Brian and Cherie Lowe describe how the handling of finances impacts marital intimacy, and offer helpful insights on achieving success in both areas in a discussion based on their book Your Money, Your Marriage: The Secrets to Smart Finance, Spicy Romance and Their Intimate Connection. (Part 1 of 2)
Cherie Lowe: The idea of remaining faithful to having financial fidelity as well as sexual fidelity within your marriage is really important. And if you don’t draw that out and really think through, “What does that mean, and how will this make me feel if my spouse goes out and runs up a credit card bill and I have no idea? What kind of betrayal does that bring to a relationship?” Then, you know, it may not sound super romantic in the moment, but I think having those clear defined boundaries is so helpful.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: That’s Cherie Lowe. And she and her husband Brian join us today on Focus on the Family. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, today, we’re going to learn how tackling finances as a couple can actually strengthen both your communication and your romance in marriage. I think you’ve already thought of two or three questions you’re hoping I’m gonna ask.
And we’re gonna try to do that. You know, God has a vision for every marriage. And it includes how you view both money and sex as a couple, if we can be that bold. And I want to address this issue head-on because it’s so important. If you put those two topics together, that’s probably 70, 80 percent of marital conflict in those two topics. And that’s what certainly the top - two of the top three that we get here at Focus on the Family. So our goal is to, again, address these with an open, honest heart and with two experts that know what they’re talking about and hopefully equip you so that your marriage can be stronger than it is right now.
John: And obviously, these topics - we can get into some sensitive content. So please use some listener discretion. Small kids - you probably want them listening elsewhere. Jim, I can think of times when we have had fights about money and that sure shut the romance down.
Jim: Well, you’re now addressing one of the questions.
John: Yeah. We’ll get there so listen. We have a book that we’re gonna direct you to. It’s called. Look for that book and a CD or download of the conversation today at focusonthefamily.com/radio. If you want to call our number, it’s 800-A-FAMILY.
Well Cherie Lowe is best known for her blog The Queen of Free. And her husband Brian is an attorney. And it’s their second time here, Jim.
Jim: It is. And to both of you, welcome back.
Cherie: Thank you so much. We’re so happy to be here again.
Jim: You like that introduction? You know, The Queen of Free and the attorney.
Cherie: It’s all right.
Jim: How about that, Brian? The queen of not so free.
Brian Lowe: It’s not the first time...
...And the guy next to her.
Jim: The king of not free. You’re an attorney. You must charge pretty good. But no, seriously. Welcome. All the attorney jokes are coming out.
Brian: That’s fine.
Jim: Hey, the two of you, when you were last on the program, the big hook there and why we wanted to talk to you and the content that we covered was this massive debt that you had accumulated. School loans and other things, like, $127,000, if I remember correctly.
Cherie: Right - $127,482.30 - because if you’ve paid that off, you know it down to the penny.
Jim: Right - and newly married and trying to figure out where to go - and you described how you got out of that hole. And that’s so important, especially now for younger couples who are marrying. And they are bringing in a lot of student loans. If I remember correctly, I think $89,000 of that amount was student loan-related.
Cherie: Yeah. It was right around the $90,000 mark so...
Jim: So recap that for us again. And we’ve done a fairly good job there. But how in the world did you climb out of that? You’re speaking to people right now that see that kind of debt number. And they’re going, “It won’t happen for me.”
Cherie: Yeah. I think a lot of people feel discouraged or overwhelmed or, like, there is no hope when you have that amount of debt. But we are living proof that if you give your finances to God and you obediently every day make wise choices that you can dig your way out. And so back in 2008, Brian began pitching this vision for our family to pay off all of our consumer debt. And we thought it would take us 15 years, seven and a half if we really hustled. And yet God has much better math than we do because, just under four years later, on March the 28th of 2012, we sat at our kitchen table and made our final student loan payment. And we like to joke now. It’s been a while since we did that. And we’ve not only lost the weight, but we kept it off so...
Jim: Brian, let me ask you in that regard - if, again, I remember the story correctly, you were the one who said we got to do something. What prompted you? A lot of people can live in some debt and just pay the interest and not worry about it until it is suffocating or a death blow to them financially. What caught your attention? Why did you decide it was time to change, and how hard was it? What were some of the baby steps you took?
Brian: Oh, sure. And while we weren’t quite suffocating, it was getting hard to breathe. It absolutely was. And so I started scribbling down the numbers and realized just how big the number was. And it turns out that, really, if we had a flashback, a couple of years prior, I actually pitched the vision. But it was less of a “Hey, let’s do this together.” And I didn’t speak in love. It was more of “Here’s what we’re going to do.”
