When my wife and I were newlyweds, we took on the responsibility of being caregivers for my side of the family. My mother and my little brother often needed outside help. Sometimes, we just invested time or energy. Other times, though, we had to address some major money problems.
Although Holly, my bride, was very understanding and generous, she often felt the brunt of our caregiving. As I look back, I’m really inspired by her selfless attitude when it came time to open our home, write a check, cancel a vacation, or cancel date night.
But there were times when we weren’t on the same page. Honestly, we still have those moments today when we don’t agree on just how generous we should be. Most couples know that feeling.
So, the question is worth asking: How do you handle disagreements over giving?
First, it’s important to realize that these really aren’t money disagreements at all. They may look like financial discussions, but you’re really having relationship discussions. When you became husband and wife, you became one (Genesis 2:24), so everything you do as individuals affects your relationship as a couple. And getting on the same page when it comes to giving usually requires some compromise.
A lot of compromises are simple. If one spouse wants to give $50 and the other spouse wants to give $100, you can split the difference by giving $75. But other compromises aren’t so easy. They take more work and more sacrifice. They can be tough and uncomfortable, but here are four things to consider when you’re tackling the tough topics related to giving.
1. Agree on the vision for your family.
Chances are, your giving discussions touch on matters much bigger than a single gift. They involve things like vacations, education and even retirement. Being able to agree on giving means being able to agree on your path to the future.
So, start the process by defining what generosity means to each of you. If you’re both believers and passionate about your faith, compare your definitions of generosity to what you find in Scripture. You’ll know that you’ve agreed on a vision for generosity when both parties have landed on “want to do this” rather than “have to do this.”
2. Decide on a strategy for getting there.
Once you’ve agreed on the “want to,” it’s time to figure out how to make it happen in a scalable and sustainable way. As believers, we look again to the Scriptures. The Bible—both the Old Testament and the New Testament—is clear that we should tithe (give a tenth of our income to our local church). That is the starting point and should be the common ground for giving as a couple.
Any giving above this 10% of your household income should become a matter of prayer. Ultimately, your goal should be to glorify God through both your wealth and your giving. You just need God’s wisdom on how to be as generous as possible and still take care of the basics, like paying off debt, investing for the future, and building a legacy that lasts.
Fortunately, God has promised to share His wisdom whenever we ask (James 1:5). So, by talking to Him and talking to one another, it’s not incredible to think that spouses can actually agree on how giving should look in their home
3. Establish core values.
In some ways, your family is a lot like an organization. And just like organizations, families need a set of core values that define boundaries and guidelines. Let’s face it . . . families routinely have discussions that naturally create tension. But even in the middle of the tension, your core values identify the family culture you’re trying to nurture.
For example, your core values might emphasize things like respect, cooperation, loyalty, kindness, faith, generosity and sacrifice. By filtering all of your discussions—including your money discussions—through these strong values, you keep what’s important front and center and enjoy a degree of built-in accountability. Focusing on core values dramatically decreases tension.
As I’ve said before, conflict is inevitable, but drama is a choice. Avoid drama by establishing your core values.
4. Make the decision.
If you’re at a stalemate, yield to the head of household. Biblically, that’s the husband, but that also means he has to live up to that responsibility. If you’re a husband who isn’t passionately pursuing God, don’t be surprised if your wife feels insecure and hesitates to trust your judgment. Follow the Lord and make it easy for her to follow your lead.
One more thing: If one spouse finds fulfillment through generosity, do not quench that spirit. Encourage it! In each month’s budget, agree to a set amount—maybe $50—for random acts of kindness. This will give each of you a chance to flex that giving muscle on a regular basis and set you up for even more giving when your financial position improves.
Giving discussions don’t have to be knock-down, drag-out fights. With some intentionality and focus on using God’s resources God’s ways for God’s glory, you can create a shared vision for your family that lands on the same page more times than not.
Who knows, your giving conversations may actually strengthen your marriage rather than destroy it.