The Hidden Issues Behind Money Conflicts
About the Guest
Why are money issues so challenging for couples? On today's broadcast, Dennis Rainey talks with marital researcher Scott Stanley about the root issues behind financial conflicts in the home.
Scott StanleyScott Stanley, Ph.D., is a research professor and co‑director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver. He has published widely with research interests including commitment, communication, conflict, confidence, risk factors for divorce, the prevention of marital distress, and couple development. Along with Dr. Howard Markman and colleagues, he has been involved in the research, development, and refinement of the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (...more
Why are money issues so challenging for couples?
The Hidden Issues Behind Money Conflicts
Wife: Guess what?
Wife: Brandemoor's [ph] has that armoire.
Husband: What armoire?
Wife: The one we've been wanting for ages, and it's on sale this weekend.
Wife: Honey, it's the best price I've seen on it yet. Do you want to come with me to get it?
Husband: I don't think we've got enough money at the moment to go get it.
Wife: Oh, but we do.
Wife: Well, in fact, we'll still have $200 left over, you know, in our special account after we buy it.
Husband: Whoa, whoa, I was counting on using half that money for the tires.
Husband: For the Chevy.
Wife: Tires for the – half of the money in the account is for tires? You mean these tires cost $800?
Husband: Something like that – $700 or $800, I guess.
Wife: You never said anything about getting new tires for the Chevy. Why does it need new tires?
Husband: Well, it doesn't need new tires, but these tires are correct, original replacement tires. They were the right kind, and it will look a lot better with them. I've wanted them for a long time, okay?
Wife: Oh, so you'd like them – we were not planning on buying tires, we were planning on buying this armoire, and it's on sale right now.
Husband: That's something YOU want, not something WE want. And, of course, if YOU get what YOU want, as usual, I don't get what I want for a long time.
Wife: Oh, I think you're just saying that now because you're angry.
Husband: I'm not angry.
Wife: You know we've wanted to get this armoire.
Husband: I didn't say that.
Wife: Well, are you saying that you misled me when we talked about this before?
Husband: Wife, I haven't misled you. Look, talking about something you might want in the future is not the same as deciding to go out and buy it today because it's on sale. Come on, let's try to be adults about this, okay?
Husband: Yes, adults.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, July 22nd. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We face choices every day about how we are going to spend our money, right? How often do we disagree about those choices?
Wife: So throwing a tantrum because you can't wait to buy new tires for your toy car is being an adult?
Husband: It's not a toy car, it's a collector's car, okay?
Bob: The challenge of financial priorities trying to determine who gets what this month what the priorities ought to be, the armoire or the tires?
You've never had anything like that, have you?
Dennis: I was just getting ready to ask you. In fact, I want to ask our guest, Dr. Scott Stanley, who joins us on FamilyLife Today. Scott, welcome back.
Scott: Thank you, great to be here.
Dennis: I want all of us to answer this question …
Dennis: Go back to the beginning of your marriage and just rate how different you were when it came to the subject of money and spending and saving and how you handled it. You got a number on how different you were, 10 being very different?
Bob: Oh, you want it on a scale of 1-10?
Dennis: One to 10, and 1 being we were lockstep from the beginning, all right? You got it? Scott's shaking his head.
Dennis: You were a seven – that different?
Scott: Pretty different. We came from very different families. Nancy came from a farm family, and they were – both families were pretty tight and very careful with money but, boy, farmers can pinch a penny, and my dad, especially, was much more used to buying some nice things from time to time.
Dennis: Biggest argument in the first years of your marriage – do you recall in that penny-pinching farm family?
Scott: I don't remember big conflicts about it, though. Actually, the irony was that Nancy's family was so careful and tight about money, this wasn't a conflict, but I would like to go out to eat from time to time and so would Nancy, but we couldn't go out to eat without her getting a headache because we'd be spending money out to eat, and that was sort of a superfluous kind of thing to be spending money on. But she's gotten over it.
Dennis: You were hoping for a romantic meal, it kind of defeats it.
Scott: Exactly. The headache was there before the food even came.
Dennis: All right, Bob, what about you and Mary Ann?
