Some conflict does not end in satisfying agreement. There are times when the best you can do is agree to disagree. But as you think about this cliche, be sure that you begin in your hearts rather than in the obvious thing that is dividing you.
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Mailbag – How does a married couple balance money issues? For example, one partner is generally the money saver while the other is the money spender. How does the saver overcome bitterness with the spender’s needs? The saver is experiencing guilt and shame with all the spending. Where is the balance?
Genesis One and Two
Adam and Eve were two different and unique people. And God thought that what He had made was good. Being different is good, and you want to celebrate them while leveraging them in the marriage rather than permitting them to be a source of irritation that divides. This perspective is at the heart of what it means to be a complementarian.
A complementarian worldview means the husband and the wife represent two different people who come together to form a one-flesh union, with each person bringing unique gifts and strengths to the marriage. And between the two of them, they live in a “complementing process” that continues to grow throughout their marriage.
The wise and humble couple realizes this opportunity as a gift from God, which motivates them to appropriate the grace of God in their lives. As they do, they experience God doing things in their marriage that neither one of them could do alone.
And now for the bad news: what God intended for our good and His glory was interrupted by sin. Sin brings division, which is not welcomed or appreciated. Sadly, the sinning that I am talking about is not so much the sinfulness that we see in our world as the sin we see in ourselves.
No one, except for Christ, can escape the curse and effects of Adam’s fall. Thus, people will always have to deal with the problem with evil. There is no place more fertile and receptive to our sin problem than in a marriage.
Sin beckons all of us all of the time. But when two people choose to get married, they exacerbate their particular sin problems. When Lucia and I were dating, it was nearly conflict-free. I could walk away from the relationship on a nightly basis because we were dating.
But when we decided to tie the knot, we could no longer ignore the real truth about ourselves. It was only by the grace of God that we were able to see our differences as God’s kindness to us and something we could celebrate and enjoy.
There Is Hope for You
The problem that I have described is not unique to you because it’s a common problem that every couple has to deal with daily. The unwise couple will choose to ignore the challenge, only to realize years later that it never went away. By the time they come to address the issues in their marriage, the tentacles of sin will have so twisted and gnarled the union, that it will seem hopeless to press on.
The gospel, of course, debunks the notion that the marriage is kaput. The gospel informs us that there is no problem so significant that it cannot fix it. God chose to execute His one and only Son to restore us to Himself. The implication is clear: there is no problem more considerable than our need for reconciliation to the Lord. But as you might surmise, the gospel is not just for marriages in trouble because it has some particular things to say about any relationship.
The wise person will be prudent and diligent about their problems and will consistently seek how to bring the gospel to bear on the never-ending maintenance needs in their marriage. With these things in mind, here are a few questions for you to ponder and practicalize.
- Do you agree that you made a covenant to God and you will not leave your marriage?
- Because God fixed your most significant problem in life, assuming you are a Christian, do you believe he can fix any other issue that you have?
- Will you ask God to give you the grace to work through your current marriage problem?
- Do you feel that there is hope in God and that He can help you and your spouse?
How Do You See You?
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. – Paul, 1 Timothy 1:15
Do you believe you are the foremost sinner that God ever saved? I’m serious. Do you? If you were the writer of 1 Timothy, instead of Paul, would you write the sacred text the way he wrote it? How you answer these questions will have a direct impact on how you relate to your spouse. These questions are foundational, gospel-centered questions that will shape how you view and interact in all of your relationships.
If you do not believe you are the foremost sinner that you know, you will have relational difficulties that will be difficult to resolve. But if you embrace Paul’s perspective, you are not only in good company with him, but you are in the best possible place to work through any relational difficulty. Here are a few benefits of being the “biggest sinner in the room.”
- The foremost sinner sees each day as a gift from God.
- The foremost sinner is grateful.
- The foremost sinner encourages others.
- The foremost sinner is not critical.
- The foremost sinner does not uncharitably judge others.
