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Coaching Money in Marriage

Jun 16th, 2009 | By | Category: Family Coaching Center Guest Posts

coupleshoppingBy Lavern Nissley and Jeff Williams

Those who invest in the marriage health of couples are aware that financial issues are often at the top of the list. Few topics arouse the intensity of emotions like money. Spender vs. saver, frugal vs. extravagant, overspending, under-planning and control of the purse strings are a few of the tensions that couples experience.

“Of the couples that end up getting a divorce, every survey shows that 85 to 90 percent of them say the number one problem they were having was finances.”[1]

Why is this? What is it about money that creates such a fertile climate for strife? More importantly, how can coaches serve married couples in a way that helps them to learn and apply effective financial principles that can give them peace?

The biblical text, Genesis 2 contains the blueprint for marriage as God intended.  It reflects Oneness, Transparency, Dominion and Contentment. Four common financial problems can develop in marriage when these are absent or deficient.

We will briefly describe each problem, list a principle based in Scripture and conclude with questions that coaches might use to help couples to develop goals and action-steps to “hit the target”.

Lack of teamwork. This occurs when each partner does his or her own thing, and when there is no coordination of financial decisions. A husband might unilaterally bring home a new vehicle every several years, without discussing with his wife. Although this is an extreme example it is one we have seen. A lack of teamwork is indicated where partners make purchases not agreed to beforehand and when couples are not living within a well-designed budget.

It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him (Gen. 2:18).

Healthy, happy and sustainable marriages are characterized by clear communication and collaboration on budgets and spending.

Questions for couples:

  • What are some options you can think of to achieve the principle of ONENESS in your finances?
  • What daily, weekly or monthly practices would keep you mutually informed and “in the loop” on financial decisions?
  • What commitments could you make to each other that would enhance your financial teamwork?

These questions assume that the couple is motivated to grow in the area of their finances, and that they are willing to take responsibility for the process by setting some shared goals and developing some action steps that they are both willing to do.  In fact, such motivation and willingness to take responsibility are prerequisites for a couple to qualify to receive a coaching approach for any issue in their marriage.  If only one is motivated then individual coaching or counseling may be indicated.

Secrets and hiding. Some couples express their fallen humanity in the self-defeating practice of covering up certain purchases, initiating secret accounts and credit cards. Fear of discovery dampens intimacy between partners and then creates unsettling mistrust when the truth comes out.

An example from Lavern and Ronda’s marriage illustrates how dishonesty and hiding damages trust. Lavern bought a desktop computer that he and Ronda had agreed upon purchasing when a certain consulting check arrived. The problem was that he made the purchase, having been told the check was in the mail, but he told Ronda it had already arrived. When he confessed his dishonesty a week later, he was met with the bone-chilling question, “What else haven’t you told me about?”

The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame (Gen. 2:25).

Questions for couples:

  • How might you best achieve the principle of TRANSPARENCY in finances?
  • What has been the relational price for secret financial gratifications?
  • How could honesty about shameful transactions be encouraged?
  • What does the offended partner need in order to restore trust?

Poor planning and record-keeping. Unfortunately, the vast majority of marriages are devoid of financial forethought and oversight. This is a failure to name and categorize expected expenses, which is a failure to take dominion over the resources that God provides. Those without a budget spend an estimated 10-20% more than those who track and monitor expenses against a proactive plan. While economic downturns and job losses can affect financial stability, not having a plan magnifies the ill effect.

“He brought them (the animals) to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.” (Gen. 2:19)

Questions for couples:

  • How might you best achieve the principle of DOMINION in finances?
  • How can you get a handle on the various spending categories and track them effectively?
  • What tools would help to plan, monitor, project and report elementary financial statements (actual vs. budget, income/expense, net worth)?

Always wanting more. The hallmarks of dissatisfaction are “bigger”, “better”, “faster”, “nicer”, and “more convenient”. While lack of contentment can at times bring about progress and new ways of doing things, it can also become a never-ending quest for “stuff” that doesn’t really satisfy. Rare is the couple that can sets limits on up scaling by making the proactive decision to make do with what they have and to do more with less.

And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:16, 17).

Jeff grew up with a silver spoon while Jill grew up the youngest child of parents who had been traumatized by the Great Depression. Jill learned to make do with what she had as long as it was working well, while Jeff sought the latest and greatest shiny gadget.

Tension between Jeff the spender and Jill the saver went something like this for many years in our marriage. “We have the money in savings, why not make the purchase?” vs. “The car, bike, golf clubs, television we have work fine. Why not save the money for unpredictable expenses?”  After years of tension over spending and saving, we found peace by agreeing to only make purchases that we were both enthusiastic about.

A special memory from 2001 is a card I received from Jill. “I know you love cycling, and I want you to have a great bike to enjoy it even more.  Please go pick out the bike of your dreams and use some of our savings with my blessing to make the purchase.” That bike is still the one I ride, and I want no other. Why? It works just fine even though the paint is chipping.  Jill and I achieved contentment when we put peace in our relationship above temporary thrill of new possessions.

Questions for couples:

  • How might you best achieve the principle of CONTENTMENT in finances?
  • What stimuli most rob your sense of contentment (stores, magazines, commercials)?
  • What seems to decrease the feeling of discontentment?
  • What would contentment look like in real life?
  • How do you balance contentment and the setting of legitimate financial goals?

There are a multitude of good financial planning programs and systems such as Crown Financial Ministries (www.crown.org) and Good $ense (www.goodsenseministry.com), but these principles are found in each one.  The key is for marriage and family coaches to be equipped with a process to facilitate conversations in this statistically troublesome area for couples in a way that facilitates them taking dominion of their finances by taking responsibility to set goals and to choose action steps to accomplish their goals.

Couples self-examination of the four areas of financial integrity and balance is a great exercise they can do for themselves by asking each other some of the questions listed in this article.

In addition to querying couples in regard to their handling of finances, marriage coaching couples are encouraged to reflect on their financial story, the high’s and the low’s, and to be prepared to share their mistakes and victories transparently to help couples being coached to feel safe and trusting as they share this very intimate and emotionally charged topic with you as coaches and with each other.

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom…the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness (James 3:13, 17-18, NIV).

*Lavern Nissley is Executive Director of Marriage Resource Center of Miami Valley in Springfield, Ohio, www.marriageresourcecenter.org. The agency provides a variety of programs that help couples prepare, strengthen and restore their marriages. Lavern and his wife, Ronda teaches marriage education classes and offer mentoring for couples, using coaching principles and skills. Call 937-324-3604 for more information, to explore referral criteria or speaking requests.

*Jeff Williams is President of Grace and Truth Relationship Education.  He is a Professional Coach and Coach Trainer specializing in Marriage Coaching.  Jeff and his wife Jill coach and train married couples to strengthen their own marriage and to help other couples. Go to www.graceandtruthrelationship.com or call 301.515.1218 for more information about receiving coaching, training, speaking and seminars.


[1] Larry Burkett, the late financial author and radio personality, made this observation.

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