Surviving Financial Stress
by: Dave Willis
Perhaps the most devastating aspect of the Coronavirus crisis isn’t the virus itself but the financial fear and devastation it’s creating. As people watch their 401k’s dwindle away and many jobs are in jeopardy, the financial stress millions are feeling is overwhelming. The current economic crisis is definitely something very unique, but financial stress in marriage has been a hurdle for couples to overcome since the very beginning.
Even before the current economic crisis began, I read a report that listed “financial stress” or “disagreements about money” as one of the top two reasons for divorce. Financial pressure can certainly squeeze a husband and a wife in some very unique ways, and if the couple can’t find unity around a financial plan, money troubles can become a wedge that drives them apart. Financial stress is a factor in almost every marriage at one point or another, and how you choose to deal with it can make a tremendous difference in the long-term health of your relationship.
Ashley and I can relate to this in our own marriage. In recent years, we’ve been unified in our financial goals, but in the early years, our lack of a financial plan created immense stress. We were young and in love and we naively thought love alone was enough. We learned the hard way that credit cards aren’t the same thing as money and debt takes away freedom. We didn’t experience anything like the “Coronavirus economic collapse” happening today, but the storms we weathered in our finances were still one the greatest challenges we’d ever faced.
Digging our way out of financial debt from our early years of marriage took time and it took a disciplined plan, but most importantly, it required unity. Ashley and I had to resolve to be on the same page when it came to money (and everything else for that matter). In retrospect, I’m thankful for those early, hard lessons, because working through them together actually strengthened our marriage.
We still feel the pinch of financial pressure at times, because as kids get older, they keep getting more expensive! When the pressure comes or an unexpected bill shows up in the mailbox, we try to take a deep breath and remember the hard-earned lessons from early in our marriage. We also feel it in times like these where there’s such widespread economic uncertainty.
If you are in a season of financial pressure caused by the recent financial collapse (or any other factor) in your marriage, please remember these principles. I believe they could help your marriage as much as they’ve helped mine. In no particular order…
- Remember that your spouse is always more important than your money.
First and foremost, you’ve got to remind yourself and remind each other that the marriage is more valuable than any financial matters. You can’t put a price tag on your marriage or your family, so decide in advance that money struggles won’t come between you.
- Fight for unity instead of fighting against each other.
Decide that unity is more important than “winning.” We all have a desire to “win” which essentially just means getting our way. In marriage, it’s never worth getting your way at the expense of your spouse. You’re on the same team, so you’re either going to win together or lose together. Work to develop a set of goals where you both can win. You will both most likely have to give up some wants and some preferences along the way, but those minor sacrifices are well worth the investment into the health of your marriage.
- Eliminate debt.*
The Book of Proverbs in the Bible is full of practical wisdom related to money. Proverbs tells us that debt is a form of slavery because it removes our freedoms, so we should avoid it, and if we’re in it, we should relentlessly work to get free of it. Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University” book and/or course is a great resource to help you start the process of getting out of debt and truly finding financial peace in your marriage.
*Note: In this season of financial crisis many are feeling, you can give yourself the freedom to take care of basic necessities and start paying off debt when you’re able. Make sure you’re prioritizing food, shelter and other basic necessities in your budget first. These are unprecedented times and you don’t have to add unnecessary extra pressure to yourself by trying to pay off all your debts when you are struggling to buy basic necessities. You WILL get through this. You can re-evaluate the plan once the storm has passed.
- Develop a plan and stick to it.
The word “budget” can be a scary word if you’ve never really had one before. Don’t look at a budget as a prison, but as a path to freedom. It’s pre-deciding what the family’s primary needs and desires are and then allowing your money to reflect those values without getting distracted by that shiny new thing at the mall. Make sure your plan includes saving because having a cushion of savings will help prevent future stress. The free app called “Every Dollar” is a great resource to help you get started with a plan.
- Communicate with your spouse about all financial matters.
As a quick clarification, fighting is not the same thing as communicating! Talk to each other about what’s coming in and what’s going out. Keep each other in the loop about all unexpected purchases. For Ashley and me, a policy we’ve stuck to for years is we’ll call or text each other if we’re making any unexpected purchase over $50 just to keep each other in the loop. Communication shows respect and brings unity.
- Never commit “Financial Infidelity.”
Infidelity doesn’t necessarily mean a sexual affair. That’s one extreme form of unfaithfulness, but there are others including financial infidelity. The word infidelity literally means “broken trust.” Don’t break your spouse’s trust by hiding financial transactions or hiding money from each other. This form of dishonesty will prove to be devastating to the overall trust and unity in the marriage. If you’ve been guilty of this, confess it to your spouse and work together to create more trust and transparency in the marriage.
- Remember that God owns it and you just manage it.
One of the Bible’s most liberating and counter-cultural teachings on money is that “your money” isn’t really yours. God owns everything and He has given you the ability to make money and the responsibility to manage those resources well. Remember that it’s all His will remove our sense of entitlement and free us to live with generosity and with an eternal perspective instead of a temporary one. It will help us pass up on some of those impulse purchases that can create debt. Remember whose it is and remember whose YOU are too. You are a child of God with limitless, eternal value and your “net worth” has nothing to do with your “self – worth.”
The bottom line is that money will be an opportunity to grow closer in partnership with your spouse or an excuse to grow apart from your spouse. It’s really all up to you. These lean times most of us are experiencing can actually be an opportunity to grow closer to your spouse and closer to God as you learn to live with less temporarily and show gratitude for the simple blessings all around you. Don’t let financial stress steal your joy! Life’s greatest blessings can’t be measured in dollars.
Please apply these principles and make your marriage stronger by getting on the same page with your finances. For more tools to help you build a unified marriage, check out the new free trial of XO Now which is like a “Netflix” of marriage videos streaming 24/7. This includes our recent XO Conference Talk on the keys to financial unity and strength in marriage. You can watch it here.