Jim: The edict.
Brian: Yeah. That did not end well. And it set us two years behind when we could have really been getting out of debt. And I learned a lot through that process. So we talked about what we had. I showed Cherie. We talked about it in love. And really what I tried to do as best I could was talk about the end in mind. And - or some - as, like, a behavioral economist would call it, “Postcards from the future.” So what is this going to look like if we were able to not have any payments? What is the vision? Where are we going to go? What would our family look like? What could we do for our kids? Could we send our kids to college debt-free? Where are we going to travel to? How can we change the kingdom of God and help it grow? How can we give more and give better with our finances? And having a purpose in paying off debt really helped us to get started because if you don’t have a purpose, well, you’ll get there. You know, if you’re aimed for nothing, well, you will get nothing. And so we set this big dream together. And we went after it step by step.
Cherie: I will say that really captured my heart, too - rather than it just being a numbers thing, that idea of something so much bigger than the both of us and the adventure and being able to come out on the other side of that.
Jim: The next question I have for you - I want to make sure the listeners are ready because it’s language that we don’t usually apply to finances. But you refer to financial foreplay. And you use that term to, I think, explain how these two ideas are connected, that finances and physical intimacy actually have a link.
Brian: They do. And if you think about both - both are built on trust. And ultimately that’s what undergirds both marital intimacy and financial success. And if you would indulge me in a little reader’s theater, I can read our definition from the book because I don’t think I could do better than how...
Jim: Let’s do it.
Brian: ...How we’ve written that. (Reading) So to us, financial foreplay simply means husbands and wives investing in smart financial habits and relational capital to clear the way for spicy sex and meaningful togetherness. It’s taking care of bank business, so you can get down to business in bed, leaving cash conflicts far behind. It’s a complete trust, vulnerability and connection when it comes to both our bodies and our budgets. Financial foreplay results from a continued mutual pursuit of improved, shared money habits and communication.
Jim: I’m not sure where I want to go next.
John: That was a lot of stuff there.
Jim: Yeah, there is.
Cherie: There’s a lot to unpack.
Jim: And I guess the first point I think a lot of people are saying, “Is that truly linked?” I mean, really? Did you do that scientifically, or is it just your personal experience?
Brian: Well, let’s think anecdotally first before we go empirically. But anecdotally, think about the last big blow up you had with your spouse because we all fight in marriage, or we’re all liars - one of the two. So if you...
Jim: Our quiet disagreement.
Brian: Or quiet - yeah...
Cherie: Yes. Sometimes it can be just as ugly without it being a blow-up.
Brian: It can be quiet. It can be very passive, very cold.
Jim: Right, right.
Brian: But think about that. Try not to dredge that fight back up. But think about that situation. My guess is it didn’t end in a high - a night of hot passion. That’s typically not how our money fights end. So we know that to be true. And so we started to think about this. And if arguments about money pull us apart then agreements about money can push us together.
Jim: And Cherie, I have to ask you as the woman at the table...
Jim: I mean, does that really connect for a woman to say that these two things are linked in some way?
Cherie: Well, you know, I explore the concept of vulnerability in one of the sections of the book. And I think that it’s really important to think about how vulnerable we are both when it comes to sex and money because in the bedroom we’re there. And every imperfection is on display. Open up the checkbook and look through your spending habits. And every single mistake that you’ve made with money is right there, too. And so there is that connection between the two where you feel maybe afraid to be completely honest or maybe you’re uncertain about how to communicate things in the best way when it comes to both sex and money because we have to acknowledge that there is a real deep tie there for all of us.
Jim: And what you’re describing, it seems to me, is the building the level of comfort and respect and intimacy that comes from that. You mentioned, Brian, the empirical side. I didn’t - that’s not slipping my grasp.
I really want to know, was there some research that was done that showed this?
Brian: Yeah. We talked about - in the book, we looked at couples and the reasons for divorce because we wanted to make sure that we weren’t just touting statistics that were untrue or just things that we had heard. But again, what drives marriages apart typically are miscommunications about finance. And coming from financial situations another day - for all practical purposes, I’ve spent 16 years as a divorce attorney. And so it’s really easy for me to say, “Yeah, it’s money.” Why do we need a study to determine that? But most of the time, it comes in. And it’s folks who don’t communicate well about money or they have an argument about money or some of it is just so tied up in control...
Brian: ...And wanting to control another spouse. But again, somewhere near 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. And if most of those are caused by finances then we’ve got a real problem here. So there was something more to that that we wanted to investigate and explore.
