Why Couples Fight About Money

If you've not had a disagreement in your marriage over money, then go check your marriage license – you may not be married! Disagreements on this topic are almost universal, even for couples with no debt, stable incomes, and a healthy perspective on money. Many couples are able to work through their disagreements, but for other couples, the disagreements turn into arguments, fights, hostility, and division.

I would challenge you to zoom out and think about what’s at the root of your conflict, because the root of financial conflict is rarely finances. Finances might be the battlefield on which you have drawn your line in the sand, but this battle is just one scene in a bigger war over your heart. Satan is using this element of everyday life to divide you and your spouse. The enemy has come to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10).

While Satan uses many different methods to divide you on the topic of finances, here are some tactics our team has seen used over and over again:

1. Families of Origin

For some spouses that come into a marriage after having gone through seasons of unemployment or financial hardship, no expense is beyond scrutiny. What happens when a person with that background marries someone who grew up in a family that lacked for nothing? Similarly, people who come from big families often approach money differently than someone who is an only child.

Recognize where both of you come from, and how that affects the way you approach life and finances. Learn to overlook small differences and talk through bigger ones so that you can better understand each other.

2. Personality

People have different personalities when it comes to finances. For example, some people are “spenders,” and some are “savers”—and the two types of people usually marry each other. We’ve also seen couples where one spouse worked in finance or accounting and “brought work home” by taking a cold, professional tone in family budget discussions.

Consider where some of your personality traits might be influencing the way you approach finances, then be willing to modify your approach.

3. Protection

There are times when it is appropriate to protect the family's assets due to a financial failure by one spouse in the past. For example, we’ve worked with a couple where the husband had a gambling addiction and they decided to restrict his access to the family assets for a season. But you can't stay there forever; if you do, resentments can develop. Ultimately trust must be rebuilt and restrictions lifted.

If you find yourself in this kind of situation, discuss measured steps that would lead to freedom, and trust the Lord with the process.

4. Control

Are you lording your financial position over your partner, perhaps because you make more money? Or is there something inside you that simply wants control in your marriage? We know a couple where the husband moved his office into his wife's office space. She charged him rent, not because she needed to, but because she wanted to exert authority over him.

Instead of using a tool—money—that God commands us to use joyfully, in unity, for building His kingdom, we use it to build our own kingdom when not surrendering finances to the Lord.

5. Fear

Perhaps painful experiences in your life have moved you to protect your finances. Or maybe you have friends that have experienced loss, and you vow not to let that happen to you. Blended families in particular can struggle with this, because one or both spouses, in the back of their minds, might be fearful that this marriage could end like the last one. Couples in this state often decide on separate bank accounts. While this may sound very reasonable, over time it actually complicates your life and can erode trust.

Is fear causing you to have a wrong view of finances in your marriage? Consider the parable of the 10 talents in Matthew 25:14-30. The third servant did not invest due to fear, yet God clearly calls us to steward our resources well and trust Him with the outcome.

6. Lack of Budget Skills

You might have never been trained in how to manage your finances. It’s just like marrying a guy who has never been trained to change a tire: it happens. You just have to recognize your inexperience and take steps to improve. In God's providence, often a spouse in this situation is married to one who does possess the skill, so humble yourself and invest time to learn and then practice the skill together. You can also learn more about how to manage money as a couple here.

And parents, don’t miss out on the opportunity to teach your children about stewardship and finances from an early age. You can use a piggy bank and an allowance to show your kids how to budget for giving, saving, and spending. By starting young, you can set them up for a lifetime of success.

7. Expectations

Missed expectations can cause marital conflict, and there is often a financial element to those expectations. For example, what expectations do you have about how much to spend on date nights? Or when do you expect you’ll be able to afford a house, and how nice will that house be? What will life look like in retirement? For example, we knew a couple where the wife thought they would buy a house during engagement, and she was very disappointed when her fiancé pointed out that they had no money for a down payment.

It is important to think through whether your expectations are realistic, and to communicate them with your spouse.

Not Always Easy, but Always Worth It

When you stood at the altar and said "for richer or for poorer," did you mean it? In those words, you were saying that you will not let your financial condition as a couple dictate your love for each other. So don't let it! Read Ephesians 6:10-13. Recognize how the enemy is trying to divide you and take steps to fend off the attack. Share the fight with your friends so they can stand with you. Let finances become a source of encouragement in your marriage, not division.

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