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Money in Marriage: Part 1 - Adding Mutual Stewardship Responsibility

Updated: May 21

Personal finance for married couples is much more than sticking to a budget


For married couples, stewardship of money and possessions is one of the key factors in whether their marriage commitment will survive. In a Forbes 2023 survey of 1,000 couples who divorced that year, 25% said financial stress was a key reason for their divorce. And 40% of those same divorced couples went into their marriages with financial security as their number one reason for getting married. In fact, love was a distant number three reason for divorced couples getting married in the first place.

 

On the flip side, love, companionship and commitment are the top three reasons most people who remain married get married to begin with. When people marry expecting to be financially secure, they are usually disappointed. Financial expectations and assumptions challenge the stability of marriage relationships, especially if the married partners do not realize that they have an equal, mutual partnership responsibility to be good stewards both individually and together.

 

Our stewardship of the money and possessions that God has entrusted to us does not end with a marriage vow; it is only beginning (remember, “for richer or poorer”). Marriage does add another dimension to our stewardship – mutual service responsibility. However, marriage mutuality does not cancel out each spouse’s individual responsibility to be a good steward. We don’t cancel individual responsibility and call it mutual service. Let’s take a closer look at how our financial stewardship responsibilities continue and evolve with marriage.



 

Testing Trust and Unity


A Christian marriage begins with a public commitment to completely love one another exclusively. That love is celebrated physically during the honeymoon. But there isn’t a celebration of shared financial stewardship responsibility. Usually, there is a short time of mourning when the newlyweds receive their first bills together. How will those bills get paid?

 

Some couples talk about finances before their wedding days, in pre-marriage counseling or in prenuptial agreement negotiations. Most couples still keep their finances separate until after they are married. In fact, the average age of first marriage has increased to the late 20s, so people have had 5-10 years to create their own financial habits. Today, newlyweds may have a whole decade of individual financial habits (good and bad) developed before they are confronted with a host of decisions about how much to combine their finances, or whether to combine them at all.

 

Financial conflicts happen to rich and poor married couples alike. When Christians marry, each spouse still has individual responsibility to be a good steward. Each spouse voluntarily agrees to take on additional family household stewardship responsibility (whether or not they have children, a Christian married couple is a separate household – see Genesis 2:24). Together they determine so much more than who pays the bills. They have to discern together how God wants them to use His resources now and in the future. Married financial responsibility starts with complete honesty and a large dose of trust. This creates unity to go forward in planning a new life together, way beyond finances. Trust and unity are the issues, not the dollars. Remember, before Christians become husband and wife, they should be brother and sister in Christ. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Colossians talks about how brothers and sisters in Christ should be unified in love before he talks about how they should act as husbands and wives.

 

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so must you do also. In addition to all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ, to which you were indeed called in one body, rule in your hearts; and be thankful. Colossians 3:12-15 NASB

 

Allow me to take some liberties and put this passage in the context of a married couple’s finances.

 

So, as those who have been chosen of God [to be Christian husband and wife with mutual financial responsibility], holy and beloved, [when talking about your finances both of you should] put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever [whichever one of you] has a complaint against anyone [the other spouse]; just as the Lord forgave you, so must you do also. In addition to all these things [with your spouse remember first to] put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ, to which you were indeed called in one body, rule in your hearts; and be thankful [for the financial blessings that He has given to you].

Practically Developing Mutual Financial Responsibility


Mutual financial responsibility takes a commitment to constant open and honest communication. Communicate compassionately, kindly, humbly, gently, and patiently with a dose of forgiveness. This builds trust and unity. Start with honestly discussing your personal values about money and possessions. Share your experience and your family history about finances, including what you learned the hard way. Take good notes about your spouse’s story. Then combine your notes together. Here are some other practical ways for you and your spouse to get started or recommit to communicating about mutual financial responsibility with God’s values.

  • Daily conversation (15 minutes): Record your spending, talk together about any purchases over $200 to make sure the money is there.

  • Weekly catch-up money dates (1 hour): Review spending tracking, what’s coming up next week, what needs to be paid, what needs to be scaled back, and what to pray together about.

  • Monthly plan sessions (2 hours: Compare last month’s actual spending to the budget, plan next month’s budget, include room for surprises, and update savings goals progress.

  • Quarterly strategy retreats (4-6 hours): Review the past 3 months, check on savings goals, prepare for major purchases, and discuss investing and retirement.

 

These “money talk times” are ideal. Give yourselves some grace, because life will happen pretty fast, especially when children and their activities pull you both in many directions. But make your money talk a priority. Combine your money talk times with fun dates. Budget for childcare and hotels to get away if necessary. These can be great marriage building times; don’t think of them with loathing. Look forward to them with anticipation and pair them with fun rewards.


Tips for Fun, Painless Money Talks


Pray First, Pray During, Pray Last: If you involve the Third Person in your marriage and your financial stewardship, you will be more positive and defuse anger, anxiety, and conflict.

 

Balance Security and Pleasure: Whether you are talking about debt, spending, saving, major purchases or investing, you will always be balancing your financial security with your discretionary pleasure. Yes, our ultimate security and pleasure is in God. But our challenge in married stewardship is to allow ourselves to enjoy what God has provided within the parameters of financial wisdom. In other words, work together as a team to plan your fun, and you will actually have more financial freedom. Be sure to follow up every money talk with something fun together – it doesn’t have to cost money!

 

Give Yourself Grace with Guidance: Your spending plan budget does not have to be perfect, but you do need to have one and check how well you do against it every month. You don’t have to achieve every debt repayment or savings goal in a year, but you do want to make progress. You don’t have to make more than a 10% increase a year on your investments, but you do need to invest consistently. You will make mistakes. Ask God for forgiveness, forgive each other, and forgive yourselves. But don’t make the same mistake twice if you can help it. Learn and continue to work together.

 

Take Deep Breaths and Frequent Breaks: Whenever you feel stressed during your money talks, take a short break. It’s good to take a stretch break every hour anyway. Talk and walk at the same time through your neighborhood, a park, or a trail. Reward yourselves along the way. Have your favorite snacks available and wear comfy clothes. Always celebrate your wins. After your longer, serious money talks, do something together to decompress. Ride bikes, go to your favorite cheap restaurant, play a game, watch a movie, enjoy some romance. Reconnect without talking about money.


Look for Ways to Refresh and Continuously Learn

 

Every two or three years, take a personal finance course together that fits your stage of life or addresses the issues you have together. Compass offers financial courses from a Christian perspective. FaithFI offers short podcasts on a wide range of financial topics that you can listen to together and discuss. Kingdom Advisors can refer you to financial advisors when you need more specific help with investments and retirement.

 

Talking about money together can strengthen your marriage when you are focused on love, companionship, and commitment first and involve God in the process. Because our finances aren’t about the money; they are about faithful stewardship as a way to love one another, putting our spouse’s and our marriage’s needs before our own.


If you're looking for coaching help refreshing your marriage's financial relationship, schedule a free Discovery Call today.

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