Do you know the number one thing people fight about in marriage? It’s not sex, nor is it the kids. It’s money problems. Money is the number one topic of conflict in marriage. It’s also the number one cause of divorce in the U.S. This is true in Christian marriages and non-Christian alike.
Couples who are in debt are even more likely to have marital problems. Money problems don’t have to create conflict in a marriage. Getting out of debt and getting on the same page in finances can be helpful for millions of couples.
Marriage problems related to moneyMoney problems are creating tension for millions upon millions of couples. These range from differences in how money is viewed to stress created from a lack of money. Here are the most common struggles couples face:
This isn’t spending money on an affair. Financial infidelity is not being honest with your spouse about finances. Often it involves lying, covering up information, and sneaking around. One partner may have a credit card the other doesn’t know about or a separate bank account. One partner may handle the money and adjust the budget in their favor.
Other times one is not being transparent with the amount of money being earned. This can even be as small as buying something new and hiding it from your spouse because they’d be upset about the expense.
Separate bank accounts
Couples often choose to have “his” and “hers” accounts when they get married. This seems like it would be a good way to manage money and keep conflict at a minimum. In fact, it ends up being the opposite. When a couple gets married and becomes one, everything needs to be involved.
Having separate accounts becomes a competition, especially since one spouse usually is the breadwinner. It also makes paying bills confusing and doesn’t allow you to take ownership of your marriage. When a couple continues to operate as though they were still dating it can create underlying pressure and stress.
This four letter word has brought conflict after conflict. It’s caused families to go bankrupt, couples to divorce, and more. When it is present there’s always an underlying knowledge your belongings aren’t really yours. There’s that nagging feeling of wanting to get out from under this burden but not being quite sure how.
Often one spouse wants to work on it but the other isn’t interested. This can bring up a range of unexpected emotions and conflicts, especially when the amount owed continues to rise.
Working through money problems in marriageUnfortunately, most modern Americans were not taught money management skills. There’s a growing interest in the field of money management. People are realizing how much impact money has on marriages. Books, classes, podcasts, and even retreats are focusing on teaching families how to handle finances and pursue debt free living.
The most important first step is to have 100% transparency between both spouses. If one spouse has committed financial infidelity, it’s time to come clean. Every single cent needs to be made known and accounted for. If you need to confess financial infidelity or need help working through your spouse’s confession please reach out to us. We’ll come alongside you as you repair and rebuild.
Accounting for our money can be difficult at first if it wasn’t a regular habit. Give it time and track where every penny is going. There are apps and spreadsheets available to help or use an old fashioned pencil and paper. Each spouse needs to know where all the money goes and share everything they spend.
After tracking your spending for a while, work on a budget. The majority of Americans do not use a budget. So they have no idea where their money is going. This often results in spending more than we make. A budget is necessary to make sure you’re not spending more than you’re bringing in. It will also help you adjust areas you’ve identified as overspending while tracking your expenses.
Each spouse can be allotted spending money within the budget. A budget doesn’t mean your spending days are over. It just means there’s a limit to how much you can spend. It also means no hiding or sneaking purchases. If one partner has a shopping addiction then professional help and support groups are available.
Regular communication about money is the next step. Check in daily with the budget at first. Share with one another about areas that are hard. If you screw up, confess it right away. Sometimes it becomes clear one partner isn’t able to handle money and needs to be cut-off for a time.
This would mean they aren’t given access to cash, credit cards, or debit cards. What it does not mean they’re in the dark about your finances. Continue to check-in regularly and share the situation. A course or money management book can be helpful to work on these skills.
If finances are a regular source of conflict in your marriage then consider working with a professional. Your counselor can help you work on the interpersonal and self-control skills needed to overcome this struggle. A financial advisor can help you figure out how much to spend. They’ll advise the percentages for each category, help you budget, find ways to save money and help you get on track.
Which brings us to our last step in reducing these problems in a marriage – getting out of debt.
Major approaches for getting out of debt and how debt-free living helps marriage problems
Living with debt payments over your head creates extra stress. Every bill you write and every balance you see plays into your psyche. People who are debt free report higher satisfaction, happiness, and better marriages. Not only that but eliminating payments puts a whole lot of cash back into your pockets! Thousands of dollars in interest payments can be saved over the years.
It also gives couples a shared goal to work toward. Commitment and support from each other are required. A couple cannot be working on this goal without being on the same page. Couples working on a shared goal increase communication skills and learn to dream together.
It’s too easy to fall into a rut in our marriages. So many couples forget how to dream. Working towards this freedom gives you the chance to dream again. Finish this statement and dream together- “When we’ve made our last payment then we can…”
Owing money is not a biblical approach to money. The Bible says in Proverbs 22:7 that “the borrower is servant to the lender,” and Matthew 6:24 says that “No one can serve two masters. 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 both God and Money.”
We can be better stewards of the gifts God’s given us when we pay off debt. What does it look like to make this happen? How can a couple pursue this? There are a few main approaches people use.
Making minimum payments and not accruing new debt. In this approach, the couple cuts up credit cards and vows to not create any new payments. Then they pay off the minimum balances on their bills until they’re paid off. This method can end up taking many years, sometimes decades, but does not need a major shift in the budget to accommodate payments.
This is good for those who are in a tight financial situation and can’t make extra payments. Commitment to no new payments is required. Pay cash for vehicles, vacations, and other expenses.
The debt snowball
This is the method popularized by Dave Ramsey. In this method, the couple sorts their debts from smallest balance to largest. Then they work aggressively at paying off the smallest balance first.
Any extra money they can find will go towards that payment. Once the smallest creditor is paid, they snowball that payment into the next payment until that balance is paid, then they snowball that amount into the next and so on.
For example, say credit card #1 has a $500 balance and a $50 a month payment, credit card #2 has a $2000 balance and a $100 payment and creditor #3 has a $3000 balance and a $150 a month payment. They couple would pay the minimums on #2 & #3 while putting any extra money possible towards #1.
Once #1 is paid off they take that $50 a month minimum payment and combine it with the $100 minimum payment on #2 making it a $150 minimum payment on #2. Once they’ve paid it off then #3 is getting $300 a month plus any extra money the couple can put towards payments.
This is a good method for those who are highly motivated and want freedom fast. Paying off the smallest amount first gives you motivation. It also helps get momentum rolling faster. Most people finish this method within a couple of years.
The debt avalanche
This is similar to the debt snowball. In this method, you start with the balance that has the highest interest rate first. The idea is to knock out what is costing the most interest and work your way through the balances from there from largest interest rate to smallest.
The avalanche approach is best for those who are really committed. It can take longer to pay off that first amount. Some people get discouraged by this. It can save people thousands of dollars in interest payments and still go fast.
No matter the approach, getting out of debt and being united as a couple on finances is good for all marriages. It can take time and may be difficult but will be worth the work as you overcome the top marriage problem out there.
Christian Marriage Counseling
If you and your spouse are experiencing money problems or conflicts and challenges of a different nature, consider meeting with a professional Christian counselor to help you find a resolution. Feel free to contact me or one of the other counselors in our online counselor directory to take the next step toward strengthening your marriage.
“Just Married”, Courtesy of Lauren Rader, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Sitting on a Wall”, Courtesy of Avi Richards, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Taxes”, Courtesy of Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Plastic”, Courtesy of Morning Brew, Unsplash.com, CC0 License