Marriage is hard. Don’t get me wrong; singleness is also hard. When we are single, we must learn how to battle our flesh, fight loneliness, and manage the discomfort of feeling out of place in certain situations––singleness is hard. But marriage is also hard but for different reasons. Marriage requires that we learn to live with two sinners instead of one. And this can make life exponentially more difficult. Marriage requires that we share and sharing…well, that is not among our strongest inclinations.
Moreover, money only seems to complicate the task of living with another sinner. Money can be a tool used to bless our spouse and promote their happiness. Or money can be weaponized as an instrument to incite guilt and execute vengeance. Money can reveal how skillful we are at sharing our love with another. Or money can reveal fault lines in a marriage.
Money is challenging in marriage because it sets itself up in competition with our spouse. Money often contends for time, mental space, and desire. Consequently, if you and your spouse are not on the same page when it comes to your beliefs about money, you are headed for unnecessary conflict and maybe even disaster.
Nevertheless, money does not need to be a source of conflict in your marriage. Couples who recognize that money can either bless or curse their marriage often avoid devastating pitfalls. What follows are four ways that I have witnessed couples sabotage their marriages and ways I have seen couples use money as a tool to promote flourishing in their marriages.
Weapon of wrath
Money can make invisible desires objective reality. If one desires to rest, then money can provide an actual escape. If your inner desire is for peace, then money can make life a little easier. Money can turn immaterial desires into objective realities. And for this reason, money is a powerful temptress.
When one spouse is angry, money is often used to make invisible anger an objective reality. Anyone who has witnessed a divorce knows this to be true! Money becomes an objective tool to execute inner outrage.
Money is often used to execute wrath in two ways: First, money is often withheld as a means of vengeance. Many married couples often declare one spouse to be the C.F.O. There is one spouse who controls the checkbook. And when the C.F.O. is offended, there is a strong temptation to shut down all funding. The home can become like Congress in the middle of a budget fight. Subsequently, nothing gets funded! Money can quickly become a subtle way to take vengeance when spouses are hurt. Second, spouses can use money as an instrument to execute passive-aggressive anger. “..Oh I see you got your nails done again,” “Another round of golf today, how much was that?” Money can become a medium to incite guilt in our spouse, and this guilt weighs us down long after the conflict is resolved.
Instrument of blessing
Money can also be a means of blessing. Money can be used to transform inward affection into an outward expression of love. It does not take a lot of effort or creativity to use money as an instrument to bless your spouse. An unexpected treat from Starbucks on the way home from work orr gift-card to their favorite store for no apparent reason. Money has the potential to be an instrument of wrath, but money is intended to be a tool to promote love. This is why Christians believe that giving to God is a part of Christian worship––financial giving reveals what a person loves.
Weapon of want
Coveting is wanting more than God has appointed at any given time. A covetous heart often sabotages a marriage. Covetousness usually takes the form of wanting the life that someone else has. It is easy to look at Instagram and see other couples enjoying a vacation, a new car, or the purchase of a new home and secretly want their life. And sometimes coveting happens when the heart desires a freedom one experienced while single. Moreover, coveting can occur when we want the life that took others 50 years to obtain. The covetous heart often wants the future now!
But coveting is lethal in marriage because it creates pressure and expectation that can never be fully satisfied. A desire for more preys upon our marriage in other subtle ways. Coveting presents a unique danger in marriage because if we are not happy with what we have materially, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that we will not be satisfied with our marriage partner. A heart that always wants more is restless, and this is unsettling to your spouse and creates feelings of insecurity. If you are unsatisfied with material possessions, how can your spouse ever be confident you will be satisfied with them?
Instrument of thankfulness
To combat the power of coveting, practice thanksgiving as a couple. Thank God for all that He has entrusted to you, and thank God for all He has withheld from you. How many times have we ever thanked God for not giving us more success, fame, or money? John Calvin once said, “The rich man is the one who always wants more.” Have you ever thought that God’s grace is also evident in what He withholds? If riches have the power to incite coveting, then we ought to be grateful when He protects us from vices that may harm our marriage.
Weapon of deception
Deception is crippling to a marriage. And money often becomes an instrument that sets landmines of dishonesty between spouses. Couples that blatantly bear false witness about purchases know that other issues are festering under the surface. Nevertheless, what I have seen more than once is that one partner seems to conveniently “forget” to inform the other partner about their purchases. When couples do not share the same views on money, there is a temptation to either deliberately lie about spending or merely neglect to share about their spending habits. If you can’t include your partner in a purchase, then there is a strong possibility that you are not on the same page when it comes to money in your marriage, and this ultimately chips away at your trust for one another.
Instrument of truth
Fight deception in your finances by sharing information. Budget together. This might not sound romantic, but budgeting together gets you both talking about your finances. Couples who are on the same page of the checkbook seems to find it easier to discuss other less pragmatic issues. It is easier to address more sensitive issues like sex, children, wants and desires when you cultivate a sense of unity, and budgeting provides habits that foster oneness. But if that is not something the other party is interested or gifted in, at least share the budget together. If you use an app system, you can get alarms when a debit or credit purchase is made. Find what works for both of you, but your marriage will grow in honesty and truth when you are open about where your money is going.
Weapon of self-indulgence
Stealing is anoutward expression of selfishness. The reason people take what is not their own is that they are self-focused and self-centered. But selfishness has multiple sides. One side of selfishness takes from others merely because they want something the other person has. But another side of selfishness fails to protect what is rightfully another person’s; therefore, stealing is not only taking what is not your own, but stealing also includes not protecting what is another’s. The biblical command not to steal also calls us to reject selfishness.
When a man and woman get married, they become one flesh. And this means that any “yours” and “mine” mentality is replaced with an “ours” mentality. The radical selflessness of marriage even encompasses how one views their own body. Scripture tells us that husbands and wives are not to withhold their bodies from one another because their bodies are no longer their own.
Many couples shipwreck their marriage because they do not foster an attitude of unity. Over the years, I have seen that when one spouse makes more money than the other spouse, there is a temptation for resentment or guilt to form. Moreover, I noticed that when couples keep separate bank accounts, there is a temptation to begin thinking “my money—their money” and this undermines the basic foundation of unity and thus feeds a spirit of selfishness.
Instrument of unity
Marriage is an institution of unity. When we get married, your spouse’s student loan becomes your student loan. The silly credit-card debt your spouse racked up before marriage becomes your silly credit-card debt. But the root of love is selflessness. By joining together and viewing all things in marriage as common, couples can grow not only in unity but also shave off those edges of selfishness that steal joy from our marriage.
Marriage and money do not need to be at odds. But we must work to view money as an instrument to help one another flourish and not a weapon of punishment or guilt.