Let me start this one out by saying I am by no means an expert on marriage. I’m not a marriage counselor, nor have I been married for 50+ years and have the expertise of a life time to reflect on. I am writing this as a person who has seen what it looks like for marriages to succeed and I’ve seen what it looks like for them to fail. I’m a member of the former and plan to keep it that way. Notice that I didn’t say “I hope it stays that way”. That was intentional and the following are some ways that Joy and I guarantee the success of our marriage. I think marriages fail for a combination of 3 reasons:
- Money. Studies show that money is the number one cause for divorce.
- Understanding how you’re wired (and your spouse)
- Knowing the intent of your marriage
Let’s look at each in turn, with money going first. I hate money. Sometimes I think Bernie Sanders is onto something when he wants to give me a bunch of free stuff, but then I remember that I didn’t much like it when someone broke into my car and took stuff a few years back. So I can’t really justify taking someone else’s money. I wish we didn’t have debt though, and we’re working hard to pay it off. Because of this we’re having to sacrifice some things. We’ve wanted to see Santorini, Greece since before we were married. We started to save up for it but then got distracted with bills, renovations, moving, etc. Needless to say, we still haven’t seen Santorini.
I know some married couples have separate checking accounts and I don’t ever recommend it. Joy and I have a shared checking account and a shared savings account. We both see 100% of our finances and there is a lot of accountability there. She can’t buy a new scarf without me knowing, and I can’t binge on Dunkin Donuts without her knowing. It stinks when I let her down and exceed our budget but the accountability is what has kept us on track, financially speaking. So the first rule of good marital finances is to be transparent. The easiest way you can do that is to combine your accounts. If your marriage is permanent then there’s no reason not to. If your marriage isn’t permanent then you have other things to consider first.
The second rule of good marital finances is to know your limits. The easiest way to do this is to make a budget. Joy and I have had to make some hard choices with where our money goes. At one point we started shopping at a grocery store called Save-a-lot. I won’t go so far as to bash the quality of their food but will say that it was dirt cheap, the milk went bad in a matter of 3 days, and the produce had mold later that same day. Nonetheless, we shopped there because it was cheap and it was what we could afford.
On the flip side of this is that we all make mistakes. We went away on a vacation and got suckered into a 90 minute presentation with $100 gift and free breakfast. Since I’m a sucker for both free money and bacon, we said yes. We walked away later that day the ashamed owners of a Timeshare in Gatlinburg, TN. So if anyone is looking to buy a timeshare, let me know. I can hook you up. I say all of this to make the point about knowing your limits. I’m not about to leap across a 50 foot wide chasm because I know my limits. It’d be suicide because I’m not Morpheus. In the same way, I’m not about to sign up for a credit card with 40% interest in order to get that flat screen TV I’ve always wanted. I know my limits. Some of this knowledge is through mistakes we’ve made, and other are from making a budget.
Our budget is based on our income. What I did was make a spreadsheet where I enter our monthly income, and all of our monthly expenses, broken down by different categories. The goal, of course, is to minimize all of those categories and eliminate others. For example, nobody needs house phones anymore. Cancel that sucker. Are you paying more than $120 for your combined cell phone bill? Look around and slash. You can get a bill less than $100 nowadays. Look at your expenses, and find areas where you can cut back.
The last rule of good marital finances is the most important and is counter-intuitive: tithe. It’s a simple equation, and will upset any math junkies like me. Take 100% of your income. Subtract 10%. Subtract another 10%. What you have left is yours. Here’s the explanation:
- The first 10%: In Malachi 3:10, God encourages us to test him with our money. He says “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. ‘If you do’, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, ‘I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!'” This isn’t because he needs our money. It’s because he wants our heart. He knows we’ve worked hard for our money. It’s ours and we don’t want to part with it, like Golem – that creepy dude from Lord of the Rings. God wants to have a relationship with us based on trust, and there’s no bigger object to trust Him with than our money. Being obedient in this yields amazing results. Joy and I have been paying our tithes (10% of our income) faithfully since we were married and I can honestly say that He has provided. If you ever find yourself lacking in resources, try entrusting them to the dude who made everything you’ve got.
- The next 10%: Make sure you’re paying yourself before you pay others. For Joy and I this number has changed over the years. You don’t have to stick with 10%, but it’s recommended as a base (not to go lower than). There are many bills due every month: mortgage, electricity, internet, water, car payments, student loans, insurance, etc. None of them are as important to you as you are, so pay yourself too. Make sure you set aside “x” dollars into your savings every month. If you can’t do 10%, at least do something. Even $25 every two weeks add up to roughly $650 every year.
