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How to Fight About Money

My wife, Amy, is an amazing supermom who homeschools our four children and is my biggest fan.  I’m fully aware that I married way over my head and still am unsure how I hoodwinked her into saying yes to marrying me.   Not only that, but she’s a terrific like-minded financial partner in stewardship whom I can fully trust with our money…most of the time.  You see, every once in a while, it seems that aliens will come down and possess her body so that she makes insane, out-of-body purchases with our money.  You know, things like buying organic meats she could have saved $3 on by buying the non-organic version.  After all, that’s what I grew up eating and look how I turned out!  To fight these aliens, I will typically offer a passive-aggressive comment or two and then load up my defensive and offensive verbal weaponry to eradicate the invaders.

Has your loved one ever been possessed by these same aliens?  Why does this happen so easily sometimes?  And what’s really going on under the surface and is there anything we can do to ease the tension?

Disagreements are Normal and Good

First of all, let me say that these disagreements are both normal and good.  You and your spouse are two different people with unique wiring and backgrounds.  It’s nature and nurture coming together to form the individual personalities of you and your spouse.  Thankfully God didn’t make someone else just like you, one was just plenty!  But marriage is a miracle of two people becoming one flesh, two often very different people making money decisions as one.  And at times, this means allowing someone else to make decisions with “your” money (remember, it’s all God’s money to begin with!).

The first step to healthy fighting is knowing that marriage necessitates disagreement (a lack of agreement) because that is part of the beautiful nature of two people becoming one.

Recognizing Value Systems

At the root of most disagreements are conflicting value systems.  In my instance, I was raised that we buy food based on 1) Taste and 2) Price.  Period.  If there’s a cheaper way to provide a tastier meal, it’s the best decision every time.  That’s value to me.  However, my wife has this very strange value system that, while she cares about taste and price, she cares even more about things that are less likely to cause cancer, health problems, or have ingredients that she can’t pronounce.  I’ve tried to explain that her system would be fine so long as these “healthy” choices are just as cheap and tasty, but this is somehow rarely the case.

What I’ve had to realize over time is that my way of doing things (i.e. value system) isn’t superior to hers or anyone else’s.  It’s painful to even type those words because there’s part of me that doesn’t want to fully believe it.  But it’s true.  I know I can learn a lot from Amy if I would listen more, and listen better.  Which means trying to hear the issue beneath the issue.

I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that when we get into a disagreement about spending money on groceries, we’re not actually fighting about spending money on groceries.  We’re fighting about our competing value systems, and about whether our way of seeing the world has worth.  When someone disagrees with our decision-making process, it hurts because it feels like a devaluing of who we are and how we see the world.

Fighting Fair

In order to fight fair, I must recognize my wife’s unique (and valid) value system, its occasional incongruence with my own, and validate that neither of us is right for how we see the world.  To help with this, I recommend asking a simple question – “What’s important to you about that?” I know, it sounds a bit simple. But whether the money argument is over buying clothes, credit cards, groceries or things for the kids, starting with that question will often give you a window into a competing value system.  Until we can see that value system, we don’t have much hope of fighting fair.

Another aspect of fighting fair regarding money (or anything really) entails giving your spouse the benefit of the doubt.  By this, I mean recognizing that your spouse is your ally, not your enemy.  They are the one person in the world who is forever “on your team”, till death do you part.  And if you can believe it, they generally want what’s best for you.

Finally, make a commitment to what you’ll say and how you’ll say it.  This means avoiding criticism (which always leads to discouragement), and avoiding phrases such as “You always…” and “You never…”.  It means committing to not raising your voice.   And it means committing to compromise.  “What would it look like for us to meet in the middle on this?”.

Even as I’m writing this post I’m getting texts from Amy asking me to pick up “raw, local honey” from the healthy grocery store down the street to help treat my son’s ailing throat.  I’m know it’s going to cost more than I think honey should and definitely more than it would at Harris Teeter, but this is a great chance to recognize her value system, the goodness of her request, and the wisdom she has that can help offset my own blindness.

Romans 12:18 challenges us that “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” The burden is on us to create the peace, not our spouses or anyone else.  The good news is that when we accept this challenge, we can begin fighting for our marriages rather than against our spouses.