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marriage matters

He says: She spends too much money on clothes

I guess we can afford it, but Christina spends a ridiculous amount of money on clothes. She has a closet full of them.

She says: I have to keep current with changing styles for my job. Meanwhile, Rich is always buying another power tool. He certainly doesn’t “need” them, and we barely have room for the ones we have.

Happiness in marriage is composed of the many harmonies of a shared life, and a couple can enjoy these harmonies – even if they have widely differing desires.

But to make that happen, Christina and Rich, you absolutely must, before anything else, agree that you will break out of your tit-for-tat spending game. Behavior like this is not only corrosive to your relationship, but it can also lead to financial troubles.

Next, clarify your financial goals and create a budget to get there. An essential element will be distinguishing between your wants and your needs. Some of this will be easy – paying the rent is a need, going to Disneyland is a want – but some might not. For instance, do you really need another pair of shoes or a new power tool, or do you just want them?

Be completely transparent with one another – and yourselves – as you make these distinctions. This doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be able to get all the cool stuff you want. But it does mean you’ll be working together to establish a shared baseline of responsible living, and that’s a huge accomplishment.

Once you’ve got your needs accounted for, turn to your wants. You might consider giving yourselves equal, individual monthly spending allowances that each can freely use (or store up) as each wishes. This would get you out of the tit-for-tat loop.

If you do this, consider three more suggestions:

First, add a third allowance category for fun things to do together as a couple.

Second, keep all three allowances modest. Then, as you hit your financial goals, give yourselves bonuses.

Third, even if each of you has money to freely spend on him/herself, consider spending at least a little on one another, and do it unconditionally, i.e., without expecting the other to do the same in return. Everything we have in life we have received freely from God, and so, as Jesus taught, since “freely we have received, then freely we should give.” (Mt 10:8)

Cultivating small acts of generosity (and expressing corresponding gratitude) in your marriage will gradually move your goals away from the fleeting pleasures of things and toward the much deeper and lasting joys of living for one another.