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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: Selfishness, in-law issues, the stresses of life, and more. But the one issue that often rises above them all is money.

Whether you’re in a good place financially right now or not, with Valentine’s Day coming right up, this seems like an appropriate time to highlight what I’ve found to be one of the most important factors for fostering financial oneness.

Know Thyself, and Thy Spouse!

This summer, my wife, Jude, and I will celebrate 19 years of marriage. Out of all the steps we’ve taken to get on the same financial page, I’d put understanding each other’s temperaments near the top of the list.

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 make up your temperament.

Very often, when you have a disagreement with your spouse, about money or anything else, it isn’t what it seems to be about; it’s a class of temperaments.

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

Each temperament comes with certain strengths – financial and otherwise – and some 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 – 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 not so positive side, they may be in such a hurry to make things happen that they fail to talk through decisions with their spouse.

The sanguine is a fun-loving, life-of-the-party people person. Sanguines 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 not so positive 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. Phlegmatics tend to be very frugal. They wrote the book on how to stretch a dollar. On the positive side, phlegmatics will consider all the pros and cons before making a financial decision. On the not so positive side, they may never get around to actually making the decision. Planning is a strong suit. Follow through? Not so much.

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 brand of clothing or insisting on staying in nicer hotels when on vacation, for example, which can lead to overspending in these areas.

The key to using knowledge about each other’s temperaments is to work together, figuring out how to leverage 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 grief. 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

This week, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I strongly encourage you to download a simple, free resource that’ll help you identify your temperament and your spouse’s. Just go to my Resources page and click on “Identify Your Temperament.”

In fact, make four copies. Try to figure out your temperament and your spouse’s and have your spouse try to figure out theirs and yours. Then compare notes, talk through the conclusions you came to, and see if the tendencies listed on the download resonate with you. That knowledge may help explain (and hopefully help resolve) some lingering disagreements you’ve had around money and help you put each other’s strengths to work in managing money as a team.

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

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