Wednesday, June 30, 2010
How much does money dictate your decisions? (Harold’s response)
How often do financial constraints dictate the decision-making in your marriage? Let’s face it. Money fuels our system. Money often opens the door to opportunities, networks, and power. Money allows us to indulge ourselves beyond the basic necessities of life. Money even allows us to invest in others. In many ways, it sometimes feels like our very existence revolves around money—whether for good or bad.
Money, however, is also one of the top 3 most divisive issues in marital relationships. The reason that the topic of money incites such angst in marital relationships is because our attitudes towards money are deeply ingrained in our consciousness and consequently in our behaviors. This is why people often feel passionate about how their money decisions are made. It is also why money conflicts are some of the worse that couples experience.
Things only really improve when couples prioritize their attitudes about money lower than their attitudes about their relationship. In other words, the healthiest couples avoid letting money issues diminish their marriage. These couples learn how to align themselves against the money troubles. When aligned, these couples are able to make marital decisions that drive their financial behavior rather than allowing financial matters to dictate their marital course.
It would be nice to see Rob and Celia align themselves against their money anxiety to see how prioritizing their marital relationship reaps a long-term financial harvest.
Monday, June 28, 2010
How much does money dictate your decisions?
Rob and Celia are facing the economic realities of 2010 together as they adjust their budget and expectations around Celia’s inability to find a full time teaching job.
Celia started her Monday morning the way she had since being married: doing housework. She did not necessarily think this was her job (and did not actually know if Rob thought it was; it had never come up) but while Rob was working full time and she was not it seemed only fair to pick up the household chores.
While she dusted around the television her phone rang. Paul, the new church intern, was on the line. After a few pleasantries, he told her that he had stayed up late finagling his budget for next year. He figured out a way to pay Celia minimum wage for twenty hours a week to run the entire after school program, not just the music part of it. This would include overseeing volunteer tutors and spending some time over the summer setting up the room and purchasing supplies, but he asked her if she could volunteer the time over the summer.
“The thing of it is,” Paul said, “is that I need you to commit to it. It would really mess me up if you leave mid-year because something better came along.”
Celia’s mind was racing and her heart was pounding. It felt so good to be valued for her gifts and skills and she knew she would be good at this… and twenty hours a week was something. But minimum wage…
“How soon do I need to let you know?” Celia asked. “I need to discuss it with my husband first.”
“Take your time. A week or so would be great,” Paul said. After Celia thanked him for the offer and they hung up, she sat down feebly on the sofa, still clutching the dust cloth.
So many things were roiling through her mind. The idea of working with someone as energetic and dynamic as Paul, who thought about things in terms of possibility, not limitation, was exciting. The chance to build a program from scratch and use all aspects of her education, not just the music piece, was a motivating challenge. However, the after school program would run during the hours that Celia typically saw her private students, who were school-aged children she met – well, after school, of course. She had no idea how much flexibility her students had – maybe she could talk to their parents. Celia calculated that at twenty dollars per half-hour lesson she made roughly two hundred a week, compared to minimum wage for twenty hours a week, which would be less than one fifty… then of course there was the tax thing, but Rob would figure that part out. Celia sighed, discouraged at how little money it was even if she could maximize both opportunities.
Suddenly Celia was extremely grateful that Rob had a reliable job, one that paid a relatively new college grad pretty well, and allowed her to take on labors of love such as this. Excited, she called Rob.
What happens next?
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Making Connections That Matter (Joanne’s comment)
Too many marital fights begin in fear. But since most of us don’t know how to say, “I’m really scared right now,” fear tends to come out as “You always leave your laundry on the floor,” which leads to defensiveness and blaming, which just escalates the fighting. This fighting is pointless because it’s about the content of the fight, not the emotions involved. In this case, the content is money, but it could just as easily be about sex, or parenting, or leaving the toilet seat up. If at some point someone can’t say, “I’m terrified that you don’t think I’m important enough to clean the crumbs out of the sink,” however silly that might sound, a couple will get stuck in the same old fight. I am proud of Rob that he recognized this, because in making that shift he created room for Celia to shift out of defensiveness and into a stance of responsibility. This could be the beginning of real partnership for them.
Monday, June 21, 2010
Making connections that matter
Rob hugged Celia as she panicked that she might never get a teaching job, and as he held her firmly, she started to cry in his arms.
Rob was relieved that when he touched Celia she had not flinched as she had just a few minutes ago. She’s scared, he realized. This is not about money. It’s about fear.
Rob searched his mind and life experience to figure out what he was supposed to do about this. He knew exactly what to do about money, but had no idea what he was supposed to do with a wife who was afraid.
