It’s Not About the Money
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Do you and your spouse fight about money? How do you stack up to other couples in this area? Jeff and Shaunti Feldhahn share discoveries from their research and reveal the gender trends behind it all.
Bob: When life gets stressful, husbands and wives often respond to that stress differently. Researcher and author, Shaunti Feldhahn, says when the stress is around money, those different ways of dealing with it can cause isolation in a marriage.
Shaunti: When you’ve lived through times of economic uncertainty, like many of us have lived through, and when you talk to women, they are like, “My husband is walking around with the black cloud of doom over his head. He’s stressed; and he’s tense; and he’s never here, and we’re missing all this time as a family.” The answer in a lot of men—they are backing away from the cliff by spending a lot of hours at work or taking all the extra overtime hours they possibly can. Well, that takes them away from the family.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, July 22nd. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Often, when there is conflict in a relationship about money, the real issue isn’t the money; it’s what the financial pressure is doing to us. We’re going to talk more about that today with Jeff and Shaunti Feldhahn. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. One of the misconceptions I think people have about issues related to money in marriage is that, if you have lots of money, you won’t have money problems. You’ve worked for years with professional athletes, many of whom, have plenty of money—
Bob: —and you’ve seen them still have plenty of money issues in their marriage; right?
Dave: Actually, Bob, it’s true: “If you have more money, you don’t have money problems”; that’s the truth. You didn’t know that? [Laughter]
Bob: I didn’t know!
Dave: I actually believed that; I actually had that [mentality]. I didn’t know it as a child; but I really thought, “If you just have enough in the bank—
Dave: —“you’ll have the security that, even if you have problems, they are not that bad.”
You’re exactly right, Bob—working with millionaire athletes/some of them multi-multi-millionaires—it’s no different; they have money problems—it’s spending or not having the money in the bank. There are fights; there are tensions; there are fears. It’s really no different; is it?
Ann: Yes; we’ve seen that for years, so it’s deeper than money, as we’ve already been talking about.
Bob: We have been talking this week about money and love and how all of that works out. We’ve got some friends—friends of yours and friends of mine—
Dave: Yes; they are friends of all of us.
Ann: We all love them. [Laughter]
Dave: How can you not be friends with the Feldhahns?
Bob: Jeff and Shaunti Feldhahn back with us on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back, guys.
Jeff: It’s a pleasure.
Bob: I’m thinking of how many of our listeners have benefitted, over the years, from the books that Jeff and Shaunti have worked on together. Shaunti started with For Women Only years ago. Then there was For Men Only, and then there was For Parents Only, and then The Kindness Challenge, and Good News About Marriage. I’m thinking of all of the things we’ve talked about over the years because you guys really are kindred spirits with who we are, here at FamilyLife®,—
Bob: —and our goal here at FamilyLife.
In writing this book, your goal was to help people pursue the goal of oneness/pursue love in the midst of challenges that finances can throw our way and the issues that get revealed with that.
Jeff: You know, it’s interesting—with your lead-in story about the professional athletes—it isn’t about the money, and you still have money problems if you are wealthy. There was one interesting thing that we did find out as far as there is a certain threshold of how much money and cushion that you have.
Shaunti: What we found, actually, was interesting—is it doesn’t matter how much money you make—because that’s the big lie: “If we just had more, we wouldn’t be fighting,”—you know, whatever. It turns out that’s not true. It doesn’t matter the level of income you make.
What matters, for your relationship, is whether you are living below that line. It matters whether you are building up some sort of a cushion and have some sort of margin. Because it turns out, it’s not just protective for your finances to have emergency savings, for example; it’s protective for your marriage, it turns out. If your car breaks, you don’t start fighting with your spouse about whether you should have spent all their tips on that new pair of shoes; you know? It’s wise for finances; but a lot of us didn’t realize it was actually good for the marriage.
The key, though, is that to build up a cushion, what we found is even more important—that trumps building the cushion—is being able to talk about it. You will find this fascinating, Dave, with all the multi-millionaires you guys have worked with over the years—is that we actually found, statistically—if you have more cushion, but yet can’t talk about money, your relationship is worse.
