in managing money. But to bring harmony to your romance and finance, you must work in tandem.

However, one of you may still need to take bold action to kickstart the process of working together to address a financial crisis. If your spouse isn’t on board, go first. Find an action step to changing your heart and habits toward money. Wait passionately for your spouse to catch the vision, but don’t sit on your hands in the meantime. Drop your habit of daily lattes. Cancel a subscription. Forgo a hobby for a season. Those sacrifices are contagious and prove you’re a person of your word.

Celebrate success

As you and your spouse draw closer to your shared financial goals, pause to celebrate every success, no matter how small. Budget for romance — even if it’s a small amount — so you can spend time together on a regular basis. For most couples, that looks more like an ice-cream cone and a walk in the park than it does a Mediterranean cruise. But you can achieve meaningful results by taking faithful, small, intentional steps over time.

The morning the faucet broke, we began to work on repairs after quickly changing into dry clothes. Both faucet handles were working by early afternoon. And we were able to watch the video podcast of the message from church later in the day. What could have thrown us off course in our finances and marriage made only a minor impact because of the incremental investments we’ve made to both over the years.

No matter what unexpected experience you’re facing, there’s always hope for your shared finances and romance.

Brian and Cherie Lowe paid off over $127,000 in debt in just under four years, learning powerful lessons about communication, patience, organization and connection. They are the authors of Your Money, Your Marriage.

How strong is your marriage? Find out today with the Focus on Marriage Assessment. This reliable assessment is based on the research and experience of Focus on the Family’s marriage experts Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley. Take this free assessment now.

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