“What are you afraid of?” he heard himself ask into the top of Celia’s weeping head.
It must have been the right question, because Celia’s weeping gave way to one profound sob, after which she backed away from Rob and began to regain her composure. Rob followed her into the kitchen, where she began to make herself a cup of tea.
“I’m afraid I’ll never get a job,” Celia said, putting a mug of water into the microwave. “I picked the worst time in the history of this country to become a teacher, and a music teacher at that. And it’s not just that. I want to be a music teacher. I don’t want to go into sales or go to law school or become a nurse just so your family doesn’t think I come from a family of losers.”
Rob was taken aback. “Is that what you think?”
“They’ve made that pretty clear,” Celia said. She sat at the table while waiting for her water to heat and looked at him, almost as if to challenge him to debate her on the subject. Rob decided not to go there, and was about to say something he hoped would be encouraging when she spoke again.
“Look,” she started. “Believe me, I am really glad you are good with money. I’m not great with it but I know I’m not stupid. Just please don’t make it my fault that we might not own a house in five years or start our family before we’re twenty-seven. You have a good job, Rob, but in case you haven’t noticed it’s a different world out there now than it was for your parents.”
Rob sat down. He could not remember ever hearing Celia sound so—realistic.
“You’re right,” he said. “It is a different place. Maybe I’m being naïve.” He shrugged his shoulders.
“No. I’m glad you’re dreaming on behalf of us both,” she said.
What happens next?
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Who makes the money decisions in marriage? (Harold’s response)
The reason that money is one of the big three sources of conflict in marriage is because it is about power. We live in a culture in which controlling the money and controlling power are highly correlated—where you have one you typically have the other. Unfortunately, this cultural phenomenon also pervades our marital relationships. We think (though we often won’t say) that the one who has the control of the money in the marriage is the one who dictates the decisions. Sometimes, we Christian husbands spiritualize this as our God-given right using the “head of the household” language that is so common to our church vernacular.
Not surprisingly, most marriages that struggle with financial conflict also struggle with power imbalances and poor relationship boundaries. And, all of the budgets and financial management software tools in the world are not going to rectify this imbalance because it isn’t about money. It is about embracing a culture of mutuality in the marriage. When this happens, the financial conflict will ease. Absent this mutuality, the financial melee will continue because money is what some experts call a “magnifier”. Money magnifies the marital bonds. If the bonds are strained, the financial picture will show it. If the marital bonds are sound, financial education is highly likely to improve the financial picture.
Ultimately, the married couple should control the money decisions in a spirit of partnership. This may look somewhat different for each couple. But, it should be a shared responsibility.
Monday, June 14, 2010
Who makes the money decisions in marriage?
Rob and Celia are still figuring out how to share responsibility for the financial aspects of their marriage. In bed following make-up sex, Rob has just explained to Celia why he paid more on her car loan each month than required.
Since on one hand, Rob was complaining that they did not have enough income to meet their expenses, Celia could not fathom the words that were coming out of his mouth on the other as he smiled and looked smug. Celia threw off the sheet, jumped out of bed and picked up her strewn clothing.
“Where are you going?” Rob asked, dumbfounded.
“You are complaining that we don’t have enough money while you are paying more on bills than necessary?” Celia said, heading to the bathroom. “Why did you get to decide that? Maybe there are more important things to do with a hundred bucks a month than pay off a loan faster!”
As she glanced at Rob the moment before she closed the bathroom door, he looked like he was in shock. Celia understood why: one second she’s flirting under the sheets and the next she jumps out, angry. She was furious, though on some level she understood that her reaction may have been disproportionate to what had just happened. Hastily pulling on her clothes, she wondered what her hurry was.
Rob knocked on the door just as she opened it. “What’s going on?” he said, standing there in boxers and looking as bewildered as she suspected him to be.
Celia pushed past him, walked quickly into the living room and stopped. She had nothing else to do right now but fight with Rob. She turned around and faced him.
“You can’t control me,” she found herself saying.
“I don’t want to control you,” Rob said, walking toward her. She held up her hands to indicate that this would be a very bad time to touch her and he stopped. “I’m stuck here, Celia. I’m trying to build some sort of financial plan for us while making as much room as necessary for you”—he thought about what he wanted to say – “to be you, and work at a church, and give lessons”—
“What if I don’t ever get a full time job?”
“You will, someday.”
“What if I don’t?” Celia said, and she realized that she wanted a full time job, and was terrified that she might never find one because then she would be a second-class citizen in the eyes of Rob and his family.
What happens next?
