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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Moving forward in financial oneness means getting real and valuing each other's perspectives.

In many marriages financial styles and perspectives differ between spouses. One might be a spender and another a saver. One might place a high value on "stuff" while the other might not care about keeping up with the Jones's. One might want to spend on hobbies or a second home, but the other may see travel as a higher priority.

As I said in my last post, 4 Reasons You Need Financial Intimacy, money and sex are actually pretty closely related to each other. Sexually speaking, differences such as drive levels, interest in exploration, best times of day and preference for different activities can all be places for misunderstanding and hurt. The truth is that most spouses are unevenly matched when it comes to sex. For example, in my recent sexual satisfaction survey, only 9% of individuals felt that their sex drive was about evenly matched with their spouse.

Although the factors that cause sexual strife are not the same as those involved in financial discord, such differences tend to be where the strife shows up. Regardless, just like with sex, differences over money are no reason to forgo financial intimacy.

Wherever your marriage is in the financial arena, it may be time to take a fresh look at this area together. And "together" is hugely important if you want to improve intimacy.

1) Come Clean

Intimacy, regardless of whether it is physical, emotional or financial, starts with being fully known. That means both of you getting real with where you are about money.

The starting point for this is to confess any secrets such as spending, hidden accounts or any deceptions. Whatever comes out, find room in your heart to forgive one another. Holding past mistakes over each other's heads will prevent you from moving closer together. As difficult as it might be to believe in the midst of what might feel like betrayal, grace is the best invitation to intimacy. On the other hand shame and guilt will drive you apart.

The next step is to be honest with each other about where you are financially. Share areas of concern and stress. Talk honestly about your different styles in handing money. Check your communication effectiveness where money is concerned. Are you okay with which of you does the bulk of the money management? Are both of you sufficiently involved?

As you talk, do your best to listen and not react defensively to each other's feelings. Acknowledge that many differences over money don't amount to right and wrong (the exception beings any secrets), but to a difference in perspectives.

2) Dream a Little

With all the cards on the table, talk about your hopes and dreams for the future. Then consider together what kind of financial framework will be required to reach those goals.

Is early retirement a goal?  One spouse staying home with the kids? College plans for the kids? Travel? A first (or second) home? Vacations? All of these goals require that you have matching financial goals to attain them.

And to go along with the goals you need to...

3) Make a Plan

All financial planning revolves around making (and keeping) a budget. As Dave Ramsey says, "Give each dollar a name." For some people the budgeting process will feel like nails on a chalkboard. For some having a budget will alleviate a lot of stress and uncertainty over money.

The most important thing about the budgeting process is that you both have input and buy-in. Regardless of whether one partner is more involved with managing the money and bills, you need to be in complete agreement on the budget. If you need some help here, Dave Ramsey has some great tools for budgeting.

Here's a little personal story that might help the reluctant spouse with the idea of making and keeping a budget. We have been budgeting since very early in our marriage. But Jenni has not always had a strong conviction about keeping track of expenses. It was just another thing on her list to get done. During a communication workshop we had the opportunity to discuss our feelings over finances.  As I shared my perspective, she came to understand that doing better in this area would actually significantly reduce my overall stress. She realized that it would actually be helping me personally and not just taking care of something on her list. It wasn't just about the budget per se, but about a way to help me out.  It gave her the motivation to be more consistent.

4) Check in Regularly

Effective budgeting is something that requires monitoring. Sit down together at the end of each month, and maybe half way through, to gauge how it's going. Look for areas where spending is off plan (and there are always those areas).  See where you need to modify your budget or spending or make other adjustments.

Track your progress toward saving goals as well. If you have investments, it's a good idea to review those regularly. This is an opportunity for the more involved spouse to bring the less-involved spouse up to speed with your financial situation.

These four steps are simple, but not necessarily easy. It will require diligence, honesty, and most of all, grace. Remember that your relationship and your desire for intimacy come before your bank balance or your ability to stay on-budget.  Honor each other and value your differing perspectives.

Do you have some other ideas that would promote financial Intimacy in marriage?  Leave a comment.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

When it comes to intimacy, money isn't really all that different from sex.
If you read here much you know that I'm all about couples finding intimacy in every form.

