Let’s talk about money, baby! Character issues

Pound coin standing on other pound coins which are laid out flat
The Greek word from which we get “character” literally means the impression that is stamped on a coin!

Thinking about money, on one hand I can be extremely romantic! I will say about my husband: “Money doesn’t matter!”  That is, it does not matter whether he has money or not. (Actually, from observing what I can see of people who are wealthy, their wealth seems to have a way of controlling them and that is a situation I would rather avoid for myself.  So even if he did have money I would want to make sure that there was no possibility of us, or our marriage being controlled by his money – otherwise I would prefer not to enter into that marriage.) 

I say that “money doesn’t matter” for three reasons:
1. Firstly, I sincerely mean it!
2. Secondly, I am totally committed to a simple lifestyle
3. Thirdly I am working hard to be financially independent myself so I don’t need to rely on my husband’s wealth or otherwise.  I’ve always unconsciously worked assuming that I will ultimately be financially responsible for my family

However, on sitting down and thinking about it very carefully, it is extremely important that he should have a healthy attitude to money and also great integrity around money as around everything else.  As long as those things are true the actual balance of his bank account is really not that important to me.

You know how they say that money is the biggest cause of divorce in marriage?  Well I’ve thought of a few reasons why that might be the case (bearing in mind that I have never actually been married myself!)
– I imagine that in many cases it must boil down to character; that is, the way people handle money is an expression of their character.  After all, character influences everything else in life, so I imagine it is a huge factor here too!
– So then, some people will profess love, but that will not stop them from screwing you over. Ultimately you want someone who is planning to treat you well and fairly not because “I love you, I would never do that to you (but I might well do it to someone else – or do to you something else that I have not even thought of yet)” but rather because this is the character that they are committed to, that they have been cultivating; someone who would cheat themselves before cheating you
-where there is very poor character, you know that people would use tricks and scams to get around any plans that you have made together, eg not declaring their full income…

Character Issues:
Imagine this: if you have spent months or even years, possibly decades slaving away to support your spouse’s talent while they work to make it big.  You try not to be resentful as you head off to work at the crack of dawn while they seem to laze around indefinitely all day, and they contribute a big fat nothing to the family purse. And then (to everyone’s amazement – especially yours) they finally succeed and the money starts rolling in. You had naturally assumed that you would share the fruits of their success equally – but then they make it very clear that this money is “theirs” – after all they were the one who worked so hard for all those years!!!  
I imagine that this is a situation that most people would feel extremely frustrated or downright angry about if they were the spouse who had been going out to work all those years. At heart this is not actually a money issue but rather  a character issue, an expression of immense selfishness on the part of the super-talented spouse. However that selfishness is likely to have expressed itself in different ways previously.
Because of situations like this, it does not surprise me that some divorces can be so acrimonious.  Some issues can inspire so much bitterness, especially if these issues have taken many years to unfold, so one spouse might feel that they have literally wasted their life with the other spouse – and have nothing to show for it. This particular situation is to me quite “black and white” – perhaps super-talented people out there might disagree!  How about these following situations?

– You start to realise that your spouse sees you primarily not as a person, but rather as a walking wallet, to be emptied or spent as they will.  It’s like they don’t understand what the real cost of this money is; not just the hours you’ve had to work to earn the money, but the sheer drudgery of your job, the struggles to be gracious to your annoying colleagues; the frustration of investing your life into something which is not your passion.
– You had a good job before you got married.  Some point after marriage you lose your job, and struggle to get an equivalent one – and you start to  realise that your spouse is losing all respect for you.  You feel so vulnerable about this that you struggle to discuss it.  You then realise that your spouse barely wants to touch you, so as well as feeling depressed about your employment situation you start to feel sexually frustrated
– You are the man in the relationship.  Your wife earns more than you – perhaps many multiples of what you make.  However she still insists that it is your role as the man to provide for the family, and she makes insignificant contributions now and then.  You find yourself growing increasingly resentful as you are forced to single-handedly shoulder the financial burden for the family.

Double sided stories?  
Who knows, perhaps in each of these situations there might be a second side to the story.  For instance, in the case of the spouse (let’s call him a man) who had a good job before marriage, from his wife’s perspective it might look like this:

“I feel a bit frustrated that my husband is not contributing as much as he could be to the family. There have been dozens of jobs that he could take, but he insists that he wants to get a job that is at least as good as his previous job, although the jobs market is currently suffering a downturn.
Now all he wants to do is make love. But for crying out loud I am tired! I have had to take on extra shifts at work to try to boost the income to the family.  I know that this is a difficult time for him, but frankly it’s difficult for me too, for all of us.  Whenever I try to speak to him about this, he seems to shrink away from me and I am finding myself growing increasingly resentful.  I am also peeved that despite all his extra time at home it does not occur to him to contribute more to the household chores…  I must admit that I am disappointed.  I expected more from him than this. So yes of course I struggle to look at him with the same admiration that I had for him previously.  I seethe inside when he talks about how hard things are for him. In all, I wish that he would simply pull himself together and get a job!”