- The foremost sinner does not gossip.
- The foremost sinner is more aware of his sin than the sins of others.
- The foremost sinner walks in humility.
- The foremost sinner experiences grace.
- The foremost sinner is not demanding.
- The foremost sinner realizes he has no rights.
- The foremost sinner is not argumentative.
- The foremost sinner is more suspicious of himself than others.
- The foremost sinner finds it easy to think the best of others.
- The foremost sinner does not envy the blessings that others receive.
- The foremost sinner esteems others more than himself.
- The foremost sinner is not surprised when he sins.
- The foremost sinner is not surprised when others sin.
- The foremost sinner assumes that he does not understand entirely.
- The foremost sinner appreciates God.
Being the foremost sinner is not the total package as it pertains to Paul’s theology. It is only part of his theology, but sadly, it is an oft-neglected part of his theology. Everyone struggles with this aspect of Paul’s theology.
The typical reaction is something along the lines of, “Well, yes, but I don’t want to camp there,” as though I am asking them to “camp there.” I’m not. I’m asking them to embrace a more comprehensive view of the gospel, which includes a robust understanding of the doctrine of sin.
In this case study about a couple in financial conflict, if they do not embrace and apply the doctrine of sin as I have outlined, they will have a difficult time working through their marriage money problems.
Unfortunately, when most people are working through their problems, they are looking for a quick answer to the behaviors that they are experiencing and do not realize that it is from the heart that those problems come forth (Luke 6:45).
It is far easier to wallpaper a termite-infested home than to tear it down and rebuild it. Our theology is what drives our behavior. The couple working through conflict must begin at its source, which they will find in their hearts, not in their spending habits.
Before I address the question that you asked, I want you to examine your heart. Without understanding your real motives, you may try to resolve your financial problems; it won’t work. Let’s explore your heart first.
- When you argue, do you initially think you are more right than the other person?
- Are you more suspicious of yourself or others when there is conflict?
- Illustrate a time when you thought you were more right but found out later that you were not.
- In what specific way has the gospel changed how you approach and think about others?
- How does the gospel govern your heart in conflict?
To Spend or Not to Spend
The spender (husband) wants to buy a horse, and the saver (wife) is frustrated and angry. He used to have a horse when he was a kid. Not so long ago, the husband bought a time-share, and the wife was against it, and the wife is still mad with her husband.
There are two distinct things wrong with the original question at the top of this article: (1) spenders rarely have needs; (2) savers should not experience guilt. Ironically, the exact opposite should be true: (1) the husband should be experiencing guilt; (2) the wife needs to be free from it.
The issue here is that the husband wants to buy a big-ticket, discretionary item that there is no justifying need for them to purchase. It would be like me spending several thousand dollars on a motorcycle while my wife was dead-set against it. In such a case, it would be wrong to spend the money on the bike.
A motorcycle or a horse does not qualify as a need, and it would be sinful to press my desire for either one while my wife was against me doing so. This idea is common sense, as well as a biblical maturity issue. In this case, the husband is foolish. He does not understand 1 Peter 3:7, and he is exalting his desires over the clear commands of Scripture to take care of his wife.
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. – 1 Peter 3:7
According to Peter’s text, to be out-of-sync with your wife is to be out-of-sync with God. I do wonder if the husband realizes the real needs in his life: (1) work on his relationship with God; (2) restore his relationship with his wife. It would be sad for a horse to come between the husband and God and between him and his wife.
Spending and Saving Is Not the Question
This couple needs help. It is not so much about balancing their spending and saving habits as it is about living in one-flesh harmony. Their problems are deeper and more complicated than their financial tension. Their marriage sounds more like a business arrangement between two people who have personal agendas that are more important to them than their covenant with God.
My recommendation would be for the husband to learn how to listen and to respond to God and then how to learn, love, and lead his wife rather than to foolishly spend money. If he does not do these things, there is an excellent chance this marriage will not last.
He may end up with a horse and no wife.