Chapter OneIt All Begins with Attitude
Before we look at the various dynamics related to handling money in marriage, we must first of all put money into its proper perspective. Some couples live as though the accumulation of money and the acquisition of material possessions are the focus of life. These couples live to get. A new purchase brings momentary pleasure. Between acquisitions, they experience emotional lows while anticipating the next moment of pleasure. I don't need to tell you that such an attitude does little to create marital satisfaction.
Jesus lived a rather simple lifestyle, but he impacted human history more than any person who has ever lived. I shall never forget the day I read this statement spoken by Jesus: "A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." It changed my perspective on money forever. It also resonated with my experience. Hundreds of well-to-do couples have sat in my office over the past thirty years and made statements like this: "We sold our souls for the acquisition of things, and now we are bankrupted spiritually and emotionally. We have things ... but life is empty."
RELATIONSHIPS, NOT THINGS
Real satisfaction is found not in money (any amount of it) but in loving relationships with God, our spouse, our children, and our friends. Loving relationships are our greatest asset. This is most often realized in moments of crisis. Many times I have stood outside the room of a hospital intensive-care center when a child was in critical condition because of an automobile accident or a life-threatening illness. What matters to the parents at that point is not how much money they have or the size of their house, but the friends who come to stand with them in the midst of deep pain. In the experience of physical and emotional crisis, all humankind stands on level ground-some have friends and some do not. Money is no replacement for friendships.
If you believe that more money and more material possessions will bring you marital happiness, you have the wrong attitude. Money can be used to provide more creature comforts, but money will not create a successful marriage. It is righteous living, love, patience, gentleness, and compassion that build meaningful relationships. It is treating each other with dignity, respect, love, and care that creates a happy marriage. This can be attained in the poorest of circumstances as well as in the homes of the affluent. If you are telling yourselves, "We'll be happier when we get more money," you are deceiving yourselves. Some of the happiest couples I know live near the poverty level. I am not saying that they do not aspire for more; they do. But they are under no illusion that more will automatically bring greater happiness.
In fact, quite the opposite can be true. I remember Paul Brown and his wife, Jill, (not their real names) who came to my office, separated and hurting. "We've got it all," Paul said, "and now all of it means nothing. We left God out of our lives; we didn't have time for friends. I worked two jobs. We've got our 4,500-square-foot house; we've got the cars; we've got money in the bank; but in the midst of it all, we've lost each other. I'd give it all away today if we could go back and start over in the little apartment where we lived when we first got married. In those days we had nothing, but we were happy. Today, we have everything, and we're miserable." With a great deal of counseling, Paul and Jill rediscovered each other. They did, in fact, lower their standard of living and raise their level of happiness. However, they could have saved themselves twelve years of miserable affluent living if they had found a proper perspective on money earlier in life.
The desire to have more material possessions is not necessarily an evil desire. The problem comes when we allow money to become the focus of our lives. The Scriptures say, "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." Such sorrows are not the result of having money or not having money, but of loving money. When obtaining money becomes the motivating force of our lives, we set ourselves up for "many griefs," such as the loss of marital intimacy. When, on the other hand, we keep money in its proper place, it becomes an asset to the marriage.
The second aspect of money about which many couples need a change of attitude is the area of ownership. In marriage, it is no longer "my money" and "your money" but rather "our money." In the same manner, it is no longer "my debts" or "your debts" but rather "our debts." If, before you marry, one of you owes $5,000 on an educational loan and the other owes $50 to a local department store, after the wedding you are collectively in debt $5,050. When you accept each other as partners, you accept each other's liabilities as well as each other's assets.
That is the reason full disclosure of assets and liabilities should be made by both partners before marriage. It is not wrong to enter marriage with debts, but you ought to discuss those debts beforehand and agree upon a plan and schedule of repayment. Most couples have some debts when they come to marriage, and a full disclosure by each will help them to face marriage realistically.
I have known couples who failed to discuss this area sufficiently before marriage and realize after the wedding that together they have a debt so large that they already feel a financial noose around their necks. What a tragedy to begin marriage with such a handicap. In my opinion, a large debt without a realistic means of repayment is sufficient cause to postpone the wedding.
In the same way, your assets are now joint assets. She may have $6,000 in a savings account and he may have only $90, but when they marry, they have $6,090. If you do not feel comfortable with this oneness, then you are not ready for marriage. The very motif of marriage is unity, oneness, togetherness. When it comes to finances, you must move toward unity.
There may be cases in which, because of very large estates or children from a previous marriage, the couple would be wise to retain individual ownership of certain properties or assets. But for most of us, the principle of unity implies joint savings accounts, checking accounts, property ownership, and so on. We are now a team, and we want to express our unity in finances as well as in other areas of life. Since it is our money, it means that neither of us will try to control the finances. Instead, we will manage our finances together as a team, using the best of our past experience and wisdom.
Certainly, one spouse may regularly write the checks for the monthly bills and balance the check-book, but the other partner needs to have full access to all financial matters and freedom to express opinions and negotiate decisions. When one partner tries to control the finances to the exclusion of the other, that person becomes a parent, and the partner, a child. One wife said, "I am ashamed to say this, but it illustrates the problem: Every time I need a pair of hose, I have to go to my husband and say, `May I have five dollars to buy a pair of hose?' It's horrible. I feel like a child." Such an arrangement does not strengthen the marital relationship and will inevitably result in numerous conflicts.
If you and your spouse embrace the two realities discussed in this chapter-(1) our relationship is more important than the amount of money we have, and (2) whatever we possess belongs to us jointly-then you will have laid the foundation for making money an asset in your marriage.
PUTTING THE PRINCIPLES INTO PRACTICE
1. In the past, what has been your attitude toward money? What changes do you need to make in your attitude?
2. Are you willing to embrace the concept that your marriage is more important than the accumulation of money and material possessions? Would you be willing to verbalize this to your spouse?
3. Are you willing to embrace the idea that all your money and possessions now belong to both of you equally and that all your debts are now "our debts"? Would you be willing to verbalize this to your spouse?
4. As an act of affirming these attitudes, perhaps the two of you would like to sign and date the following statement:
We recognize that money will never bring us happiness, that our relationship to each other is more important than what we possess. We further agree that all our possessions belong to us jointly and that all our debts are shared. We will work as a team to manage our finances in such a way as to enhance our relationship.
___________________________________ Husband Date ___________________________________ Wife Date