Jim: And it’s good to see that the two are backed, not just from anecdotal information, that it’s worked, and I’m sure couples that you’ve mentored - it’s worked - but also from that kind of empirical data, that there is this linkage. Let me ask you this. You mentioned the money vows in the book, that you two wrote money vows to each other. I can think of nothing more lacking in romantic vibe....
...Then creating - “Until death do us part. You will not use the credit card beyond what is reasonable.” It just doesn’t - to me, that doesn’t, like, excite me.
Cherie: It may not sound so romantic, right? There’s not a whole lot of rose petals involved with that. But I do think that a lot of the times, when we think about weddings, we rush through all of the details in planning. And we get to the front of the church. And we just repeat whatever the pastor says. And it really doesn’t kick in until maybe a year or two later that in sickness and in health, when you say it in front of the church, means something much different than one has the stomach flu, right? So...
Jim: Right. It’s a lot different when you’re mopping up.
Cherie: Right - so it translates differently. But we don’t usually talk a lot - most of us don’t - about money before we get married. And then we’re in the trenches. And so the idea of remaining faithful to having financial fidelity as well as sexual fidelity within your marriage is really important. And if you don’t draw that out and really think through, “What does that mean and how will this make me feel if my spouse goes out and runs up a credit card bill and I have no idea? What kind of betrayal does that bring to a relationship?” Then, you know, it may not sound super-romantic in the moment. But I think having those clear, defined boundaries is so helpful.
Jim: Well, let’s hear it. What does that sound like? Not that you’ll hit it spot-on but maybe you will. Go ahead and give your money vows to each other, so we can listen to it.
Brian: Oh, sure. Well, I mean, in hitting on what Cherie said, expectations are everything. And what do you expect in money? And what do you know? Because ultimately, when we talk about a budget, a budget is a promise. And if you break a promise, even as small as a budget, it can break trust. And if you can’t trust each other with a bank book, how are you gonna trust each other in the bedroom? And that’s a bit of a problem. And Cherie’s pulling up the money vows. Did you get those?
Cherie: Yeah. I’ve got it right here. We think about money vows. And we want to promise to share freely the money that we make, resisting the temptation to see what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours - promise to never lie or avoid talking about what I’ve spent. That’s a really important one. Refrain from hiding or hoarding money, which is a huge temptation, I think, for both of us. All married couples struggle with that in some ways. Never make a major purchase without consulting my spouse or consulting Brian first. And for us, we have a - kind of a bright-line number that we use. For every couple, that looks different. While we were paying off debt, we actually used the $10 mark for non-budgeted items. So I’m not talking about being in the grocery store and wondering if I can buy cabbage or not. But if it was $10 or more, we at least talked about it.
Cherie: And I think that’s important. He never said no. And it’s important to say that - you know, that he wasn’t trying to control me, or I wasn’t trying to control him in that moment. But it was more about the constant flow of communication - and then kind of continuing on to relinquish notions of what I think about - what I think is best and focus on what we both agree on instead.
Cherie: And that’s challenging but important.
Jim: Yeah. Those are good. Brian, you do some, I think, recreational gardening, if I can call it that.
I don’t know that - it’s a therapeutic thing. But how did you relate your gardening experience to tending this area of your marriage?
Brian: Well, I had this idea. And there was a book about square-foot gardening. It was an organic gardening method. And I thought, “I can do this.” And I made my own soil. I built the frame, which was a fun thing to do with the kids. You know, I built a 4-foot-by-4-foot frame. And I made my own soil. And, oh, it was hot. It was heavy. You know, if you actually think about making dirt, for lack of a better term, it was great, rich soil - and tending to that. And we got everything planted and marked off into squares. And things started to grow. And it was pretty spectacular. The idea behind the square-foot gardening is that you only have about 6 inches of soil. So if weeds get in there then you should be able to pluck them out nice and easy. The problem is, you know, we’re from Indiana. And in July and August, it gets unbearably hot, especially with the humidity. I just sort of waved at the garden from, you know, like...
Jim: Took a pass.
Brian: Yeah. I just took a pass on that. And, you know, in the beginning, I was pretty excited about the whole concept and what this would look like. And I had imagined in my brain, you know, how we were going to have fresh tomatoes and cucumbers and all these great things from the garden. But I didn’t put in the work. And then eventually the weeds did creep back up because I didn’t prepare the ground well enough before we started the garden. And the same can go with our marriages. If you don’t do the groundwork before you start or at some point in your marriage, eventually things that you didn’t want to creep in are going to creep in. And there needs to be something more than just a casual hello in the morning. That garden needs tended on a regular basis. Your spouse needs tended on a regular basis. Eventually, the garden overgrew with weeds. And it was an eyesore. And still to this day there is a 4-foot-by-4-foot square patch in our backyard.