I have heard it said that sex and money are the areas that cause the most marital troubles. I can certainly believe it. Maybe you can testify to this in your own marriage.

While you see a lot attention paid to physical intimacy, you don't see nearly the same kind of focus given to money issues. There are many marriage books, blogs and other resources dedicated to sexual issues in marriage. But if both sex and money are really the top areas where couples struggle, then maybe we need to give financial intimacy a little more attention? Agree?

What is Financial Intimacy?

Intimacy, in whatever form, is about being one. I like to say that intimacy reaches its zenith when we are fully known and still find that we are fully loved.

It's not different when it comes to money.

That means being free to be your true self, without shame or secrets concerning money. And it means being fully loved by your spouse regardless of your financial circumstances. That's not a pass for being financially irresponsible, but it means putting your relationship above money.

Staying intimately connected to your spouse has to matter more than your bank balance.

Next time I'll share some tips on how to improve your financial intimacy, but for today I'd like to give you four reasons why it matters to your marriage.

1) It's Not Really About the Money

As with sexual issues, money troubles in marriage are rarely really about the money. Rather, contention over money tends to be a barometer of other troubles in your relationship.

Discord over money might point to poor communication, lack of trust, control issues or other troubles in your marriage. Money might just be what causes these issues to bubble up to the surface.

Similarly, if you don't have good agreement on how to walk out the biblical notion of headship and submission, that is going to show up in the financial arena as well.

2) Where Control, Fear and Shame Thrive, Love Does Not

As with your sexual relationship, negative feelings about finances tend to be driven by fear or a need for control.

We know that the Bible says that fear and love are antithetical to one another (perfect love casts out fear - 1 John 4:18). If fear is driving your finances, it's likely true that love is not.

Because money is so important to our daily lives, it is easy to slip into control mode. Fear and doubt over money can easily drive us to try to control our spouse in the financial arena. We also might try to control our financial circumstances by working excessively for fear of lack.

Shame over money will drive us to hide things. Hide spending. Hide accounts. Hide desires. Hide fears. Secrets in marriage do damage to your relationship. Money is no exception.

Shame, fear and control all do damage to the intimacy in your marriage. If these things are happening over money, they will more than likely happen over other issues too.

3) Be One In Everything

I believe that when we marry we become one in every way. That includes being one in finances.

If you are living separate financial lives, then there is a cap on the amount of intimacy you can enjoy in the rest of your relationship. When you try to selectively limit your oneness to certain areas of your marriage, you inevitably damage unity and intimacy in other areas. It's all connected.

4) Money is a Biblical Priority

Certainly the Bible talks a lot more about money than about sex. A whole lot more. Jesus himself talked a lot about money.

Money matters to God. More accurately, how you handle money matters to God. And so financial intimacy in your marriage matters too.

So have I convinced you that financial intimacy needs to be a priority in your marriage? 

Be sure to come back next time when I'll explore specific ways to build financial intimacy into your marriage. Click here for 4 Practical Steps to Financial Intimacy.

Until then, feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts on money and marriage. Do you think financial intimacy is a real thing?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Take small steps every day to positively change the culture of your marriage.

As I said last time, the future course of your marriage will be greatly influenced by its culture. Your marriage culture is defined by the beliefs, values, attitudes, achievements and activities that surround your marriage. I tossed out some questions around these in my last post, hoping to prompt you to give some consideration to your current culture.

The Middle French origin of the word culture comes from "cultivate" and is associated with tending, guarding and tilling. Think of culture of your marriage is like a garden: the way you cultivate the soil of your marriage will determine the health of the fruit and the beauty of the flowers it produces.

Want a healthy, beautiful marriage? Check your culture!

Regardless of where your marriage culture is at this point, below I'll offer three simple ideas that will be a positive influence on it. You might be in a marriage where you feel like you are one making all the effort. I understand that it's a hard place to be, but the truth is that you can influence the culture of your marriage in a positive way without your spouse buying into the need for change. Of course it's better if both of you work on your culture together. Progress will be easier if you are both pulling in the same direction, but you have more power than you think you do.

I'm going to suggest that you do each of these three simple things every day for two weeks. Do them regardless of your spouse's reaction or lack of one.

