Whenever her husband Will gives her a gift, Erin is torn. Instead of being excited about the beautiful necklace, phone upgrade, or trendy shoes, all she can think of is how far the expense is taking them over their budget. When she blurts out another “Thank you, but…”, Will always gives her the same crestfallen look. He just can’t understand the “but.” He wants to make her feel special, and money is no object because everything she does for him and the kids is priceless to Will.
Erin loves her husband dearly and appreciates his desire to make her feel cherished. But they’ve been working so hard to finally get their college loans paid off. Once that debt is gone they can start putting more money towards the down payment for a bigger house with the additional bedroom they desperately need and a bigger yard for the kids to play in. She sees Will’s gifts as extravagant expenses that keep pushing the student debt finish line further away.
So where is this conflict between Erin and Will coming from? They both want the best for each other and for their family! In our latest book, Thriving in Love and Money, Jeff and I identify key areas where spouses can learn to communicate better, understand each other, and resolve (or avoid) money clashes like Erin and Will’s.
Let’s take a closer look at what might be behind their conflict, to help you and your spouse better understand your own money issues.
Spouses Often Have Different Viewpoints Around Money
The foundational truth that we share in Thriving in Love and Money is that money issues aren’t really about the money. If they were, people who had plenty of money wouldn’t have any arguments about it! The reality is that people have very different values and beliefs about money. And when we put two unique individuals together in a marriage, those disparate values and beliefs can (surprise!) create conflict.
For Will—and maybe for you or your spouse—money is a tool to be used, not tucked away for a rainy day. He takes one day at a time, approaching expenses with the belief that the money will take care of itself as long as he and Erin work hard and are generally responsible about their finances. For Erin—and maybe for you or your spouse—delayed gratification plays a big part in her financial approach. She keeps the big picture in mind and is willing to make sacrifices today that will pay off in the long run.
It’s clear that these two financial approaches—both valid, both reasonable—are rooted in values that express an overall approach to life. So how do Erin and Will—you and your spouse—reconcile these different approaches?
Talk With Your Spouse About Your Money Beliefs
Communication is key. We need to talk to our spouses about what’s behind our financial decisions. Maybe the loss of Will’s dad at a young age has made him determined not to put every spare penny aside for a far-off day that may never come. Erin might remember her dad and mom working long hours at extra jobs to make ends meet—giving her the resolve to value family time over things.
A woman we interviewed for Thriving in Love and Money felt, like Erin, that her husband was giving her gifts that were too extravagant. When she looked more deeply into her own behavior and expectations, she realized that her childhood experience of poverty was carrying over into her present-day relationship. She said, “The day he tried to take me to the Apple store for the iPad and I was so snitty about it, I realized: I have to get over myself. I have to just say ‘thank you’ when he wants to do something nice for me.”
We all have knee-jerk reactions that reflect our money beliefs, and Erin’s “Thank you, but…” response to Will’s gifts is one example.
When Gift-Giving Conflicts Arise, Show Grace and Gratitude
Look for ways to meet both spouse’s short-term wants and needs without impacting your long-term goals. And have grace with your spouse. Yes, there will be times when we need to hold a hard line on expenses. But know and believe that your spouse has your best in mind. Be grateful for generosity, be thankful for restraint. Instead of clashing without giving in, soften and allow your different perspectives to complement one another.
Erin and Will agreed to limit his higher-priced gifts to two occasions: her birthday and their anniversary. He has committed to stay within an established price range. And Erin has determined that she will eliminate the “but” and simply say “Thank you.”
When you make the effort to understand and honor your spouse’s unique perspective and values as presents are exchanged over the holidays (and all year round), you’ll give—and receive—a gift much greater than money can buy.
Are you currently reading Shaunti’s latest devotional, Find Joy? Please leave a book review on Amazon!
And check out her latest book (co-authored with her husband, Jeff), Thriving in Love and Money. Because you need a better relationship, not just a better budget.
This article was first published at Patheos.