Friday, June 11, 2010
Budgeting in the bedroom (Harold’s response)
Every difficult topic that married couples must wrestle with is made easier in the context of an affirming, fulfilling sexual experience. In some ways, authentic sex is the lube that makes the wheels of marriage turn smoothly. It has this effect because authentic sex brings the couple together emotionally. And, emotional connection fosters empathy. Empathy breeds understanding. And, understanding elicits mutuality. Mutuality is then the perspective that allows solutions (including financial ones) to be found.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Budgeting in the Bedroom (Joanne’s comment)
Having taken the initiative to repair the rift with his wife, Rob went the extra mile to show Celia that she came first. Rob is a serious man and a serious employee. Celia would not likely have felt any slight had he taken her to lunch, returned to work, and promised an unforgettable evening later. But since Celia’s belief that she came after work and money in Rob’s priorities was the issue in the first place, Rob’s choice to “play hooky” communicated mightily to Celia that she was the most important part of his life. I commend his playfulness (even as I expect he will handle it appropriately with the human resources department at his workplace), and I can’t help but wonder if being married to a bit of a free spirit is helping Rob relax a bit. If so, it can’t hurt.
Monday, June 07, 2010
Budgeting in the Bedroom
Rob and Celia have made up following their money fight. Rob apologized for getting so stuck on the money issue and Celia asked to participate in Rob’s budget planning so she would not feel so controlled by him, to which he readily agreed.
Hell-bent on being an exemplary husband so that Paul (the new intern at Celia’s church) would see him as such, Rob insisted on taking Celia out for an early lunch. Celia seemed happy, being flirtatious and silly and before he knew it Rob had called his office to say he was sick and would be out the rest of the day. Rob was not sure which was more exhilarating: playing hooky from work, something that had never occurred to him before, or the unexpected afternoon delight in their bedroom after lunch.
“I have to leave at five-thirty for three piano lessons,” Celia said as she slipped out from under the sheets mid-afternoon.
“So where are you going now?” Rob asked, holding onto her hand.
“To get the checkbook,” Celia said. “So we can have a nude Checkbook 101 class.” She pulled away and he could hear her rummaging around in the other room. “Where is the checkbook, Rob?” He called out directions – top drawer, on the left, underneath the calculator – and in moments Celia re-entered the bedroom holding the checkbook the way Eve wore a fig leaf. Rob loved it, though he was not sure what the checkbook had to do with their budget.
He reached out for her as Celia slid back under the sheets but she pushed his hands away. “First things first,” she said, opening the checkbook and scanning the register. “Where are all the entries?”
“I pay our bills online,” he said. “I keep the ledger on my laptop.” He was surprised that Celia did not know this, but then again she had turned over her bills and financial information to him the month after they were married and he had done this all on his own; after all he was an accountant.
“So can you show it to me?” she said, with a cute joke-flirt built around the double-entendre.
Rob got out of bed to retrieve his laptop, playing Adam to Celia’s Eve as he walked back in with it. He climbed in bed, turned on the computer, and opened the document, highly aware of Celia’s hands underneath the sheet. “First things first,” he said, teasing, but she really did need to stop that if they were going to accomplish anything here—
Celia took a look at the document. Rob could see her eyes begin to glaze over as she looked from entry to entry. She pointed to one. “I thought my car payment was only $225 a month. Why does it say $325 here?”
“Because I’m trying to pay down the principal. It’s a simple interest loan. We’ll save a lot of money over time if we pay it off early.” Rob felt manly; and liked how smart and protective he sounded as he spoke.
What does Celia say to that?
Wednesday, June 02, 2010
Finding your own “I need to change” moment (Harold’s response)
Change is hard! It is especially hard when you think that your way is the “right” way. So, why change? Simply put, change is necessary to reach your destiny. The reality is that neither you nor I were born perfectly positioned for purpose (there’s an alliteration for you). We all fall far short of that. But, God puts things in our path to shape us into our divine purpose—if we allow it to happen. So often, however, we stunt God’s desires for our lives because we don’t want to change. We scream, scratch, and claw to keep doing things the way we’re accustomed to doing them. It feels safer. Achieving your dreams, however, requires risks. Change is risky because it demands more of us.
The greatest gift of marriage is the change that it demands of you. I know. It doesn’t usually feel like a gift. Words like “annoying”, “sickening”, and “frustrating” are more often associated with the attitudinal and behavioral shifts to which our spouses often push us.
In this week’s episode, Rob discovers that moving his marriage in a positive direction is going to require something new from him-particularly as it relates to dealing with Celia and budgeting. His natural penchant to prioritize financial matters has tainted his perspective on his marriage. He seems to be thinking in the right way as he has shifted his expectation from seeing what is wrong with Celia to assessing his own need to change. Kudos to you Rob. Celia, it’s your turn. Honestly, it’s my turn too. How about you?
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