Shaunti: I looked at the statistics that came back on some of these spreadsheets and I went: “Wait; that has to be a calculation error. It’s showing that your relationship, statistically, is worse than if you had way less money but you could talk about it.” Ran it again; and nope, it was true.
Bob: I was in a small group study with couples, years ago, and we asked the question: “If things got really terrible, and you had to go into survival mode as a family, how much would you need just to survive?” I said: “We’re going to take your house out of the equation and figure you own your house, so mortgage is off the table.”
Shaunti: “Let’s just pretend you own your house”; okay.
Bob: Yes; this is: “What do you need just to get by?” I was curious to see as these numbers/everybody submitted their numbers independently. The low number from the group was: “We could get by on $400 a month if we, in our family/if we had to—we’re just down to: ‘Okay; we’re going to do mac and cheese and rice and beans. We’re going to survive with what we’ve got.”
The high number was [$]3,000 a month: “We would need [$]3,000 a month to survive.” I’m thinking to myself: “You guys have no idea. There are people in the world who have never seen [$]3,000 a month”—
Dave: —in their lifetime; yes.
Bob: —“and you think that’s what it would take you to survive? You have a miscalculation about what survival means.”
But we all have that kind of calibration in our head, and this goes to something you talk about in the book. Some of this is not related to: “How much would I need?” Some of this is: “How much would make me feel safe?” When does fear kick into the equation? That’s one of the key findings from this; right?
Shaunti: It really is. We found that, when you talk about—like we said before—when you are having the tension around money or avoiding it, it’s not about the money; it’s about all this other stuff. One of those other-stuff things is that it turns out that there is, under the surface, a very kind of hidden, I guess—you don’t necessarily talk about them—is these fears, and worries, and insecurities that run under the surface. Half of the time, we don’t even know they are there.
It turns out those—even though we said earlier money things are not statistically gender-related most of the time at all—there is one that is actually quite correlated with gender. It’s not 100 percent of the time; we found, roughly about 70 to 80-ish of the time, men and women tend to have different insecurities and different fears. It’s like a raw nerve that’s being hit by the other person, because they don’t have that same fear.
Bob: So what are guys afraid of? What does the research show?
Shaunti: It shows that men—the thing that is the most pulling at them is this feeling of: “Am I going to be able to provide for the family?”—it’s there so deep. It’s almost like—the analogy that we use in the book is it’s like a cliff—like you know that feeling, “Maybe, I’m the only one.” But you know that feeling, when you’re afraid of heights and you’re standing on the edge of a cliff; and you sort of feel like it magnetically pulling at you. Like it’s—you’re going to somehow fall over the edge and die, so you try to back away from the edge. You try to put a lot of distance so that you don’t feel that pull, like it’s about to happen.
Men and women tend to have two different cliffs. Men feel this: “Am I going to be able to provide for the family?” pulling at them.
Ann: Do you guys all feel that?
Bob: Yes; oh, yes; sure.
Jeff: Oh; oh, yes. It’s multiple times a day—even though it wouldn’t necessarily be something that I’d be able to say, “Yes, it’s in the front part of my brain”; but it’s definitely there in the back of my mind.
Ann: It’s always there.
Jeff: All the time.
Dave: It’s amazing to me to think that women don’t—
Dave: —have the same level of fear.
Shaunti: Well, here is the thing. Women—because some women listening to this might go, “Well, I’m just as worried about money,”—like, “I’m the saver; he’s the spender.” Yes, okay; that’s a different thing; believe it or not. We can be just as likely to be worried about money and not have this gut-level sense we are about to die because this is a very guy feeling. Again, this is not 100 percent; this is like 70 to 80 percent. There are exceptions; but most of the time, the feeling in a man is, “I’m not going to be enough to keep my family from falling.”
We, as women, tend not to have that. We may worry about the technicalities but not because, “I’m not enough.”
Bob: So what’s your fear/for women?
Shaunti: So, our cliff, it turns out, is not: “Are we financially okay?”—but—“Are we okay? Am I enough to keep my husband engaged by me?”—like: “Does he really love me?” “Are the kids feeling loved?”