Jim: Of weed.
Brian: It’s mostly just scorched earth at this point. There has been some destruction. But nothing’s really ever grown back. So there were a lot of right steps involved but a lot of missteps along the way.
Jim: Brian on the gardening story - I mean, I want to make sure people caught what you were saying there because I think the idea is if you don’t tend the garden - whether that garden is your finances or your physical intimacy - you don’t tend the garden the weeds pop up and choke out true life, true nourishment.
Brian: That’s right. And dreams die real quick and easy. So yeah. We learned quite a bit of a lesson in the gardening aspect because I didn’t tend it. And we saw what can happen in a garden. And that same thing can happen in a marriage, too.
Jim: You’ve got a knack, it seems, for pulling these real-life experiences into the story. And the next one is the rumble strips.
You know, it’s - I always say, isn’t that like a Commonwealth? That’s a UK kind of a term, a rumble strip.
Brian: A rumble strip.
Jim: Those things on the side of the road that they keep...
Brian: That’s what they’re called, right? I mean, I...
Jim: Yeah. They’re very irritating by the way...
Brian: Right, right.
Jim: ...Which I think is the main point.
Cherie: Right. If you fall asleep, you want to be irritated I think.
Jim: At least woken up.
Brian: Yeah. I hope that’s the purpose and not just to irritate us.
Brian: I hope it serves that function.
Jim: But how did you apply this then to our marriage quest?
Brian: Oh, sure. Well with rumble strips, you know, the “Bump, bump, bump, bump”, on the side of the road that you hit those divots that are in the ground - if you think about where they are, they’re really close to the lane marker. And so once you start to drift just outside the lane, there’s a warning that goes off. And the rumble strips weren’t put in place as you go off. The rumble strips were there well ahead of your journey. And so the idea is to agree upon what those rumble strips are and what those boundaries look like in your lives with your money and with your marriage, too.
Jim: What does that look like then? Describe that in practical terms for a couple. What does the money rumble strip look like?
Brian: Okay. Well one of the things, like we talked about earlier, was that marker. Like, how much do we spend outside of the budget without communicating with the other? And then when do we communicate? Other things - are we going to open up credit cards? Are we going to...?
Jim: How many?
Brian: Are we going to do that? Who’s going to bring in the money? How are we going to spend the money? More importantly, even with our fidelity in our marriage, beyond our finances, you know, the relationships that we have with people of the opposite sex - what does that look like? One of the examples I give in the book is, you know, if you get a social media request from an old girlfriend or an old boyfriend - rumble, rumble. You know, that’s the noise that hits there. And there needs to be some triggers in your life where you can have that audible in your brain going off to know that, “Well, you know what? I need to pull this back into the lane a little bit.”
Jim: Yeah. With the rumble strip analogy, how do you apply that to the romance side of marriage? I mean, we’ve got the markers for the budgeting and all that. How would that apply with romance? What are the danger signs?
Brian: Well, with the danger sign, I think sometimes in a relationship, especially in conflict, if you begin to fight unfairly - which we talk about in the book a lot as well - those rumbles need to go off in your head. You’ve veered outside of the lane that you’ve agreed upon if you’re using words that diminish or demean the person instead of staying on tact and on issue and really listening to the other person. We need to hear that in our heads, you know, that “Bump, bump, bump, bump”. I mean whatever that noise is in your brain - and then just pull back a little bit because the idea is that you’re travelling on this journey together. So you want to maintain that straight path.
Jim: Brian, you had an encounter with a woman at a conference. That right there sounds like, uh-oh. Tell us what happened in the concept of passionate patience, which I think you got from Eugene Petersen’s work with The Message - passionate patience. So put all that together.
Brian: I try not to get too ethereal on this concept here. But with Eugene Peterson, how he spoke about that idea of passion and patience - it just sort of triggered a flashback. You know, we speak at different conferences and churches. And I had - and this is not an unusual event. A woman came up with tears in her eyes. And she just didn’t know what to do. You know her spouse was not on the same page with money. They were diametrically opposed. And she was crying. You’ve both been at these types of conferences. There are a lot of people. They’re waiting to talk to you.
Jim: Yeah. They’re there for a reason.
Brian: They’re there for a reason. We were fortunately at a church. And I found a nice elder in khaki pants that I sent her off to because this seemed like an issue that needed more than just my blessing or a quick, pithy answer. She needed long-term assistance. And I just couldn’t provide it. But I wish I did have something that I could have been able to share with her at the time. And I ran across this concept of passionate patience, the idea of active waiting. And I wish I would have had that when I met with that woman. But the idea of active waiting - when your spouse is not on the same page with money, wait. Actively wait, though. It’s not just sitting on your hands. You can be doing something, too.
