We hadn't been married long when friends asked Scott to join them rock climbing. He was all in. And, unbeknownst to me, so was our bank account. He bought new shoes, the best harness, a backpack, anchors, cams, a helmet and several kinds of high-impact rope.
When he brought it all home, I was the one who needed to be talked off the ledge. I thought, Seriously, you bought all this stuff without mentioning it to me? You don't even know if you will like it! What if you never use this stuff again? Conflict over money — it's in every marriage. Even ours. But it's not merely our money that's at stake; it's our relationship.
Gratefully, we've found a way to talk about money to make our relationship closer, stronger and more God-honoring. You, too, can strengthen your marriage by changing how you and your spouse discuss money issues.
Separate your finances from your daily money talk
A good first step is to separate your discussions about finances from those about day-to-day money matters. There's a big difference.
Finances include those big issues such as retirement, investments, insurance, taxes and your budget. Daily money matters include day-to-day decisions that involve routine spending, like what temperature to set the thermostat, dining out or eating in, premium brands or generic. It's amazing that every day poses at least one money decision.
When discussing those daily decisions, it's helpful to avoid bringing up larger financial issues. Instead, designate a time each month to talk about finances. As you do, you'll find that you and your spouse end up arguing about money less often. You both know you have set aside time to deal with issues, so you won't need to discuss them during dinner, in irritated text messages or while getting ready for bed.
Establish a positive pattern of communication
A practical way to communicate about your finances is to create something we call the "money huddle." This is a time set aside once a month to build trust, work together, assess the present and dream about the future. It's not a budget-planning session; it's a time to address the emotional side of money — the side that trips up couples most often.
To start your money huddle, set aside 45 minutes and divide the time into 15-minute sessions. You can remember the purpose of each 15-minute session with the acronym END (evaluate, needs, dream).
Evaluate. Use the first 15 minutes to evaluate your current financial situation — a general overview of where you are now. Address just two things: your debt and your savings. Those two figures give you a high-level state of the union.
Saving is difficult for most people. Do you have an emergency account? Extra money in the checking account? Retirement accounts? College funds? Talk generally about where you would like to see more savings and if you might be missing out on making memories by saving too much.
Then look at car payments, your mortgage, loans and personal debt such as credit cards. Don't get bogged down in shame and blame. That won't help anything. Instead of looking back, work on solutions to help you move forward. You can get out of debt.
It's OK if this first part of your money huddle feels a little painful or messy. It will get better. Be proud of your willingness to address the issues head-on.
Needs. Take the next 15 minutes to tell your spouse what you need regarding your money. Do you need to know a vacation is on the horizon? Would you sleep better if you canceled cable and put that money in savings? Do you need to be able to trust the other person to only spend what he or she says he or she will spend? Do you need to know you can say "no" when a relative calls again to borrow money?
When you are honest, you show your spouse you trust him or her with your future, you value his or her insight and you believe the two of you can solve any problem life throws your way.
Dream. You've done it before. You walked down the aisle with a million dreams, but life has a way of shaking the dreams right out of you. So take 15 minutes and dream together. Talk about short-term dreams and long-term dreams. No dream is too big or too small.
Do you want to go back to school eventually? Desire to go on long-term mission trips? Hope to start a nonprofit? Want to stay home with the kids? Want to travel the world?
Whatever your dreams might be, discuss them and start planning for them together. Brainstorm, pray and encourage each other to keep dreaming.
Whether they've just walked down the aisle or they've done life together for decades, couples tend to dread discussions about money. But we've found that couples who talk about money actually experience a much closer marriage. The time they invest in learning to communicate will return a great dividend by eliminating destructive lies and tabling incessant, daily conversations about money.
God will send many forms of provision in this life, but He's placed an even greater significance on your marriage relationship. So, rethink the way you talk about money, stop any dishonesty and use the money huddle to END daily disagreements about money.Scott and Bethany Palmer, The Money Couple, are the authors of The 5 Money Personalities: Speaking the same love and money language.
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