How to Handle Money Differences and Changing Expectations in Marriage

married couple

Disagreement about money is, sadly, one of the biggest contributors to stress in marriage and one of the leading causes for divorce. But it’s also something that couples can learn to laugh about and navigate through – together.

Two years ago, at dinner to celebrate our wedding anniversary, my wife made an interesting observation about our lives and marriage since our wedding day:

Nearly everything about us had changed.

She was absolutely right. But then again, she’s always right! But that’s the subject for another post. (Just kidding, sweetie!)

I am not the man she married twenty years ago. And she is not the woman I married. In fact, here are just a few of the areas in our marriage where we’ve experienced changing situations, circumstances, or expectations so far (most have changed more than once):

  • Body shape and weight
  • Hair color and styles
  • Hobbies and interests
  • Jobs and homes
  • Children
  • Dreams and goals
  • Habits, values and priorities
  • Philosophy of educating our children
  • Financial situation
  • Beliefs about money

Dealing with Changing Expectations in Our Marriage

As we reminisced on that anniversary night, we realized that we came into marriage with one set of expectations and beliefs about how things were going to be, but things have certainly changed over time. For example:

  • My wife was going to be a career business woman. But after our first child was born, she was destined to be a stay-at-home mom.
  • We were just going to have – perhaps – two kids but now have five children (so far).
  • I was going into politics, but later sensed a call to ministry. Which actually worked out okay, because I’ve observed there’s politics even in the church.
  • We bought a quaint “starter” home and were going to stay there a few years and then move into something larger. But that was 17 years ago, and we’re still there.

And then there’s money. We’ve had an interesting relationship with money over our 20 years of marriage:

  • At one time we were debt-free except for the house – then a few years later we had $20,000 in credit card debt due to some bad business decisions.
  • Sometimes we’ve been 100% on the same page regarding money decisions in our marriage, and other times, like right now, we differ a bit on some of our money attitudes . . . particularly regarding how much to spend on discretionary items and how much to put toward paying off debt.

Over the years, we’ve noticed that some couples have an easier time handling unexpected change than others. Some can make adjustments and go with the flow. Others can’t handle it when things change, when their expectations aren’t met, or when things happen that they “didn’t sign up for.”

They feel hurt, angry, and frustrated. Thoughts of divorce might even enter their mind. Maybe it’s because their spouse isn’t on the same page with them as they move through the situation. Or, maybe it’s because their spouse caused the situation.

Yes, there may be times when you’re justified for having these kinds of thoughts or feelings. And a few situations may be legitimate biblical grounds for divorce.

But they are also grounds for give and take, a sense of adventure and humor, and even forgiveness and grace. They are times to move closer together, not pull further apart.

5 Tips for Managing Changing Expectations in Your Marriage

So, how can we not just survive, but thrive through the unanticipated changes that come our way in marriage?

1. Realize that change is to be expected, and commit to never letting it pull you apart.

You talked about changing expectations on your wedding day, remember? When you promised to love, honor and cherish in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer! Tough situations can make or break a couple. Choose to let it make you stronger and better, together.

2. Agree to disagree.

Make the most of the things you can both agree on together, and graciously agree to disagree when needed. Disagreements don’t have to be final or fatal. My wife and I have changed our views on money several times in our marriage. Sometimes it has taken months or years for both of us to get 100% on the same page regarding a particular issue. Other times, God worked within one of us pretty quickly to change our thinking.

3. Keep it as simple as possible.

Those who are debt-free and live a modest lifestyle can weather most any storm in their marriage better than those who have the stress of debt and stuff hanging over them too.

4. Good communication is key.

Don’t shut down or keep your thoughts and fears to yourself. But don’t make a scene, start an argument, or pass blame either. Find a time – and a way – for both of you to share your thoughts and feelings in a positive manner.

And don’t be afraid to revisit an issue from time to time. For example, if we’ve agreed to disagree about an item, we commit to talking about it again a month or two down the road to see if it is still important to us at that time.

Most importantly, pray about the issue individually and together. Ask God to give you a sense of clarity about what the issue really is and unity about how to approach it together.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Your minister, counselor, support group, or trusted friends can be invaluable in helping you deal with any difficulty or challenge in marriage, including money issues. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask others for help or counsel.

How have you handled changing expectations about money in your marriage? Is there anything else you’d add to the list?

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  1. I agree with you that good communication, and I would add transparency in communication, is key. Never, ever sweep things under the rug. It may be painful to talk about certain things but living in denial or hiding them from your spouse would be even worse.

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