Bob: I'd say we were a 3 in terms of our differences. I would say our financial ethic was very similar in that we both agreed that any month that you couldn't pay the credit cards at the end of the month – that was the end of the credit cards. So throughout our marriage, we've always paid off our credit card bills the end of every month. We haven't gone into consumer debt for anything. In fact, we've wanted to avoid debt. Tithing was something we were in agreement on, and giving is a priority was something that we were in agreement on.
If there was a difference, it was that I tended to be more impulsive and a little more free-flowing financially, and Mary Ann tends to be a little more restrictive and felt uncomfortable with some of my free-flowingness. I've said at the Weekend to Remember conference, when I talk about this, it seems like people who are tight with a dollar tend to be married to somebody who thinks their credit card needs fresh air and sunshine on a regular basis in order to remain healthy.
Dennis: Well, I'm reflecting back, as you say that, I'd have to say Barbara and I were a 2 or 3, which is interesting just to think about how money causes so many conflicts with couples, and, Scott, I want you to comment on this, but Barbara and I were both in full-time Christian work. We were making $285 a month.
Scott: That much?
Dennis: Even back then …
Bob: … in the olden days …
Dennis: … in the olden days it wasn't much money. I mean, it was a tight time. Now, together, we got a raise to $560 a month.
Bob: You were in the bigs then.
Dennis: We were in the big, big leagues at that point, but we agreed about tithing, about giving, and we're pretty much on target together until later on in our marriage I noticed she began to purchase shoes. My ability to purchase fly rods and fishing equipment and hunting equipment …
Bob: … and important things …
Dennis: … important things, you know, I just didn't have as many of them as she had shoes. And it still is a great joke in our marriage, but we really have not had that much difficulty in hammering out our financial philosophy together.
Bob: Well, and I was fascinated, and we should let our listeners know, if they don't know Scott Stanley, he is a researcher from the University of Denver and probably the premier researcher on marriage issues in America today.
He co-authored a number of books including a book about money called You Paid How Much For That? And one of the things that I found fascinating in your book is that this issue of money, financial conflict, it's the big kahuna, isn't it?
Scott: It's the big one, and there's probably a number of reasons for that, but the biggest one, we think, is that so many decisions, day-to-day, involve money. And, by the way, I wanted to tell the 20-some-year-later story – I think Nancy and I are a 1 or 2 now on that scale, and I think that’s what happens in good marriages if you start with some distance in terms of something important and how you handle that you’ll work that out over the years in terms of your tendency.
It does take some work because just taking this difference I said with Nancy and I – she grew up on a farm, I grew up in the city – my parents owned their own business and essentially her parents did too with the farm but it was very different. For them you didn't replace the TV until the rubber band driving it inside had completely broken, and in our family if some electronic device was getting a little fritzy, it was out by the street and replaced in an instant. And so we had those differences.
But money involves so many decisions, day-to-day, week-to-week, that if couples are having difficulty agreeing on what matters and what the priorities are, money is going to get them because they have to deal with it all the time.
Bob: In fact, I found it interesting that your research shows that it doesn't seem to matter whether it's before marriage, early marriage, late in marriage, where they've got a lot of money or a little bit of money, money is an issue for everybody at every stage in their marriage.
Scott: That's right.
Bob: But then you went on to say it's not really about money.
Scott: Exactly right. In fact, a lot of times couples think, "If we just had a bit more," or "If you would change a bit in this way about money," "If you wouldn't spend so much our issues would go away," and in this book we talk about the invisible forces that get attached to money. Money has so much potential meaning to us about values, about priorities, about control, and all these other kinds of dimensions, and so couples who can't figure out that there is something on that deeper level are almost a lost cause to really get to managing money well, because the meanings will keep getting in the way.
Dennis: I want to move to some of those hidden factors that impact a couple and how they deal with money, but as I was reflecting on this in our own marriage, I thought of two prevalent issues where – when money has been an issue and has showed up in our relationship, they've been the reasons. One is selfishness, and the other tied closely to it are values. Money reveals my motive, and it also reveals where my ultimate values are.
It was Jesus who said, "Where your treasure is there will your heart be also."
Bob: And, see, I don't know that I've ever stopped to think about this. We've talked at the Weekend to Remember conferences for years about how the sexual relationship in marriage is a thermometer that tells you how the rest of the marriage is going. Well, the financial area is the exact same thing.
Scott: It's another very good thermometer.