1)  Do Something Generous

Especially after you've been married a long time, it's easy to fall into a habit of doing things for your spouse and expecting something in return. It's pretty natural, but that's not the kind of generosity I'm suggesting here. Find some small, deliberate act that you know your spouse would appreciate and do it solely with the intention to bless him or her. Do it with a smile and warm heart (they will know if you are doing it reluctantly).

Your act of kindness doesn't have to be anything huge. In fact, it's better and more sustainable if it's not. You know your spouse better than anyone else, so you probably already know how to bless them. Just get intentional about doing the things you know they would appreciate. Brainstorm a little and make a list.

For example, many wives appreciate things like five or ten minutes of focused time together, a date night that you plan, a surprise communication from you (text, email, phone call) during the day "just because" If you know she is worn out (or even if she isn't), give her a or a neck or foot rub, lend a hand with the kids or housework, bring her a cup of tea or glass of wine and insist that she rest, or draw her a bath. Bring her a small gift or treat that lets her know your were thinking of her during the day. Offer to pray with her.

For many husbands, having you initiate sexual intimacy is high on their list. If that feels like too much for where you are, try just wearing an outfit you know he likes or his favorite scent. Non-sexual touch, like holding hands, sitting close, or a back rub are things like that say to him "I love you, and I care about you our physical closeness." Learn to flirt a little. Give him a warm greeting when he comes home. Even if you can't always follow through, showing your husband this kind of attention will go a long way.

Do something that shows respect, which is a key need for most husbands. If you tend to be strongly opinionated about things, try letting him take the lead on something without resistance, maybe even ask him to. If you ask him for help with something, thank him for his efforts and do not criticize him.

The words you use are important. Your tongue is a powerful weapon for good or bad; wield it carefully and intentionally to bless and encourage. 

2) Say Something Kind

I did a survey a while back where I asked husbands and wives what their one most important need was and what having that need met would look like. Many of the answers I got really came down to wanting to have words of kindness sincerely expressed to them from their spouses. The desire for appreciation and affirmation came through loud and clear as unmet needs for both men and women, although they tended to express it somewhat differently.

For men, being appreciated for the work they do for the family was important (not that the same isn't important for women, it just tends to be more part of the male identity). Ask him about his job, and be interested and supportive. Feeling regularly criticized was painful for many of the men who took my survey. So during these two weeks, avoid criticism and instead find things to thank and praise your husband for. Thank him for things he does. Tell him something you love about him. Admire him for who he is.

Wives tended to want similar kindness from their husbands. Whereas for husband such needs were expressed as part of feeling respected and trusted, for wives it tended to be seen as part of feeling cared for and to a lesser extend appreciated. Kind words of tenderness mean more when accompanied by things like eye contact, a smile, a hug or other kind physical gesture. Thank your wife for all she does for you and the family, but also tell her you what you love about her. Admire her for who she is.

Regularly practicing kind words and gestures will do more to change the culture of your marriage than anything else.

3)  Ask A Sincere Question

When relationships get stuck on autopilot, one of the things that goes is engaging and meaningful conversation. Topics tend toward the functional and not so much the relational, emotional and spiritual.

So come up with a list of engaging questions for your spouse. Be sure these are things you really do want to talk about, though. Your spouse will spot insincerity, and that could do more harm than good. Here are some good open ended conversation-starting questions of the type I"m talking about:

  • What is the one country you want to visit more than any other and why?
  • What was the best part of your day today? What was the worst part?
  • What did you think of the sermon on Sunday?
  • What is happening (or what are you learning) in the book you are reading now?
  • What is something that is concerning you that I can pray for you about?
  • What is one thing I could do that would say "I love you" to you?

The idea here is to engage the emotions and the spirit and not just the mind.

There are few guarantees when it comes to human relationships, but I sincerely believe you will see your marriage begin to shift slightly toward a more positive culture if you do these three things consistently. The point is not that you have to be 100% every day. The point is to do most of these on most days. Then watch what happens. You'll be surprised at the noticeable shift.

What do you think of my three daily culture changing ideas? What others might you add? Chime in with a comment.

Image credit: yanc / 123rf.com

Monday, August 24, 2015

Is the culture in your marriage giving you the kind of marriage you want?

