Here’s a not-so-fictional story about money and marriage, one that has been lived out in thousands of homes:
Making no effort to be quiet, Graham comes to bed. It’s about 1 a.m. Anna has been asleep for three hours, but she’s wide-awake now. ‘Anna,’ says Graham, ‘we’re never going to make it if you keep spending so much money.’ Stress squeezes Anna’s stomach. She knows Graham has been working on their finances. She’d like to pretend she didn’t hear him but figures she can’t.
She turns toward him. ‘Honey, what can I do? I try not to spend too much. There are things that we need.’ Graham sighs. “We need fifty dollars’ worth of makeup from Dillard’s? We need one hundred twenty dollars’ worth of groceries a week? We need to buy new furniture for the living room and put up new curtains? These are not needs, Hon.’
Anna stares at the ceiling. ‘Okay, the furniture and the curtains may not be needs, but my makeup and—’ Graham interrupts, ‘Honey, you’re beautiful. You don’t need to spend that kind of money on makeup.’ ‘But that’s what it costs. And I don’t buy it that often.’ She tries to snuggle next to Graham, but he pulls away. ‘Are you kidding?’ he says. ‘I’m so stressed out, and you think you can just cuddle up and be cute and it’ll all be okay. You’ve got to take some responsibility here, Anna. Things are not okay.’
As Graham and Anna have found, it can be a huge problem between husband and wife when one of them spends—or seems to spend—too much. In fact, if someone were to ask you what the number one reason is for couples falling apart, you might think sex, household chores, or the strain of bringing up children would top the list. However it’s actually money that drives more couples apart. Three leading charities all cited money worries as the number one cause of conflict in a relationship. They said it was not lack of cash that was the main cause of strife, but issues around trust and values—basically, if you disagree about how to manage your finances.
We will find that finances become a major issue in marriage when one or both members of a marriage get too wrapped up in accumulating things, or they worry too much about financial matters. They are resolved when both parties put God first.
Money and marriage principle #1
Both should focus on investing in eternal things. (Matt. 6:19–24)
Everything we value on Earth will pass away. Most of our existence will not be on this earth, and there is not one thing that you possess that you will take with you into eternity. Yet we fight and argue over things that have no lasting value whatsoever. You must start your discussions with this reality—“Everything you have will decay.”
How we handle money reflects on the focus of our heart. The value we give to things says something about us. Things like a passion to get fancy new cars, larger houses, or the latest technological gadget say something about what is really important to us. We go into debt, we stress ourselves and lose sleep when we have to give up something of value to us.
Buying things doesn’t provide real security. It does nothing to change God’s love for us. Due to the consumerism so prevalent in our culture, it’s an ongoing battle for many people to let go of the fleeting gratification of things for the long-term security of a relationship with God.
Several years ago construction workers were laying a foundation for a building outside the city of Pompeii. They found the corpse of a woman who must have been fleeing from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius but was caught in the rain of hot ashes. The woman’s hands clutched jewels, which were preserved in excellent condition. She had the jewels, but death had stolen it all. That’s the bottom line in life. Worldly treasure is not a wise investment because you can’t take it with you. Jim Elliot, a missionary who was martyred for his faith, understood this reality when he wrote in his journal, “A person is no fool to give up what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.” It’s not foolish to give up what you cannot keep in order to gain what you cannot lose.
If you make eternity your focus, you can put money and marriage into perspective and reduce the tensions it creates in your marriage.
Money and marriage principle #2
Trust God to provide for your essential needs. (Matt. 6:25–32)
You are more valuable to God than anything else he has created. One of the most difficult things to deal with is a loss of a job and the income that goes with it. It is exacerbated when you add debt to that mix. I have been there; I know. When you face such times, you must always remember—you are still of immeasurable value to God. Just as he has provided for us in the past, he will continue to provide. Even if we lose everything we own on Earth, we still have what really matters—a God who loves us and works all things for our good. (Rom. 8:28)
Worrying does absolutely nothing to resolve things. I can’t think of anyone who has a better life because they are obsessed with worry because of finances. If you can devote yourself to more productive things, other than worry, you are far more likely to come out better.
Money and marriage Principle # 3
Everything else falls into place when we seek God first. (Matt. 6:33–34)
The things we worry about most will be provided for. God is far more committed to our good than we believe. Look at what he did through Jesus. We see in God’s free gift of salvation that God can be trusted. Jesus is more precious than anything else. (1 Peter 2:7) When we have him, we have the most important thing.
Stay focused on the problems of today—not what could be. One reason it is so easy to fall into Satan’s trap of the money and marriage scarcity-mindset that produces our fear is that we rarely make the time anymore to stop and appreciate all the blessings God has already showered on us and all the capacity for blessing others he has placed within us. Ironically, we can usually manage the day- to-day issues of life without too much pain—especially if we focus on these blessings. It is the imagined, awful scenarios that most likely will never occur that cause our anxiety. It is this “awfulizing” that cripples our marriages as much as anything else.
There is a Father who has blessed us and will continue to do so. But there is also an enemy, Satan. First Peter 5:8 tells us, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” He will do everything to distract you, hurt you, and make you believe there is not enough, and that God does not really care for you. He will attack you in the places where you are most vulnerable. He will make empty promises and brew dissatisfaction in your soul and blatantly lie to you about God’s love and provision.217 He plants seeds of fear and hopelessness for the future. But remember, “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)
Many couples are like the one in our opening story. One spends too much and the other is fragile and worries too much. Both need to meditate on these passages (because they speak directly to money and marriage) and learn to overcome the fear of scarcity and to seek God’s kingdom first. For the wife, it is to learn that stuff does not provide security, and for the husband, that worry fixes nothing.