Money & Marriage: Knowing Where You’re Coming From

God’s vision and intention for marriage is oneness.  Unity.  Each person making sacrifices, dying to self, for the good of the other and the good of the relationship.

There are countless factors that get in the way of oneness: There’s our natural tendency toward selfishness.  There are in-law issues, debates about who will do what chores, and disputes over who will be in charge of the remote control.  But the one topic that rises above them all when it comes to hindering oneness in marriage is money.

Money is a point of contention in good times, when some wives have to deal with husbands who spontaneously show up with new bass boats and big-screen TVs.  And it’s especially true during tough times, when unemployment, stock market losses, and a general sense of financial insecurity create added stress.

Once a month for the next several months I will use this space to explore money management principles that can help us foster financial oneness no matter what’s happening in the economy.  And while the focus will be money and marriage, the principles can help all of us manage money more successfully, regardless of marital status.

“Know Thyself,” and Thy Spouse!

The first principle is to know where both of you are coming from financially.  That means understanding your God-given temperament.

Temperament is defined as the prevailing quality of mind that characterizes someone.  Whether you’re extroverted or introverted is one aspect of temperament.  Whether you like to keep things open ended or brought to conclusion is another.  Whether you prefer to think through decisions or go by gut feel is yet another.  All of these traits collectively are known as your temperament.

There are many different temperament classification systems, but most have their roots in the one first devised several hundred years before Christ by Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine.  He defined four main temperaments: choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic and melancholy.

Each temperament comes with a set of natural strengths – financial and otherwise – and a set of natural weaknesses.  And here’s a key insight about temperament: it doesn’t change.

You can learn to manage inherent weaknesses, but devoting your life to trying to change a choleric into a phlegmatic, or a sanguine into a melancholy, is signing up for a life of struggle and frustration.  Much better to understand how you and your spouse are wired up and work with what God gave you.

The choleric is the classic type A person – a hard-charging, time sensitive, get things done sort of person.  If you’re preoccupied right now with what’s on your to-do list you may be a choleric.  On the positive side, once they set a financial goal, cholerics will go after it with a vengeance.  On the negative side, they may be in such a hurry to make things happen that they fail to talk about decisions with their spouse.

The sanguine is a fun-loving people person. They like to be noticed.  If you drive a red sports car, you may be a sanguine.  On the positive side, sanguines tend to be very generous.  On the negative side, planning is a foreign concept to many sanguines.  Budget?  Who has time for that?  They’d rather be out enjoying time with family or friends.

The phlegmatic is steady, reliable, and dependable.  They tend to be very frugal, knowing how to stretch a dollar.  On the positive side, they will consider all the pros and cons before making an investment.  On the negative side, they may never get around to actually making the investment.  Planning is a strong suit; follow through is a weakness.

The melancholy has some of the most natural money management abilities. If you actually enjoy using a budget, you may be a melancholy.  Where melancholies can get in financial trouble is they can be perfectionists when it comes to certain things, insisting on having the best clothing or vacations, for example, which can lead to overspending in these areas.

The key to using knowledge about each other’s temperaments is to work together, leveraging each other’s strengths and minimizing each other’s weaknesses.  If you keep trying to turn your sanguine spouse into someone who loves to use a budget, you’re in for a lot of disagreements.  Just get them to drop receipts in the vicinity of your computer or ledger book where you keep your budget and you do the data entry.

Going Further

In my most recent book, Money and Marriage, there’s one chapter devoted to temperaments – how to identify yours and your spouse’s, and how to understand the financial ramifications.  Reading that chapter alone will pay great dividends in your marriage.

Do you know your temperament?  If so, how has that knowledge helped you manage money more effectively?



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