Bob: It's a regular diagnostic tool not to say that you've got financial problems necessarily but to say that there are relationship issues that have never been addressed the way they need to be addressed in a marriage.
Scott: You know, those could be the two areas that are the most difficult for couples to talk about well, and I think, sexually, people just avoid talking about it because it's too vulnerable, and money, it's often – it's another "V" word, it's not so much vulnerability, but it's volatility in terms of differences in conflicts and so people end up not talking about it, and so if one's a thermometer, the other is a barometer, and they're both telling you something about the relationship.
And, like you said, Dennis, it does really speak to priorities, and Christ himself said you can’t serve God and money. Money forces you – since you don't have an unlimited supply, it forces you to make choices, and these choices reveal things about what's important to you.
Dennis: My mom and dad both came from very, very poor backgrounds, and they moved into their marriage in the middle of the Depression and started out their family in the midst of challenging days in our country. When my dad died in 1976, I just remember one thing – my mom was shocked about where they were financially. She had no idea. She had no idea where they were. They simply had not talked about it, and it was one of these issues, like you talk about in your book, it had all kinds of things attached to the money.
You speak of these hidden issues. I just want you to share a few of those with our listeners, because I think, many times, we look at the checkbook balance, and we argue over that or over the credit card bill and what our spouse spent last month, and some of these other issues kind of behind the scenes are really at play here.
Scott: Very good. Let me set this up a little bit, because a lot of times what couples do is they argue when events in their life trigger the issue of money, but then it's what we call the "hidden issues," this list we're going to go through here that really drive the conflict. So if maybe a check bounces or a credit card statement comes, and it's much higher than anybody thinks it's going to be – that's an event, and money events happen all the time. And the issue is always there about money.
But it's these hidden issues like control and power. Well, who gets to make this choice – do we buy the tires, do we buy the armoire? Who is in control? And sometimes people have an inordinate need, because of their family history or other things in their life, to be in control, and they kind of want to dominate the other person or just feel in control themselves. And other people, it's not so much they want to control others, but they really don't like the feeling of being controlled by another.
So you can see how just that, as the first hidden issue we talk about – that one is rife for all kinds of problems about spending dynamics between two people because one person – there's always one that's a little more of a spender than the other, I mean, there almost always. And the spender may feel, "Well, I'm in control of my own life. I can spend this money. I have some autonomy here," and so that's part of their angle.
But the other person, if they're a little more regulated, careful, whatever, about money, that may make them terribly anxious and really worried – sometimes rationally, sometimes not so rationally – because the other is spending. So it causes this whole chain reaction between the two, and they may argue about whether that $10 should have been spent, or that $1,000 should have been spent, but it's these deeper dynamics that are driving the bus.
Bob: That's really where you're saying they need to go. When you're experiencing financial conflict, you can get all caught up in the $10, but the issue is really do we understand values, and do we share a common commitment to certain values?
Dennis: Yes, and talk about those values and where you do differ and what's driving some of the discussions?
Bob: I’ve never forgotten a conversation I had with a wife who was very frustrated about financial issues in their family. It turned out that this family was experiencing some significant debt and they didn’t have a real good strategy for how they were going to get out of this debt. They had been to church recently and the missionary had been at church talking about the need and the husband had whipped out the checkbook and written a check for $50 because this was the Lord’s work. She was furious. She sat down and said that’s just so typical of him and completely irresponsible. If I had sat down with him he would have said that’s what we are supposed to be doing. The Lord will take care of this kind of thing. You could get a room full of people and ask them to vote and you’d find different values in that room.
Scott: That’s very true.
Bob: It’s not a question of who is right or wrong necessarily in that situation is it?
Scott: Yes and let’s use that example and throw out another one of those hidden issues which is recognition. A lot of times what drives the fury for us is one or the other is not feeling like the other is recognizing their real contribution. Which could be to the couple or in this case he’s feeling like he’s giving something to the Lord and may have even felt called to and she’s not experiencing the calling the way he’s experiencing the calling. They think they are just arguing about priorities. He may even be thinking that she’s not spiritual and listening to the Lord and she’s thinking he’s irresponsible.
Dennis: Well she could be feeling like he’s not recognizing her part in the decision too.
Scott: That’s right.
Dennis: He could have gone off and made the decision. I think in some regards that’s what my mom was feeling. She wasn’t feeling like she was a recognized partner in this area of their marriage.