Over the next two posts we are going to be exploring culture. No, not what's happening in society, but rather I'll be encouraging you to take a closer look at the culture that exists within your marriage.

Why is your marriage's culture important? Allow me to borrow a few phrases from the business improvement book, Change the Culture, Change the Game, by Roger Connor and Tom Smith.
Every organization [marriage] has a culture, which either works for you or against you.
Either you manage the culture or it will manage you.
The culture of your marriage will largely determine the future course of your relationship with your spouse.

In a post I did a few years ago, What is the Culture of Your Marriage?, I made the claim that "a pound of culture is worth 10 pounds of strategy." What I meant by that is that if you get the culture right, strategy becomes less critical. The truth is that your actions and words tend to line up more with your culture than with your strategy, plans and intentions.

Your marriage has the culture you and your spouse let happen. You either shaped it intentionally toward what you wanted it to be or it defaulted to something else. Obviously it's better to purposefully craft your culture, but to do that it's helpful to first understand where you are.

Below are five questions that will give you insight into the culture that surrounds your marriage:

1) What do you believe about your marriage? 

Connor says in his book that transformational change doesn't happen until you change what you believe. It's true in business. It's true in your faith walk. And it's true in your marriage.

So what do you believe?

Do you still believe in the vows your made on your wedding day? Believe it or not, they become more important the longer you are married. Do you believe that marriage is a convenient social institution or do you understand it to be a holy union personally designed by God to be reflection of his love relationship with us?

Do you believe your marriage is primarily for what you get out of it, or do you understand that it's about more than your personal happiness?

Do you buy the lie of inevitable marital decline, that all marriage devolve into roommate status? Do you believe that you can have as much intimacy as you desire and that there is always more available to you than what you are walking in right now?

Changing your actions without changing your belief system is unsustainable. As Connor explains, belief is the difference between investment and mere involvement.

 2)  What do you and your spouse value most?

What is most important to you? Family? Faith? Finances? How do your value priorities differ from those of your spouse?

When a couple has differing value priorities, it inevitably creates stress and tension in the marriage. How do you navigate these differences? Do you have a culture of honor, where you respect what is important to your spouse even when it is not something you care that much about? Does your spouse do the same for you?

3) What is your attitude toward your marriage and your spouse?

Attitude is the way you express and apply your beliefs and values.

What would people say about your marriage by observing your behavior? Do you act in a manner consistent with your values and beliefs?

Do you maintain an attitude of grace when your spouse seems to act in a way that is our of character makes a misstep? Or do you hold onto resentments and let them build up to an eventual explosion?

4) How do you steward your marriage?

How do you spend your time, money and energy? These say a lot about your actual values, perhaps despite what you say is important. We all struggle getting priorities right sometimes, but on balance, your marriage needs to be the second most important relationship in your life next to Jesus. Your spouse and God are the only two beings you have a covenant relationship with. Do you treat them that way?

What activities characterize your marriage? Do you still date each other? Do you still pursue each other? Do you have shared interests?

5) What is the main goal of your marriage?

This is a critical question that many couples never bother to ask of each other. Not having a common understanding of the main goal of your marriage means you are likely never to attain it. You may even be heading in the opposite direction.

In my post Is Happiness the Right Goal in Marriage I proposed some possible goals for your marriage: selfless surrender, oneness, reaching your full potential, having joy and peace, or holiness. In What If Intimacy Matters Most? I explained my belief that intimacy is actually the most important goal of marriage. Do you agree?

Having a common goal or set of goals for your marriage can greatly impact its culture.

It isn't my intent to judge  your answers to these questions. I ask them to encourage you to take stock for yourself and see if the culture in your marriage is getting you the kind of marriage you want.

Next time we'll look at three simple ways to help shift the culture of your marriage in a  positive direction.

Until then, I challenge you to reduce all this to three words that best describe the culture of your marriage. It's a worthwhile exercise.  If you feel bold, leave your three word answer in a comment.

Wives Only: The men's ministry of my church is having a conference in September. Ahead of that we are taking a survey about what is important to wives. Will you help us out and take two minutes to complete the quick survey?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Why hitting a wall may not always be a bad thing.

Have you ever "hit a wall" in your life? If you have, then you know what I mean by the term. If not, well, read on, because you probably will some day.

