By Wendy Baribeau, LAMFT
The divorce rate remains high in modern America and conflicts about money are common among many couples–and Catholics are no exception. If conflict about finances, or anything else for that matter, continues for an extended period of time without understanding or compromise, the couple may lose their desire to faithfully love one another. This can lead to unnecessarily suffering or even a civil end to a sacramental marriage.
It’s important to step back and understand that conflicts around money often have deeper, psychological roots that can be traced back to both the husband and wife’s innate beliefs about money and what it represents. In addition, the sad irony is that many people don’t realize the short and long-term financial benefits of marriage until it is too late. After a divorce, most people have less than half of their net worth and much less income for discretionary spending.
Consider What Money Represents
Many of our desires and decisions about money are based on an innate “money philosophy” that we have developed over the years from our parents and from our own life experiences. Money symbolizes many different things to different people.
For example, someone raised in a financially strapped family may see money as a symbol of security. An individual born into a wealthy family may associate material things with self-worth. When conflict about finances arise in a marriage, step back and consider both your own and your spouse’s money philosophies. Such a conversation can help prevent arguments, address deeper issues and needs, and most importantly, foster a growing level of intimacy.
Although money can be a tool that can be used to help us find things that make us happy, “being wealthy” should not be the goal for one’s happiness. Chasing a wealthy sense of identity is like chasing the wind. For long term contentment and love, build your identity around the pursuit of character and virtue. As noted in Proverbs 16:16, “How much better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is preferable to silver.”
Implement Practical Money Management Tips
When it comes to the day-to-day management of money, both spouses should be involved in the planning, decision-making, and understanding of the financial state of their household. Here are some practical tips:
Both spouses need to work together on budgeting. They need to track household income and expenses in a typical month, including yearly or quarterly expenses, and create a mutually acceptable financial goal.
Differences of opinion are to be expected, so approach this task with fairness in mind. Marriage thrives when couples can acknowledge their differences without anger or resentment. Both spouses need to compromise to accommodate the desires of the other, provided that these desires fit realistically within the budget.
Sometimes frugality is necessary for sustainable well-being. Sometimes splurging is necessary for well-being when it creates quality time with family, promotes health, or allows virtues to grow. With honesty, fairness, and planning, both spouses can achieve their dreams and feel great in the process.
At least once a year, spouses should calculate their net worth by listing assets at fair market value and subtracting all debts. Reviewing these numbers together may affect a couple’s goals and budget. For example, if a couple wants to increase their net worth, they can try to allocate more money each month to the assets that appreciate the most in value from year to year.
Although one spouse should be responsible for paying bills on time, both spouses should be fully aware of all income and expenses. The bill payer or breadwinner should not make all the decisions about money.
Beware of Ads and Attitude
Remember that all of us are bombarded with hundreds of advertisements through various forms of media every day. Recognize and evaluate the hidden messages in these advertisements that try to manipulate us to buy a product or service we don’t need. Materialism is counterproductive and can be addictive, and short-term “highs” inhibit long term goals. In contrast, when we deny ourselves a splurge, our self-discipline, self-respect, freedom and even our Catholic identity grow. Self-discipline makes us more lovable.
Try to maintain an attitude of gratitude. Joy doesn’t come from getting what we want, but appreciating what we already have. Take time each day to pray or write about the people and things you are most thankful for. Make time to volunteer to serve those less fortunate than yourself. Changing your attitude about what’s important in life can also put financial conflict into perspective.