What I Write About

I write about the infinite number of intersections between every day life and the good news of the God who has come to get us.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Marriage, Money, and Making Real Change

So the top two things that most couples fight about are sex and money. I'm not sure if it's in that order (perhaps it depends on the couple) but for today's purposes, let's talk about money.

Typically in a marriage you've got one person who's the "spender" and one person who's the "saver." Let's say that a couple that's been struggling with money issues comes to seek your wisdom: the spender has over-spent a couple times the past couple of months, feels terrible about it, and the saver is frustrated and angry.

Depending on your "bent" you're most likely to counsel in one of two ways.

The first way you might counsel would be the pragmatic, systems-analyst approach. What's your budget? Is it clear who's paying which bills? Does the spender have clear guidelines as to what they're allowed to spend each month? How is that tracked? Is there enough money ear-marked each month to be saved for the saver to feel good about the progress?

This approach has tons going for it. It's about creating a clear "path" towards financial goals and wisdom.

An alternate way you might approach this (particularly if you're steeped in a gospel-centered approach to addressing issues in people's lives) is asking questions of the heart. This, after all, is where Jesus said the actions of our lives spring from.

What's the real issue for the spender? Are they seeking comfort in having more and more things as a way to prop themselves up? Are there issues here of control or power that are being expressed in un-healthy ways through the spending habits of the spender?

What's the real issue wrapped up in the saver's frustration? Are they really about saving in order to serve the marriage and the person they're married to or are they actually just seeking comfort, security, or identity in digits associated with their bank account?

This approach has lots going for it as well. There's opportunities for genuine repentance and deeper change. It's an opportunity to see our need for Christ, the cross, and power outside of ourselves to bring genuine, core change and freedom to our lives.

Both of these solutions have good things going for them but in my not-so-humble opinion, both are severely lacking without the other. Genuine change is about working both "the heart" and "the path."

Heart change without practical helps is not going to benefit the bottom line. Sometimes us more "spiritual" people believe the panacea myth that if we simply lead people to heart transformation behavior will follow. This is a myth. Heart transformation is crucial, but people need specific behavioral helps as well. This is why Romans does not end after chapter 8. It's not just "here's the gospel." But: "here's the gospel and these are the practical outworkings of what that means for our lives." We need both.

Bottom line change without the heart change means that sin patterns left un-dealt with are simply going to rear their ugly heads in some other place. Perhaps the money issue is solved, but the marriage might be headed for even worse times ahead because issues of fear, insecurity, trust, and mutual submission have not been dealt with.

I think what I've seen in my different contexts is that most people lean overly-much one direction or the other, thinking that they've cornered the "real solution" to the problem. Neither one of these is the "real solution." They're both necessary.

Of course, I'm sure none of you have any marital (or personal) problems at all that need this kind of change. This is for the next time one of your super-needy friends comes to you asking for you sage advice. If at all possible, look to both the heart issues and the practical ways that you can make a path towards new habits and health.

Your friends will thank you later.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Love the post, Alex. I think you hit the nail on the head.

The Heath boys pick up on a similar theme in their follow-up to Made to Stick: Switch. They talk about a Rider (head), an Elephant (heart), and The Path (environment/systems). Effective and lasting change comes best when you impact all three. If you liked the sticky book, it'd be worth checking Switch out.