If you’re in a season—and this happens in normal prosperity times, much less when you’ve lived through times of economic uncertainty, like many of us have lived through—that there is in a lot of men/they are backing away from the cliff by spending a lot of hours at work or taking all the extra overtime hours they possibly can in order to put distance. Well, that takes them away from the family.
When you talk to women, and they are like: “My husband is walking around with a black cloud of doom over his head. He is stressed; he’s tense; he’s never here, and we’re missing all this time as a family,”—the answer to: “Are we okay?” is “No.” So what a woman will often do, to try to build that emotional security in the relationship/that sense that: “We’re better,”/”We’re okay,”—she’ll want to do things together. She’ll want to do things like go out to eat; she’ll want to do stuff—to go on vacation—
Ann: —to draw you closer.
Shaunti: —to draw you closer.
Well, guess what? That stuff often involves spending money, so that pushes him closer to his cliff! So he tries to back away more and spend more hours at the office. Then she’s like, “We need a bigger vacation.” This is literally just us not recognizing—like the guy not recognizing: “Wait; you mean you really feel like we might be pulled over the edge of our relationship and die?” “Wait; just because I drove away angry, after that argument this morning, you really are worried?! It was just an argument.” To her: “No; like this is a real thing.”
Ann: This explains so much. [Laughter]
Jeff: Can I—
Ann: Yes, yes.
Jeff: —share a quick, little story with you from our own life? I mean, our kids, now, are 20 and 17 years old. We’re self-employed; we’re entrepreneurs, so we don’t have the typical—
Shaunti: We’ve been running this ministry for a long time.
Jeff: —we don’t have the typical health insurance. It’s basically every doctor’s visit is out-of-pocket for us. We have high deductibles—all that sort of stuff. Over the course of our marriage, as the kids are growing up, eventually, once every couple of months, a kid would come into our bedroom, late at night, and say, “Mom, my throat hurts,” to which Shaunti goes into overdrive mode—
Jeff: —and thinks, “I need to call the pediatrician; take them to get a strep test in the morning.” I’m thinking—
Dave: Yes, yes. [Laughter]
Jeff: —“The last ten strep tests have shown negative.[Laughter] So, therefore,—
Dave: Ching; ching.
Jeff: —“this will likely be negative; and it will cost us $100 to find out that it’s negative.” [Laughter] I would tell her, “Look, pioneer children didn’t run off to the ER every time they had a sore throat.” [Laughter]
Shaunti: —“and they died—[Laughter]
Shaunti: —“of rheumatic fever; they died.” [Laughter]
Jeff: It didn’t work so well. I’m still working on my next—
Dave: You need a better one.
Jeff: —illustration for that one. [Laughter]
Jeff: But what happens is—what I didn’t realize—was that she was being pulled over her cliff that something is going to happen to the kids. She’s letting all of these thoughts, that begin to cascade in her mind of all these awful things—
Jeff: —that could happen if we don’t identify and get them better from this strep.
Shaunti: And it’s not just that. What I was willing to do was—I was willing to pay money to really be reassured; to me, it’s not wasted.
Ann: It’s worth it!
Shaunti: It’s totally worth it.
Jeff: See, for me, I’m thinking that that $100 spent in the strep test, coming back negative—it was wasted—not like I would have rejoiced if it would have come back positive, because I would have gotten our money’s worth—[Laughter]—but nevertheless, I didn’t struggle with the same things she was struggling with; so I didn’t understand her motivation.
Shaunti: You didn’t know what I was paying for.
Shaunti: I wasn’t paying just for the strep test. I was paying to be reassured that they didn’t have strep; and then I wouldn’t have to spend the next couple of days, going: “Should they be going to school?” “Are they infecting other people?” “If they are staying home from school, I’m going to have to get somebody to be with them, because I have a big business meeting I have to go to,”—blah, blah, blah—like there are all of these things that pop up. Paying that money to be reassured that they are okay, and that I don’t need to do all of that, is totally worth it.
