IT'S SHOCKING TO HEAR THAT THE DIVORCE RATE today is about the same for Christians and non-Christians. Even more shocking is the rate—nearly 50%! Yet respected pollsters consistently agree that the number one cause of divorce is trouble over finances. For some the issue is debt; family members can’t or won’t resist the urge to purchase items far beyond their ability to repay. For others, disputes arise over not enough money, too much money, or who is buying what. With this in mind, it only makes sense to pay attention to potential trouble in a marriage—whatever the cause.
It is amazing how different two people can be in their approach to spending, saving, giving, and planning for the future. Each family usually has one saver and one spender! Believe it or not, this is not only normal, but it is part of God’s plan for bringing balance to both lives. Differences in a married couple are actually opportunities for growth and spiritual development. The spender learns to live on a budget (although “spending plan” is a much nicer term), and the saver learns there are times when a wise expenditure (a new sofa, a fresh coat of paint, a vacation) can be a blessing. Are you aware that the Bible has more to say about money than any other single topic except love? This can only mean that God realized people would have trouble with managing their resources, so He gave good instructions on just how to do it.
Financial disagreements create enormous tension in the home, spreading to the children and eventually robbing the family of loving relationships. The first signs of trouble appear when every conversation begins and ends with money, debt, overextended credit, or some disputed financial decision. To avoid unpleasant confrontation, many couples simply stop talking, and the breach in the relationship deepens. When communications are poor or non-existent, diminished intimacy soon follows. Trouble between spouses becomes apparent to the children, then the extended family, and finally to friends.
The ideal situation is one in which a couple makes basic decisions about money before marriage—and pre-marital counseling most definitely should involve money talk. Developing a beginning budget is a good way to introduce concepts of giving, living on less than you earn, saving for major purchases without using credit, saving and investing for the future, and mutually agreed upon rules for making purchases. Some couples agree not to purchase anything costing more than $50 without discussing the purchase with the other partner. Resolving these issues before marriage can prevent problems, misunderstandings and heartache later on.
But we don’t live in a perfect world. What if you married without benefit of good counsel, and now find yourself in debt, in trouble with your marriage, wishing you could make a fresh start? The good news is—you can! Seeking outside help from a trusted Christian counselor is a good first step. (Other family members are often perceived as biased, whether or not they really are, and generally they are not a good choice.) Next, create an accurate assessment of your finances today and identify any barriers that prevent you from making fundamental changes in the ways you handle money. Agree on priorities, agree to live below present income, and develop an action plan to insure all debt is repaid. Remember that a Christian’s witness is at stake if he or she fails to repay debt—within the family, to the world outside, and especially to the church. Don’t allow money differences to become a barrier to the sound, loving marriage God has in mind for you.
Former magazine editor Norma Goldman enjoys a free-lance career in her retirement. She lives in Nashville, TN.