By Jaime Jo Wright, Crosswalk.com
Times aren't getting easier. Prices seem to be consistently rising, whether you're purchasing a gallon of milk or a gallon of gas. Throw in a pandemic that has affected jobs and budgets, and it's even more challenging. Or maybe you've breezed through the pandemic, but for whatever reason, have experienced a financial hardship due to unexpected medical bills, job loss, cutbacks, or what have you.
Finances and money are one of the leading causes of tension in marriages and families. It's been known to be at the heart of some break-ups and, with varying degrees of philosophies on how to manage your money, you may find that simple day-to-day budgeting becomes its own argument.
But how do you go into financial hardships with the attitude of a team versus opposers? Is it possible to go through financial hardship and pull together instead of pulling apart? And what if you're on the verge of losing everything, and you could make a laundry reason of why your spouse is the reason you've gotten to this detrimental point of financial legacy?
Here are a few things to consider when going into financial hardships: (And may I clarify, this comes from personal experience. After job loss that resulted in 75% of our monetary base being stripped away in a matter of an unexpected week, we've spent the last few years working hard to not only manage through financial hardship but to maintain marriage through financial hardship.)
1. Determine not to play the blame game.
There may be valid reasons for blaming the other spouse for why you're in the financial straits that you're in. But, assuming it's not a serious reason caused by a damaging addiction or dishonest siphoning of family funds, you're probably aligned with the rest of us in financial deficits. Life happens.
Sure, you can identify things that could have been done differently, and often, that's the first thing we jump to. It's instinctive. What could we have done to avoid this situation? This is when one spouse may center on the other's less frugal way of living. That going-out-to-eat habit that cost the family thousands last year? Or maybe it's the job loss caused by one of you stepping out of bounds at work, making an error, or simply not fitting into the mold the company wanted in an employee? It's easy to point the finger and say, "if you hadn't spent that money!" or "if you had only worked harder to do what you needed to do!".
But at this point, blaming isn't going to accomplish anything but add to a rift between you and compounding the problem at hand. Refrain. Even if you feel that your opinion is valid or even necessary, refrain. At least at the outset. The time may come when you're budgeting, and you need to identify that the meal-out budget isn't a priority. Or maybe your spouse needs to find a different type of career that doesn't grate on their nerves so much. Regardless, if you're going to work as a team to get through this, you're going to need to accept that the past is the past, and you have to move forward.
2. Enter discussion without preconceived expectations.
It isn't uncommon for one spouse to be more effective at budgeting, seeing where the holes are in the finances, or perceiving what needs to be done to survive the financial crisis. The conflict comes when you enter the financial discussions with a preconceived expectation of what you're going to do. In other words, you've already made up your mind on the proper strategy, and therefore, if your spouse brings up an opposing idea or they disagree with your plan, there can be sudden and lasting tension.
Instead, come into the discussions with your ideas and strategies, but be willing to listen to the other spouses too. You may find they have some good thoughts, or maybe they're absolutely ridiculous, but by talking them through as valid or as potential solutions, you're giving credence to the fact that you are a team. Teamwork is defining your financial strategies together, being willing to listen and compromise.
3. Be willing to hear the "tough."
This part isn't fun. At all. But it's important. It's important to hear the tough things that you don't want to hear from your spouse, but that directly impact your financial hardship. This often comes in the form of "targeting." What I mean is, you feel targeted when your spouse brings up an activity, an item, or something you feel is a necessary expense, but they see as a luxury. This is very common when you get to the re-budgeting stage of making ends meet.
For example, many women see regular visits to the salon for hair/manicures as a necessity. It is part of who they are as a woman. Or they need to for a variety of reasons. Many men will instantly gravitate to this line item as a complete non-necessity. No woman needs to have their nails done or their hair coiffed to perfection every month. On the other hand, the woman might feel their entire identity is being threatened, and instantly, there's a war.
Whatever your opinion is on this line item, it's an example of needing to be willing not just to hear the tough things, but consider them. Maybe you do need regular salon visits for your hair. Some of us have hair that will become far more expensive issues in the future if we don't maintain regularity (I see you, curly-haired friends!). But maybe, if we're bluntly honest, we don't need that bi-weekly weekly manicure that sucks $75.00 from the monthly budget. Is it nice, and does it boost your self-esteem? Probably. Is it a necessity, or can you live effectively and still be happy without it? Probably.
It's tough to face financial hardships together. In the end, you're going to need to be willing to give one for the team. Both of you will need to. You'll need to give up things that hurt to give up. You'll need to swallow mean thoughts that feel very valid. You'll need to realize that your biggest ally can be your biggest enemy in financial hardships—or at least feel that way—and you need to be aware that building a divide will only continue to enhance the breakdown of the financial security you both crave.
Fear is the driving force behind any financial crisis. Sure, anger, blame, irritation, annoyance, misspending, bad habits, etc., could all be there too. But it's fear at the root that causes us to go into a panic when we suddenly are $500-$5,000.00 short of making ends meet, the bank is knocking at your door, and you're considering Ramen noodles as a meal replacement. And it's a legitimate fear. But as believers and as men and women of faith, it's essential to take a step back and remember that God watches every sparrow. That He has promised to provide. This may be the time we redefine what "needs" really are. It may be time to return to the simplified way of life. To remove the extras and go back to the basics. God will show in miraculous ways as you pull together as a team.
Most importantly, you'll want to make sure you've placed your faith at the center of this crisis. Through prayer and obedience, you can seek God's provision. You may still lose everything—or at least feel as though you have. He may not rain down prosperity, but instead, as in my situation, seem as though He's allowing one catastrophe after another. If that happens, together, look for His leading and providing hand. It will be there. He promises. And if you're working together, you will find this ties you together in ways that bountiful wealth never did, never can, and never will.
Stick together. Pray together. Be together. Watch Him provide.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/PeopleImages
Jaime Jo Wright is an ECPA and Publisher’s Weekly bestselling author. Her novel “The House on Foster Hill” won the prestigious Christy Award and she continues to publish Gothic thrillers for the inspirational market. Jaime Jo resides in the woods of Wisconsin, lives in dreamland, exists in reality, and invites you to join her adventures at jaimewrightbooks.com and at her podcast madlitmusings.com where she discusses the deeper issues of story and faith with fellow authors.