Mikestrathdee’s Blog

Money and Marriage
January 1, 2009, 5:47 pm
Filed under: Communication, Debt, Financial Management, Marriage
Money and Marriage
From the Jan. 8, 2007 issue of Canadian MennoniteMoney and marriage

—Mike Strathdee

Money problems are a leading cause of failed marriages, the cable TV series Til Debt Do Us Part suggests. In the program, Canadian author Gail Vax-Oxlade works on financial makeovers for couples who are in over their heads, unable or unwilling to agree on how to make things better.

As many as 90 percent of all marriage breakdowns relate to money problems of one sort or another. So why is the discussion of financial issues in pre-marital counselling and marriage renewal courses often relegated to the margins, glossed over or neglected altogether? Even the Marriage Course, an eight-session video study produced by the people who put together the Alpha program, fails to give serious attention to issues around family life and mammon. Money is the greatest cause of arguments in marriage, the course mentions in passing, then moves on to the next topic.

In a society in which almost all of the financial messages that people receive are “spend, spend, spend,” if Christian communities don’t have strong voices urging couples to live frugally and model the nitty gritty of positive choices, it is almost as if we’re silently affirming the culture. Vax-Oxlade cites statistics indicating that 70 percent of people spend more than their gross income every year.

An article in Psychology Today noted that most adults—67 percent of women and 74 percent of men—enter marriage with at least some debt. Far fewer have a plan on how to deal with the situation, or an understanding of the negative effects the unacknowledged presence can have on their household. This can compromise what Scott Stanley calls the three important elements of safety in relationships:

• The ability to talk freely,

• Safety from physical harm, and

• A sense of security about the future.

Shared understandings around the use of money—who pays for what, when do I need to check in about a proposed purchase—need to be talked through early and often to avoid resentment and mistrust. Too often, the conversations needed to develop a common philosophy around spending, saving and giving don’t happen. Remaining stuck in family-of-origin patterns around finances, be they unhealthy hoarding or compulsive spending, can be equally damaging to a partnership.

Challenges to face and deal with these issues are absent from pre-marriage counselling, in some cases because pastors feel rushed, uncomfortable or ill-equipped to address the topic. Yet these transitional milestone times provide opportunity for introducing new thoughts and approaches, to encourage communication and full disclosure as cornerstones of relational health.

When a colleague and I did a presentation on marriage and money to a group of recently and soon-to-be wed couples this fall, we noticed several things. All of the participants did their pre-work and eagerly received resources offered for them to take home. The common theme in post-event evaluations was a desire for more conversation, both as couples and in a group setting. There can be considerable power and healing in shared stories of strengths and struggles.

Can we take the time and make the space in our congregational communities, in livingrooms and other settings to allow these conversations to multiply and flourish?

Mike Strathdee, CFP,  is a stewardship consultant at the Kitchener, Ont., office of Mennonite Foundation of Canada (MFC). For stewardship education, estate and charitable gift planning, contact your nearest MFC office or visit mennofoundation.ca.


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