I have heard of situations like this so many times that it is almost a cliché.  I have personally witnessed this exact situation at least twice, seeing it from the perspective of both a husband and a wife. And you know what?  It is hard. Money is a stressor, even if you have enough of it – but especially when you don’t!  And I would imagine that most people probably don’t have enough – or at least feel that they don’t have enough.

So on one hand, yes, some supposed character issues might have a second legitimate side to the story, and as spouses I guess we have to make sure that we do not rush to judge one another or immediately accuse our spouse of bad character when they do not act in a way that we expect. 

On the other hand, I believe that there definitely are cases where one spouse will clearly and consistently demonstrate poor character around money. 

As usual, I would prefer to at least be aware of these issues before marriage.  Each person has to be evaluated as a whole person.  However I personally cannot think of how this trait could be redeemed to make marriageable a person with poor financial character unless that character itself actually changes. This is not the same as not knowing how to deal with money, or spending lavishly.  Rather this is about cheating, about lying, about deception, about unrepentant self-centredness. Money is so significant in all our lives, and there are so many potential consequences that could make a spouse’s life or the lives of children extremely vulnerable. This is why I personally cannot envisage a situation where someone like this could be considered marriageable.

So then, how to spot these character flaws before marriage?  There are two possibilities I can think of:
Firstly, these character issues might be there already. Because these issues are not necessarily about money first and foremost, but rather about character, this negative character will most likely express itself in a multitude of ways, as long as you give yourself enough time to observe it. If this person smiles big but is inconsiderate and self-seeking in absolutely everything else, then you can rest assured that they absolutely will cheat you financially too, even if you never get a chance to observe them in financial dealings. That said, sometimes people who otherwise have very high standards, start acting funny around money. Money seems to have a power of its own and causes weird kinds of fear which can make people act uncharacteristically.  So sometimes people might act worse around money than they do in other areas of life.  However I bet nobody ever acts better with money than they do in other areas of life. 

Secondly, these character issues might sincerely not be there at all before marriage; before marriage the spouse might hold to the highest standards of integrity, but life sometimes has a way of wearing down the ideals that people hold to.

SO – if the negative character traits are not there before marriage, after marriage I think that it is important to work to make sure that they do not have a chance to develop – together, individually – this is why it is important to marry someone who already understands what it means to work on themselves, and is committed to doing that.
I think that this involves recognising just how possible it is for these kinds of issues to develop. It does not mean that your spouse (or you yourself, if you’re the one exhibiting these kinds of traits) is a bad person; it simply means that they/you are a person.  This is the kind of temptation that we all face.

For instance I tend to think (or take it for granted!) that I am immune from these character issues, especially concerning money (although I have also had my huge money character failure, which I don’t want to link to just now, as it is too embarrassing.  Wow.  To think that I could have done that).  Of course I will always support my spouse!  Of course I will never ever ever let myself descend so low as to only evaluate him in financial terms!

But then I think that it is important for all of us – including me! – to appreciate how easy and human it is to fall into these ways of thinking. These issues are so widespread that it must be extremely easy to start thinking like this. Perhaps, like me, before marriage you were all about the “Huggie-Wuggie”, but then, after marriage, after you have had your fill of Huggie-Wuggie, slowly, other mindsets have a chance to start developing – almost without you realising it. The truth is that money IS a huge part of our lives, and because of that it can probably be easy to get fixated on it, or to start seeing other people, including your beloved spouse, in terms of how much they “bring to the table”.

So then, if these issues do start manifesting themselves during the marriage, what to do?
Pray!  I feel that this might seem like a trite, glib answer for everything, but sincerely speaking, what options are available to you?
Perhaps you could pray then start to draw up some compromises. If the husband who lost his good job after marriage absolutely refuses to take any job below his previous one, then perhaps he could agree to keep the house clean, do the cooking, look after the children, until a better job comes up- unless he decides that this will be his better job.  To me this is common sense and pragmatism.  However I know that there are some men who would absolutely refuse to touch any housework whatsoever, on any account, because they are a man – and, contrarily, especially when they are unemployed and ostensibly have nothing better to do!  OK, well take a job then!

Know your spouse! If your spouse is likely to behave selfishly like in the super-talented example above, then I guess you can prepare yourself for not financially sharing in any of their success. But then you might also insist that they must contribute a certain amount, like 50% to the family funds even while they are building up to success
Or match their contributions to the family purse – and keep the rest for yourself.  You might know perfectly well that you and you alone will have to repeatedly bail out the family…

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