Research has shown that money is the most frequently reported issue that couples argue about. They fight over how to spend it, the need to save, how to invest it, who should pay what, how to share the responsibility for money tasks, and many more issues. Almost all marital decisions, in some way, are linked to money — from taking a new job, to renting or building a new house, to choosing what kind of car to buy or making decisions about children’s education.
Amazingly, many couples feel uncomfortable talking about money, so it is rarely discussed. Usually the subject is brought up only when a problem pops up, and then it becomes an argument and not a discussion. Approaching it in a crisis makes it difficult to resolve. This is why money often tends to inflame so many passions and results in so many marital crises.
The truth is, when couples can easily resolve their financial difficulties and conflicts, they find that their marriage or relationship is, to some extent, stable and blissful. This is not to say that absence of money problems guarantees a happy marriage, but it definitely results in less strain on the relationship.
Now, one bone of contention in some marriages is who picks up the bills and to what extent.
With regard to the division of responsibilities in the home the Bible, and even tradition, expects the husband to be in charge of and provide for his family. And this is in sync with the general expectation in most traditional societies and homes. This does not, however, mean that the wife cannot or should not assist or support. Proverbs 31, for example, demonstrates that a godly wife definitely does so and is commended for it.
Today, however, too many women are stressed out catering for the financial needs of their homes. This is partly because the realities of our time make many men incapable of fulfilling their God-assigned role of provider. It is therefore no wonder that in many homes, the woman plays the roles of both wife and provider. I would like to believe that, where that is the case, it is just a temporary arrangement. The man should and must take over his own responsibility of providing for his family as soon as his financial situation improves.
It behooves the woman then to continually pray for her husband to succeed in whatever he does. His success, of course, will impact positively on the home. But it becomes a problem where the man is lazy and does not want to work. This, anyhow one looks at it, is an aberration and any woman or man who is going through it ought to seek counsel.
Now, one reason some homes experience financial stress is mismanagement. Another reason is that, even where both spouses make money and are willing to jointly support the home, their incomes put together are hardly enough these days. In some cases, one or both of them might have been laid off, a business might be failing or someone might have made a bad investment. It therefore becomes very important that deliberate efforts are made to manage whatever is available in order to save one’s marriage from the stress lack of money or not enough money exerts on it.
Then, there is the problem of unrealistic expectations. For example, one spouse might have had a vision of marrying someone who is well-to-do, but instead fell in love with someone who is up-and-coming. In such a case, it is so easy to blame one’s spouse or oneself and constantly wish that there was more money in the household. If you are in that kind of situation, unless you can realistically change your financial situation, you need to face up to your expectations for what they are—expectations, not reality. The sooner you learn to be content with what you have and manage it appropriately, the sooner you will find true happiness.
Other factors that may contribute to financial stress include:
- Over-exposure to credit options.
- Lack of financial literacy and ability to budget.
- Lack of knowledge about how to tackle financial stress before it becomes life-threatening.
- Refusal or unwillingness of couples to harmonise their spending.
The truth is, if you consistently are unable to pay household bills as and when due, forgo important family activities due to a shortage of money, borrow money from family, friends, neighbours or even banks to meet basic needs and/or are unable to meet debt obligations as and when due, then it is an indication that you are under financial stress and need to deliberately do something to get out of it.
The starting point is to be upfront with your spouse and determine what you can in reality afford or not afford. It does not matter where others live, for example, or which school your neighbour’s children attend, you can realistically decide what you and your spouse can afford. Anything you cannot genuinely afford ought to come off your list of priorities, or you can gradually save towards it, where necessary. Trying to keep up with the Joneses will only harm your marriage in the long run.
In many homes, there is the spendthrift and there is the saver. And we are not all equally good at handling money. Much of the responsibility of managing family finances should therefore, without any schism, be left with the spouse who can do it more effectively, particularly where there is a family purse.
Now, one source of friction in some homes, particularly with reference to finances, is money spent on siblings, parents or others generally. As much as it is alright to support or take care of siblings and parents, it must not be done to the detriment of one’s immediate family or home. It is better to plan together as a couple and set a limit on how much the family can afford on such obligations.
By all means, have a family budget. This will enable you to know what is truly important, what to cut down on or what to cut off all-together. And if you are getting out of a debt situation or are always short of cash, you need to do all you can to try to curb spending.
As much as these hold true in life generally, it is much more so in the home. Whatever plans you may have towards financial prudence will not amount to much without the consent of your spouse. So as much as you can, carry your spouse along in your family finance management efforts. Where he or she is proving difficult however, take him or her to God in prayers. God will grant your heart’s desires concerning your family finances.