When Spouses Clash on Giving

December 20th, 2012

For over a decade I have been talking with folks about their personal financial giving. Among the most common questions I hear is,

"What do I do when my spouse and I are not on the same page about our giving?"

Great question. Often tension in the area of giving can frustrate a marriage. And it's not always as simple as one spouse is generous and the other is not. As with other issues in marriage, the root cause of this situation can be complex. Here are five ways couples can untangle their giving wires and grow together in generosity. 

#1 - Connect as a Couple

Often the problem has less to do with giving… or even money. It has to do with the marriage. From my own experience, a marriage can build layers of unresolved issues - poor communication, busy schedules, parenting challenges, unmet needs, financial stress, work stress, etc. (Shall I go on?)

Anyway, each layer collects dust. When the issue of giving comes along, it often gets placed on a pile of unresolved issues. If one spouse tries to press into the matter of generosity, the dust starts to fly!  

One spouse is inspired by a new church project and desires to give a faith-stretching gift. The other spouse, feeling attention-deprived, resents the fact their spouse is feeling so charitable when their personal tank feels so empty. 

I remember an out-of-town conference where I had been touched by a radical giving testimony, while feasting on hotel steak. Then while enjoying a peaceful flight home with my spiritual head in the clouds, I dreamed up some noble giving plans for my family.  

Meanwhile my wife, Stephanie, was recovering from a rough week at home, juggling sick kids, constant carpools, and the fallout from a failed freezer.

Let’s just say I learned these times are not best for giving conversations.

Often what the giving conversation needs most is a relational tune-up. Whether it be a weekend retreat, marriage conference, or a simple date night, take some time to connect as a couple and to connect with each other's core needs. As for giving conversations, set these aside for times when relational connection is high and the distractions are low.

For Stephanie and me, we address our giving with a year-end "business" meeting right after the holidays. This usually involves a date night away from the kids - a time to celebrate the passing year and look ahead to the next. In addition to enjoying a good meal and quiet conversation, we discuss a short list of items such as family vacation plans, the kids' sports calendar, our dreams and goals as a family, etc. Included in this agenda is our financial giving plan.

Enjoying a nice evening with my wife, reflecting on the God's goodness, celebrating the previous year’s highs and setting sights on the year ahead - that's when the giving conversation seems to flow best for us. Also, by taking time to plan our giving in advance, we have a giving plan in motion for the new year and a framework in place for reacting to giving "prompts" along the way.

Take steps to connect as a couple; and address your giving when the connection is high. Your giving will flourish.  

#2 - Connect in Worship

Often spouses bring different worship preferences to the marriage. When it comes to Christian living, we can agree that generosity is of more spiritual weight than preferences like church size, style, or song selection. Whether your church sings hymns or pop-praise, whether your pastor sports a tie or a tattoo – these considerations are not significant to the core elements of financial giving.

Still, when couples struggle to find agreement with worship preferences, they struggle to find agreement with the weightier matters. 

Attending a church does not define a Christian. However, we are biblically instructed to be connected to a body of believers for spiritual growth, connection, and protection - whether it be the downtown church or the house church. And when couples connect on the little things like church worship preferences – they'll be better able to connect in the areas that really matter.

#3 - Connect Spiritually

Spouses are not always at the same level spiritually. When this is the case, there can often be a rub in the area of generosity.

One spouse may be seeking to grow spiritually and connect deeper with God through new levels of giving. The other spouse can feel alienated and detached from this process because of where they are (or are not) spiritually. The more mature partner may be able to pull them along the journey for a while, but likely not forever. 

For the more spiritually mature spouse, think about what it would look like to be generous to your spouse. How can you invest in their spiritual development? Perhaps instead of a gift for missions, you invest in attending a Christian couples conference together to connect spiritually. Maybe instead of a special gift to the church capital campaign, you invest in an overseas mission trip together. 

I am not providing excuses to give less, and I know you are not looking for them either. But there's much grace in the giving journey – especially for couples where spouses are disconnected spiritually. 

God knows your heart on this matter and your desire to grow together in the giving journey. Step back and consider creative ways to invest financially in connecting spiritually with your spouse so that you can advance in the giving journey together.

#4 - Connect Financially

Just as spouses bring different spiritual alignments to a marriage, they bring varying financial styles and experiences as well.

A free-spirited, free-spending spouse will clash at times with a tightly-wound, bookkeeping spouse. Often the spouse who appears inclined to be more generous is also the one thinking about a new swimming pool or the next vacation destination.

Meanwhile, the one who reacts more cautiously about giving ideas is thinking about this year's IRA contribution or an extra month's savings for that unforeseeable economic crisis. When the giving conversation surfaces, resentment concerning how the other spouse views money gets in the way.

Couples need to find their common ground. Neither spouse is fully right or wrong in their position. Both need to be affirmed… and both need to be challenged.

The bookkeeper needs to be affirmed for their helpful management skills; but they may also need to be challenged to take steps of faith and give past their comfort zone.

And the free-spirited spouse needs to know their desire to give freely is admirable; but they may also need restraints on their personal spending to "earn the freedoms" to be generous that come from practicing sound stewardship. 

Even couples with similar money styles become disconnected. My wife and I graduated with accounting degrees and view money similarly. In the past, when I gave my wife the "time to cut back" speech, that was my signal to tighten our spending. Then weeks or days later I might come home with a grand giving idea. She'd call "foul" on my mixed signals (rightfully so) and I'd have explain my cryptic thinking. Since then I've worked harder to keep her in the loop with the financial picture and how possible giving sacrifices might affect our overall situation. 

To connect financially, consider taking a financial stewardship course together. If scheduling seems problematic for you, consider going through a self-study as a couple. Early in our marriage, my wife and I went through a financial Bible study together as a couple. 

For stewardship resources, check out Crown Financial Ministries or Compass - Finances God's Way or Financial Peace. For generosity-specific resources, consider our Plastic Donuts materials at www.AcceptableGift.org

For many couples, a budget coach or counselor may be helpful to press into some of the more difficult areas. Often financial stress and difficult circumstances stand in the way and require a third party help to resolve.

For a couple to advance together in the giving journey there must be togetherness in the financial journey.  

#5 - Connect on God's Blessings

A Christian couple should regularly count their blessings. This stirs up a heart of gratitude together. And gratitude (not guilt) is the wellspring for generosity.  

Often we don't take time to count our blessings. Instead we focus on our problems. But there will always be challenges in our lives…and in the world. Remind each other of what God has done for you - not what has happened to you. Remind each other of what you have been given - not what you are lacking.

My wife and I see-saw together on this. When I am gloomy, she counts our blessings for me and helps me perk up. When she's in the dumps, I talk about the big picture and pull her up. That's the power of a couple working together. When news reports blare the world’s problems, we take the time to reflect on our blessings – after all, we have food, water, shelter, and the means for me to type this article on a laptop. 

A spirit of gratitude can be learned. Encourage each other in these areas.

Also, be sure to celebrate the milestones in your marriage and your shared spiritual journey. How did God bring you together? Reflect on that story. How has God enriched your marriage? Circle back to those events.  

Connect on God's blessings regularly and generosity will grow in your soul… and into your conversations together.

Healthy Connecting Leads to Acceptable Giving - and Living

Connect as a couple. Connect in worship. Connect spiritually. Connect financially. And connect with God's blessings in your life. When you connect as a couple in these areas, your marriage will be fruitful. And generosity will flow out from your marriage partnership.

God will notice. And God will be pleased. He will find your gifts acceptable… and your marriage acceptable, too. 

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