I met my husband during my first year in college; we were both students in the engineering school. Another E-school classmate and I were struggling through our homework, and she had heard that we could get help from a really smart guy who lived on the first floor of our dorm. (This post is neither an endorsement nor rebuke of co-ed college dorms :).) So we made our way downstairs, and sure enough, that guy–my future husband–had the answers. But as he wrote out the solutions, I wanted more detailed explanations. “Yes, but HOW did you get that??” I would ask repeatedly. I wanted to see the process leading up to the equations–the steps within the steps–but it probably seemed so basic to him that he didn’t know what I was asking. Over the next four years, we had many study sessions like that, but we somehow graduated with our friendship intact.
Twenty years after that first meeting, some things have not changed. I still like to see everything laid out, step by step. (See Exhibit A: my desk, on top of which are my Bible, bills to be paid, the computer I’m using to write this, another laptop, some homeschool papers, and some pencils.) He figures out most things in his head. (See Exhibit B: his desk, with a laptop, a second computer monitor, and some small mysterious-looking boxes with flashing lights. I think one is our network router and the others are for data storage.) This difference is also apparent in the ways we prefer to manage and discuss money. Every 2-4 weeks he asks me about the smaller upcoming expenses like utilities or medical bills (he already knows the larger ones like home and auto). He just wants to add everything up in his head and be done. At one time, this always caused a small panic in me, because I wanted to consult my spreadsheet first, lest I leave out an important item or miscalculate something. Like my friend Suzanne, I would rather sit down together to discuss the budget in detail. In my ideal world, we would pore over my spreadsheet in excruciating detail at least once a month. I think we tried that once. I don’t recall that it ended well. But we have figured out something that works for both of us: I regularly email my husband a plain, unformatted list of upcoming bills. We might chat about it later in person, by phone, or even text. That’s our “meeting.” We’re both in the know, I keep my spreadsheet, and he gets his “big picture.”
I think we are like most couples, in that we have different ways of thinking and talking about money. Sometimes, marital conflict over money is caused by unresolved spiritual issues, on which we should continue to seek the Lord for clarity and healing. Sometimes the contrasts reflect how we were raised. At times, though, it’s just a matter of having different personalities. These differences don’t have to be points of contention, or hindrances to communicating about our financial situations.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful (1 Corinthians 13:4-5, italics added).
But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy (James 3:17, italics added).
The Bible says that being flexible and willing to yield is loving and wise. (Except where the Lord has already spoken; we are not called to compromise on the Word of God.) In our marriages, and in our handling of money, we can seek ways to honor and even learn from our differences in personality or temperament. The more detail-oriented spouse can help the big-picture thinker see how small decisions add up to larger benefits or consequences. On the flip side, the spouse who is able to visualize the entire financial forest can help the other one see beyond the individual trees. If you would like to start having regular money talks with your husband, but expect the conversations to end in frustration for one or both of you, consider asking the Lord to show you how you can come together on your (seemingly) opposing communication styles. Here are a few ideas:
- If one of you tends to be long-winded, set a time limit for your meetings so you both know you won’t be talking all day. Impose a fun penalty if one person exceeds the limit. If meeting bi-weekly or monthly seems too frequent for one of you, consider bi-monthly or quarterly discussions.
- Propose a meeting “medium” that works for both of you. You don’t have to sit across from each other at the kitchen table, or side by side in front of the computer. “Meet” by email or phone, while you’re walking the dogs, or however you both are comfortable. It doesn’t have to be formal, and it doesn’t always have to be intense.
- If your differences are technological:
- If your husband prefers to use gadgets and software to keep track of the budget, consider asking him to make a “cheat sheet” for you. You might do some of the initial set-up of the cheat sheet, then ask him to fill it in. (I will talk more about this in a future post.) That way, you are not creating a lot of additional work for him, and the format is more likely to be helpful to you. (As a reminder, passwords should not be written down.)
- If you are the one who is more comfortable with a computer, but pencil and paper have been working well for him all this time, be patient and prayerful. Your interest in helping with the finances can be a great blessing, as long as you are not seen as “taking over,” or criticizing his way of doing things.
- If your husband agrees to explain the program that he uses, spend a little time on your own with a book or tutorial, to get a general understanding of the tool. Then when he shows you how he specifically uses it, your time together may be more productive, and less frustrating.
If your husband is willing to discuss finances, but you are reluctant because it has not gone well in the past, I’m praying that you will give it another chance. (By the way, if you and your husband have come up with effective compromises for communicating about money, please share!) You have so much to offer in the way of encouragement and support, and I hope this blog helps remove some of the hindrances in your way.
Thank you for stopping by,