Ann: Young marrieds, I hope you are tuning in to this stuff; this is good. [Laughter] Even as you guys share that heaviness of providing, my heart wants to get beside you and partner with you. I think that that’s really important, even for young couples. I’m thinking, even as we coach these young couples and these young Shauntis and these young Jeffs, you know, what would you say to them, if you had to go back into your young years, what would you have done differently?
Jeff: Well, you know, quite frankly, what Shaunti actually did do a few of those times was: “What is it? Okay; so this is what you are struggling with; this is what you’re kind of fearful of happening. How can I alleviate that? What can we do? Let’s sit down and be able to talk about some things that we spend money on that you think that I think is a necessity; but I would be fine with cutting it out of our budget/cutting it out of our life. What are those things that will lessen that pressure on you that we have this nut to cover every month? How can we reduce the size of that nut for you?”
Shaunti: Well, and it wasn’t just the technical thing. One of the things that made all the difference, Jeff said, is when he was working all these bazillions of hours in New York, trying to pay down our student loan debt—I never saw him—we were newlyweds; it was really emotionally difficult, as you can imagine.
Finally, he said, “Do you think I want to be working this much? I’m doing it because I care about you,”—right?—which is what I wasn’t feeling—loved. I said, “Honey, I want you to know”—because he’s like—“You wanted to live in a doorman building, and you wanted this, and you wanted that.” I’m like: “Honey, I will go live with you on a farm in Iowa and be together. As long as we are together, I don’t need the doorman building, and I don’t need this. I want you more than anything you can provide.” That changed his emotional, sort of, feeling of pressure to some degree.
Jeff: It—and I believed her, and she meant it. I knew that she was for me and that she was willing to do anything to get me to a position, where I didn’t feel that struggle as intensely. Now, it’s just because of the way I’m wired; I’m going to feel it.
Dave: Yes; right.
Jeff: It’s there; but its intensity was certainly lessened by that.
Shaunti: And it made you want to have that same kind of understanding back to honor some of the things that really mattered to me.
Dave: How beautiful it would be—you know, if you think about Philippians 2; I’m sure you remember that passage—and Paul’s writing this to a church about unity, but it’s what we’re talking about. Look at this: Philippians 2:1: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy”—look at this—“complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
Man, of all areas of our marriage of being of one mind, it is—like you said, it’s not about money; but it is about money—but it’s understanding one another in regards to this area in our marriage.
Ann: Do you think the enemy really tries to get a foothold in this area?
Shaunti: Oh, I think it’s huge.
Shaunti: When we talk about Satan being the prince of the power of the air, it’s like I say something; it travels through the air; and suddenly, you hear something different—[Laughter]—like, “I didn’t mean it that way,”—like how often have we said that? That’s why it’s so crucial to start from the understanding and believe the best of the other person’s intentions. They love you; they care about you—you have to assume that.
Jeff: Here’s one of the advantages that we have as people of faith. People who don’t have any sort of a faith relationship: they can take this information, and they can apply it in their marriage; and it will help. There are kind of techniques and tips that can be gained, and you can apply them; and it will help.
But how much more should we be rejoicing because we, not only have the research and the information, we have the Holy Spirit that is sent to lead us into all truth? That is truth about who God is—but also about who my wife is; or who my husband, in her case—we can rely on that Holy Spirit to help us understand and convict us when we are wrong. I mean, what an amazing thing to have!
Dave: I also think, you know, as I’m old enough—I think we all are; don’t want to date us—[Laughter]—but I think/I’m guessing—and granted I don’t even know all of your story—but at the end of the day, what I’ve learned over 40-some years now, walking with Jesus and the Holy Spirit alive in my life, is all those fears I had about money, and not wanting to talk about it, and almost hiding in those and carrying it myself—I look back now, and I realize; and I’ve said it/I’ve preached it—but I had to feel it and know it: “God can be trusted in our finances.”
I can remember all those nights—literally, cannot sleep, eyes wide open—she is sound asleep beside me; she’s not thinking about this/worried about this. I’m thinking—
Ann: I’m only awake when our relationship isn’t doing well.
Shaunti: That’s it! Exactly.
Dave: That’s true!