Jim: What would those things look like?
Brian: For us, in the beginning, one of the things that I did when I really wanted to move toward getting out of debt was I simply stopped using the credit card. I put it in a drawer. I didn’t tell Cherie, “Stop it. You need to stop doing this as well.” I thought, “You know what? If I’m going to lead, if I’m going to make the first move here as a dad, as a husband, then there’s some things I can do. And I can stop using debt because that was the goal, to get out of debt.” And that’s one of the first steps that you make. And so things like that. Well, spend less. Have a conversation. Turn everything off in the house and really communicate with your spouse maybe for the first time about money - little steps like that. Do active things. But you also may have to wait.
The beauty of the idea of passionate patience is that both of those words stem from the same root word, which is a word for suffering. And that’s not something that we want to hear as a married couple that I’m going to have to suffer. But, you know, this idea of marriage is what we refer to and what Tim and Kathy Keller refer to as gospel re-enactment, the idea of sacrificing for one another and emulating Christ through our relationships. And same with our money and our marriage - putting my needs down so that you can thrive and you can live.
Jim: Boy, that’s good.
Cherie: Yeah. I think so, too. And some more practical things that Brian mentioned the book as well are things like canceling subscriptions, which I think is a sacrifice that we can make while we’re waiting actively - so not just narrowing in on everything that your spouse does when it comes to money that drives you crazy, but instead focusing on your own behavior and saying, “You know what? I can skip the latte. I can cancel the magazine subscription. I can cancel, you know, your own things...”
Jim: Digital subscriptions.
Cherie: Yes, digital subscriptions.
Jim: I’m getting $3.99-ed to death.
Cherie: Right, exactly.
Not canceling your spouse’s digital subscriptions, but your own, you know? And looking at your own behaviors toward money instead of saying, “Oh, I wish that they would.” Because the - the words that I get most frequently that are really difficult for me to handle are, “We’re already doing everything we can.” And I just - I don’t believe that’s true for us. I think there’s always something else that you can do when it comes to money.
Jim: There’s always room.
Cherie: There’s always something you can do. You can sell something. You can pick up extra work. So looking at your own behavior.
Jim: Yeah. Cherie and Brian, I mean, this is good. This is the start ‘cause I wanna come back next time and continue the dialogue. And I think it’s really helpful for young couples and older couples too that maybe haven’t gotten this right for many decades. And if you’re willing, let’s come back next time and continue to talk about this - this link between, uh, physical intimacy, emotional intimacy and the budget and the finances and how that all works to either destroy your relationship or to enhance it and make it, you know, something that people see differently - that it’s working in you, and then your opportunity to share the gospel with people. I mean, it’s great, and I love the content.
Let me turn to you, the listener. Maybe you’re struggling to get on the same page that we’ve talked about today. We want to help you. We’re here. We have caring Christian counselors available on staff to give you that initial consultation and, if necessary, refer you to someone in your local area. We have a robust referral network, and I hope you’ll take advantage of that.
John: You can find out more about the counseling network, uh, at our website, focusonthefamily.com/radio. Or call to schedule a phone consultation with one of those counselors. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Today’s program also highlights why we exist, uh, to strengthen marriages. Last year - we do surveys every year - and we found that 810,000 couples said that Focus had, uh, strengthened their marriages. That’s a phenomenal number. And you share in that, those of you that support us, that pray for us and, ultimately, for those that are touched by the ministry here. And we’re closing out our fiscal year and beginning a new budget cycle. It’s especially important that we hear from you now. I wanna invite you, if you haven’t supported Focus on the Family, to do so. If you can become a regular partner, a monthly giver to Focus, which is what Jean and I do for the ministry, uh, we will send you a copy ofas our way of saying thank you. Doesn’t take a lot - $25, $50 a month. It really does help us manage the budget when it’s, um, that sustainable and predictable. If you can’t do that, a gift of any amount is fine too. And we will send you the book as our way of saying thank you.
John: You can make that donation at focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And when you get in touch, be sure to get a copy of the book,. And get a CD or download of this conversation as well.
On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here at Focus on the Family, thanks for listening. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back. We’ll have Brian and Cherie with us as we once more help you and your family thrive in Christ.
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Brian LoweView Bio
Brian Lowe is a public speaker and blogger who offers practical advice for breaking free of debt and staying debt-free. He and his wife, Cherie, offer encouragement with their inspirational story of how they managed to pay off a debt of over $127,000. Brian and Cherie reside in Indiana with their two daughters. Learn more about Brian and find financial wisdom at his blog, King of Free.