Scott: Well, one of the things that couples will experience, and I cannot imagine a couple that doesn't experience this, but it's where you keep going around and around and around on a particular issue, and you never get anywhere with it. You just don't resolve it or even, if not resolving it, you don't feel like you're progressing at all in understanding each other and that could mean that you just disagree. I mean, sometimes you just go around and around because there's no traction there for agreement.
But a lot of times it means that you're not talking about what the real issue is – so that there is one of these invisible forces, one of these hidden issues, and that the reason you keep going around and around and not getting traction is you're not talking about what the real issue is.
A very important point – I can't stress this strongly enough because the antidote to these invisible forces or these hidden issues in marriage is being able to communicate well and especially to be able to communicate safely about things that maybe don't feel so safe or that we feel vulnerable about. All of these deeper issues and themes are things that are more connected to who we see ourselves to be in life and our values and our family history and our parents, and all that's wrapped up. This is not stuff that we're going to talk about openly on that deeper level if we don't feel safe to talk.
I think one of the defining features of what people want most in marriage is that naked and unashamed kind of relationship that it talks about in Genesis where I can be open with you, you can know me, and I can know you, and there's not a need for the barriers. But a lot of couples cannot talk safely, and that means – in this area of money or sex or any other major area in life, they're not going to get to the real issues because it's too threatening to say them out loud.
Bob: You know, I think this is one of the reasons that our friends at Crown Financial Ministries have been effective in addressing this issue with a lot of folks – they help you deal with the technical aspects of how to do a budget or how to look at investments and plan for the future, but they also get couples talking about values and priorities, and they come from a common framework of the Scriptures.
They take people back to the Scriptures so that you're coming together in your thinking around what the Bible has to say rather than your own opinion. And, in the midst of that, the spirit of God does begin to bring oneness in this area of financial priorities.
Scott: That's so important, because then it's not just nuts and bolts, it's what are we building?
Dennis: And according to whose blueprints?
Dennis: Anytime we talk about money, there's a passage in the Bible that just provides a spiritual wheel alignment for me, and I don't know about you, Scott, but this culture is fraught with comparison. I mean, we see one another in our neighborhoods in what we drive, in what we wear, and we're at church, and there's TV, and there are so many opportunities to compare.
If you live in America you by the rest of the world’s standards are wealthy. There are some people who are likely listening to our broadcast who may literally live in poverty but most of us, the vast majority of us would really be considered rich. Here’s what Paul says, “But fix your hope on God who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good to be rich in good works to be generous and ready to share. Storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.
You know, we talked a lot about happiness here, and wealth has not delivered happiness. The Apostle Paul says there is happiness and life found in a person – the person of Jesus Christ, and that's where our hope should be, and that's who we need to be living for and seeking to obey.
Bob: As you read that, I was thinking about Ecclesiastes 2 where Solomon talks about the fact that he had enough money to buy whatever he wanted. In fact he says whatever I saw that I wanted I did not withhold it from myself. He ran out of stuff to buy before he ran out of money
and his conclusion was acquiring all this stuff is not going to bring you satisfaction for your soul that you’re longing for. All is vanity was his conclusion.
It’s important for couples to have a good solid biblical theological perspective on the whole issue of money and stuff as they try to navigate this issue in their marriage. Our friend, Howard Dayton, has just finished a new book called Money and Marriage God’s Way. We think it’s a great resource and we’d like to recommend it to our listeners.
This would be a good book for a husband and wife to read through together whether they are just getting started in their marriage or whether they have experienced some financial challenges. It would just be a good study to do together. The book again is called Money and Marriage God’s Way by Howard Dayton and we have it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
Go to our web site FamilyLife Today.com and you’ll find more information about Howard’s book there. There’s also information about Larry Burkett’s Family Financial Workbook. This is an actual guidebook to help couples get a handle on some of the financial issues we all face in our marriage and in our family.
Again details about both of these books can be found online at FamilyLifeToday.com or you can call for more information. The number to call is 1-800-FL TODAY is the number. 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800-F as in “Family” L as in “Life” and then the word TODAY.
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Well, tomorrow we're going to continue to talk about financial challenges couples face and how they can resolve some of the money related conflict that occurs in marriage. Scott Stanley is going to be back with us tomorrow. I hope you can be back as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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