Hitting a wall: you know, when you are striving hard for something and suddenly, wham-o, progress toward your goal suddenly stops.

I recently hit a wall at work. I hit it hard, charging at full speed. I was so angry and disoriented that I took the rest of the week off work.

My wall leapt out at me from nowhere, but walls can also creep up on you. Progress slowly grinds to a halt, and it can take a while to realize what is happening.

Hitting a Wall in Your Marriage

We all have hopes, dreams, goals and aspirations for our marriages. Most of you are probably putting significant mental, physical and spiritual effort toward reaching them. More emotional closeness. A more passionate sex life. Being free of debt. Retiring early and traveling the globe together.

These are all good goals to pursue, but sometimes life and circumstances bring on those wall-crashing moments. Bang! And suddenly the goal seems unreachable.

What do you do when you hit a wall? Depending on your personality, your instinct might be to give up or to put your head down and fight even harder.

Let me give you three tips I recently learned from my own crash and burn.

1.  Rethink Your Instinct

My pastor shared some interesting insight with me in regard to my work situation. He said that sometimes the Lord will put wall in front of us to get us to go a direction other than where our natural path might be. In my job, I would normally have pushed back hard to see my agenda moved forward. But in this case, I felt an overwhelming sense that I was to ease off instead. There was an amazing sense of peace that came over me when I realized that my happiness didn't depend on my own plan being accepted and supported.

When you hit a wall, your emotions will tend to take over and drive to react instinctively. Let me encourage you to respond instead of react. When you react to hitting a wall, it is usually out of fear, insecurity or pain. Choosing to respond (and it is a choice) means you step back and challenge your instinctive reaction and give yourself time to size up the situation. You can then think it through based on your core values and prayerful consideration rather than raw emotion.

2.  Take Time to Reassess

When you pause to do an honest assessment of the situation, you might just find that your most natural course of action is not the best way forward. You may discover that the path you were charging so hard down before you hit the wall wasn't actually taking you where you want to go.

Brain science proves that our human brains are hardwired to look for the autopilot switch. Consider the wall an opportunity to do a fresh assessment. Maybe it is time to dream some new dreams or set some new goals. Maybe it is time to take a different path toward the goals that you want to continue to pursue.

(I shouldn't need to say this, but I will: obviously I am not suggesting that this reassessment include giving up on your marriage.)

Communication with your spouse in this season is critical. This is an opportunity to build intimacy by being vulnerable and transparent. Even if your spouse was the source of the wall, I still encourage you not to draw away, as your natural reaction might be. Instead, respond by reaching out, however meagerly to make some sort of connection.

I encourage you to pray a lot in the wall-recovery season. Search out the heart of God. Our Father is a good Father, and he has only good intentions toward us. Tap into and agree with what heaven says.

3.  Begin Anew

Read the amazing promises from the Lamentations 3 scripture graphic, and take them to heart. Take time to wait on the Lord and to prayerfully think everything through.

But also don't over-think it. Don't get stuck while you are trying to figure everything out. Every day is a new day and an opportunity for a fresh start. Regardless of how you feel, the Lord's compassion and love are unchanging, day in and day out.

Eventually it's time to take a deep breath and then press forward again. Step out in hope and in the confident expectation of God's goodness and love toward you.

When it comes to your marriage, don't just wait around for your spouse to change. Instead, work on yourself. Do the things you know to do. Delight yourself in doing good for the sake of your marriage and in blessing your spouse.

Be thankful. Nothing moves your heart forward after crashing into a wall like giving thanks. You don't have to be thankful for the wall (though you may find that you eventually are), but find the good in your marriage and spouse and begin to be thankful for them. And it really helps to say your thanks out loud, even to your spouse.

Hitting a wall can be brutal. But it also has the potential to bring with it life-changing, eye-opening fresh opportunities, dreams and direction.

Have you hit a wall and seen how God turned it into a blessing? Would you care to share your experience with my readers? Leave a comment.

Date Night!  - I'm running a new survey on my blog about date nights.  Please take a minute to confidentially share about your date night habits and wishes.

wall image credit: imagegunman / 123rf.com 
scripture image credit: (c) Scott Means

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