- The remaining 80%: What’s left is what you have. Don’t have enough for internet? Unless you work from home, tough – cancel it. Don’t have enough for your $400 monthly car payment? Oh well – Sell it and downgrade. Don’t have enough for drinking this Friday night? Oops – Try having a game night with your spouse.
Understanding How You’re Wired (and your spouse)
Everyone is wired differently. I wear my heart on my sleeve. Joy doesn’t. I like guns. She doesn’t. She like scarves. I don’t. She finds the greatest amount of love in spending quality time together. I find it through words of affirmation. We are both very different, and we’ve both changed since we’ve been married. Thankfully, we both have been committed to the marriage and have learned to adjust to each other as we each have changed. For example, one thing that drew me to her was that she was care free and whimsical. I used to be very short sighted and spontaneously romantic. Now she is more acutely aware of life’s stresses, and I can’t remember the last time I was spontaneously romantic (we’re working on these, so don’t judge).
Why did I say that stuff? Because things happen. People change. Circumstances cause us to view the world differently. I can think of one instance in particular where I publicly made Joy feel ashamed to be telling a story when she is already has a propensity to be quiet in larger groups. Being as obtuse as I am, I didn’t even know I did it but when she told me about it months later it broke my heart. Something I did caused her to change the way she viewed the world. Because of it, she likely second guessed subsequent decisions to speak up about something, or to tell a story in a large group. She changed. This fact didn’t necessarily lessen my love for her or her for me because we each have spent the entirety of our marriage learning how each other is wired. She knows that sometimes my words don’t accurately convey the thoughts I have (although this is a struggle of mine that I’m working on), and I know that her willingness to be an extrovert is fragile (note: not that she is fragile).
Understanding how you’re wired is vitally important to a successful marriage. You will have differences with a spouse. If I married myself that would be both a very boring and a disastrous marriage. It’s in the long-term molding and joining together that you find the fullest blessings and intent of what your marriage can be (which leads to the third point).
Knowing The Intent Of Your Marriage
Ok, so if you’re not a Christian this might be where I lose you. Read on though because I think this truth is so quintessential to marriage that it can not truly succeed without it. Don’t get me wrong, marriages can survive without this thought, but they can not fully tap into the potential of what a marriage CAN be.
Sometimes I feel like I could write a children’s book for marriage: This is Joy and Josh. Joy loves Josh. Josh loves Joy. See Joy and Josh disagree. See Joy and Josh still love each other.
Yep, it happens. In our society we don’t typically broadcast our disagreements because we like everyone to think we’re perfect. The disappointing reality is that we’re not. We don’t live in utopian marriages. That’s true for Joy and I as well. She doesn’t greet me at the door wearing an apron offering me a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. In fact, recently she doesn’t greet me at the door at all because she’s hunkered away writing a paper for school. Sometimes I’m lazy. Sometimes I like to play video games instead of doing the dishes. Sometimes she wants to get up early to see the sunrise…waking up earlier than God ever intended. We love each other unconditionally though, which by its definition, is never-ending and ever expanding. It is because of this love that we perpetually forgive each other and continually grow closer together. It is in our differences that we forgive and love each other, so the more different we are, the more we love each other.
There it is, the entire intent of your marriage: Love. I would love it if the existence of my marriage was for me though. I am the center of the universe, so why shouldn’t my marriage be all about me? But it’s not. Our marriage, from my perspective is about her. Our marriage, from her perspective, is about me. There are naturally other things to consider too, such as kids, and the idea that we need to glorify God. Here’s what I mean though:
Marriage was the first institution created by God. Even before the Church, before governments, and before tax breaks. It was created to be a reflection of our relationship with God. Ephesians 5:23 says,
“For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”
If you think that means women need to keep their mouths shut and get in the kitchen then you’ve got other things to sort through before ever saying “I do”…because you don’t. What it means is that wives need to respect their husbands in everything they do. It means don’t go running off with strangers without telling us because we value you in our lives and don’t want anyone else to have you. Don’t go on a spending spree and waste all the money we’ve (as a couple) been saving up. Keep your husband as an equal partner and love him through respecting him.
What this means for husbands is that we need to live and die for our wives. Every word, every action, and every decision needs to be done from a pure heart with unconditional love. That means no hissy fits. That means no insults. That means no disrespect. That means affirming who she is. That means supporting her passions. Keep your wife as you would a treasure and love her unconditionally through sacrificing your time (your life).
So to sum up this last point: God loves you unconditionally and has done so since before you ever existed. Our relationship with him is one of choice, just like a marriage. If you are at a place where you have said “I do” to this relationship, then you are the recipient of the most perfect form of love that has ever existed. In return, we learn to love him through respect (our actions).
Love is a choice. Choose it for your spouse like Christ chose it for you.