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January 7, 2022

When Couples Disagree about Giving

By Jeanne Harrison

It’s no secret that couples fight about money. It’s a leading cause of divorce, and of something Dr. John Gottman calls “gridlock.” (You know those fights you have over and over? That’s gridlock – an unresolved issue.)

It’s also no secret that God wants us to be generous and willing to share. The Bible actually says we’re not experiencing true life until we’re living generously (I Timothy 6:17-19). But what if you can’t agree about how generous to be? What if your spouse is entirely opposed to giving? Or so eager to shell out the cash it makes your heart palpitate?

Here’s how Clint and I got on the same page about giving. And trust me, it didn’t come naturally to us. In fact, it landed us in therapy.

Talk about How Money Makes You Feel
I know it sounds a little cheesy, but have you ever tried it? Word-association was one of the first things we did in counseling. I learned that while money makes me feel “anxious” and “stressed,” Clint associates money with feelings of “adventure,” “fun,” and “connection.” (Gosh, isn’t he awesome? What I wouldn’t give to trade brains every now and then!)

Those three little words put the first chink in my judgmental view of his spending. Maybe taking our daughter on an expensive shopping spree wasn’t
“frivolous” or “irresponsible”…maybe it was his way of connecting with her, of demonstrating lavish love.

Share Your Financial Dreams
After talking about how money makes you feel, paint a picture of your financial dreams. How much money would you like to have one day? What would your life look like? When it’s your turn to listen, ask clarifying questions if necessary, but don’t weigh in. The goal isn’t to evaluate the validity or morality of your spouse’s dream. The goal is to understand it.

Identify the Dream Beneath the Dream
The next part is a little harder. Try to identify the dream beneath your dream. For instance – let’s say your financial dream is to buy a mansion on Park Avenue and be the “it” house where all the kids want to hang out. Pools, tennis courts, helipad, you name it!

Why do you want that? Dig a little deeper. Maybe you grew up in a dysfunctional home with very little joy, and your “dream beneath the dream” is for your kids to feel safe, happy, and special – to have everything you didn’t have. Or maybe your dream isn’t to own a mansion, but to save so much money you couldn’t possibly spend it in ten lifetimes. There’s a dream beneath that dream, too.

Evaluate Your Desires in Light of the Gospel
Once you’ve identified your core desire, or “dream beneath the dream,” evaluate that desire in light of the gospel. If we’re using the mansion on Park Avenue as an example, we might ask ourselves, “What does the Bible say about true happiness? Can I trust God with my kids? What does the gospel say about God’s love for me and for them? Does true safety come from stuff?”

Sometimes it’s helpful to write down the lies you’ve been believing. I believe I can buy happiness. I believe that if I give my kids a great life filled with great stuff, I can protect them from pain.

It sounds a little ridiculous doesn’t it? Lies tend to lose their luster when they’re stated plainly. And yet, when we don’t pause to identify them, we live by them – ludicrous though they may be.

Take a Spiritual Next Step
At this point, having identified underlying desires and held them up to the truth of God’s Word, we’re poised to actually change. To grow and be better. Before talking as a couple, consider what next step God would have you take as individuals. How is He calling you to grow personally in the area of giving – to live a new dream, built on truth instead of lies?

Create a Plan Together
When you’re ready to discuss guidelines for giving as a couple, begin with an area of agreement. (Counseling 101 – There is always an area of agreement, even if it’s as simple as, “We both want what’s best for our family.”) Clint and I agreed that we both want to be generous and wise in our giving. We also agreed that tithing at least 10% of our income to God’s church was a form of obedience. But above and beyond that 10%, we didn’t agree.

I wanted our giving to be structured (and – I’ll be honest – minimal), but Clint wanted the freedom to give generously as God led. We decided to set a budget for charitable giving beyond our church tithe. Every month a certain amount of money went into a giving fund. If we didn’t give it away, it rolled over. The fund gave Clint freedom to be spontaneous, and it gave me security because it was budgeted. Of course, there were also principles regarding saving, spending, and the like.

Fast forward several years, and our charitable giving fund no longer exists. It was a helpful tool for a season, but as I grew in trusting Clint and God, I outgrew my need for guardrails. These days when Clint wants to give extravagantly, I don’t limit it – I lean in and celebrate it! Part of that has to do with my trust in Clint, watching him faithfully manage money for sixteen years. And a lot of it has to do with my own spiritual growth, coming to value eternity and recognize generosity as an expression of love for God (Matthew 25:40).

Wouldn’t it be great if 2022 was the year you broke out of gridlock and put the money fight to bed once and for all? I promise it’s possible. It’s profitable, too, in the “currency” of relational peace and godliness. As Paul once told Timothy, “Godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (I Timothy 4:8).

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