Dave: She’s awake then; but she—I look over: “How in the world can she not be feeling the college: ‘How can we pay for college?’ ‘How are we going to pay the mortgage?’” I look back; and I’m like, “Every, single money fear—God met,”—sometimes, in miraculous ways; but sometimes, it was I took a speaking gig or whatever—but it was/I look back and say, “He can be trusted.”
I want to say that to you [the listener]: “He can be trusted.” I know you are laying there in bed at night, just like me: “He can be trusted.” Talk about it; you need to talk about it. It shouldn’t be hidden; it should be talked about; but at the end of the day, you’ve got to get on your knees and say, “God, please take care of us.” I’m telling you—He will!
Ann: My other thought, Dave—which I think that is so good that you shared—is I think, for me a lot of times, I needed to come to you and apologize—like apologize like, “I get it.” I think maybe some of us, as listeners, can think, “Oh, I may need to go to my husband or wife and say: ‘I just didn’t get it. I thought this was about money, and it’s much deeper. I’m wondering if we can start a conversation.’”
Bob: If you take the assessment that is online, that will help you understand how you both think, and what your fears are, and what the issues are. I mean, some people are going, “I’m not taking that assessment, because that’s just going to open a whole can of worms; and I’d just rather sweep it under the rug.” Well, okay; that’s a strategy.
Dave: How’s that working for you? [Laughter]
Bob: But the other strategy is: “Let’s pursue the kind of oneness in our marriage that you were describing from Philippians 2.” That’s going to take being honest with one another, and opening up on some things, and confronting some things in our own lives; but look, the payoff there is worth it. That’s what the book is all about; that’s what the assessment is about—is to help couples find love and money working together.
Guys, thank you for the book; and thanks for being here and helping us go through all of this.
Jeff: Thank you, Bob.
Shaunti: Thanks. It’s a pleasure—always.
Bob: I hope our listeners will get a copy of your book. We’re making it available this week to any FamilyLife Today listener who would like a copy. If you can help with a donation to support the work of FamilyLife Today, the book is our way of saying, “Thank you for your ongoing support of this ministry.” Again, the title of the book is Thriving in Love and Money.
I’d suggest this: in addition to the book, make sure you take the online assessment at FamilyLifeToday.com. That will give you insight into the different ways you approach money and think about money in your marriage relationship. Then the book is a great guidebook to help you have some good conversations about all of this.
Again, the book is our thank-you gift when you donate to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. We are listener-supported; your donations are what have made today’s program possible. We want to say, “Thanks,” in advance, for helping to make tomorrow’s program possible when you donate today. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make your donation to FamilyLife Today. We look forward to hearing from you.
David Robbins, who is the president of FamilyLife, is joining us here today. Money tension in marriage/relationship tension—this been an issue for you and Meg ever?
David: I think money is always an issue in most marriages.
David: It certainly has been for us at times. Yes; I want to admit that, at times, we find ourselves in that 70 percent, where we’re not being intentional talking about it.
Bob: Just stuff it.
David: We stuff it; yes. Right now, we’re in a season where we’re talking about it, because we’re in the process of moving. There is house decisions, living out our values: “Are we making wise investments?” “To what extent do we want to put into it?” “To what extent do we want to save?” There is the whole reality that I have a really old car that I’m just trying to make keep going and how we approach that.
Here’s the bottom line for us, though: we’re going to prioritize oneness in our marriage. Money is more of a heart issue than a finance issue. Therefore, talking about money and continuing to cultivate oneness in that space is really important; because our view of money is a window into a much deeper part of our heart. It brings up issues of fear, and hopes, and dreams, and how we think reality works. For Meg and I, in this season, we are fighting hard not to let the enemy draw a wedge between us, like he would want to so much.
Bob: Yes; this is where I think the assessment we’ve talked about, that Jeff and Shaunti have put together on this issue, can help so many couples. Again, it’s available online at FamilyLifeToday.com. I hope our listeners will take advantage of that resource and the other resources we’re making available this week. Thank you, David.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk about how we can lovingly correct our kids when they need correction, because there are times when they do. We need to make sure we are doing it in a way that’s pleasing to the Lord. Sam Crabtree is going to be here to coach us through that. I hope you can be back with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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