Identify & Overcome Money Anxiety & Stress in Relationships

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My wife & I had a very important personal finance breakthrough recently, one I am excited to share in order to prevent others from having to reinvent the wheel…

Thanks to the folks who like to label things… there is a new “diagnoses” of sorts that has come onto the scene and is growing fast thanks to the recent housing crash.  The acronym is all too fitting… M.A.D. or Money Anxiety Disorder is basically a fancy way of saying that people are more stressed out than ever about all the debt they have gotten themselves into.

“Whether you experience great peace of mind or constant anxiety will depend on getting your finances under control.”  – Robert G. Allen

Today I’ll touch on how this “disorder” has effected our lives, how we stumbled upon it by accident, and the plan we have to overcome it.

A Little History…

  • My wife hates math.  She’s not necessarily bad at it, she just doesn’t like it.
  • She is a “right-brained” thinker… almost without exception.
  • She does not enjoy the topic of personal finance.
  • She does not fully understand the topic of personal finance.

Though it was never much of an issue prior to our “financial awakening” in January of 2009 – now that we’re actually tracking our finances Mrs. Jabs has to deal with our money matters far too often for her liking.

  • I, on the other hand, love math!
  • I am one of those analytical “left-brained” types who thought high school Algebra class was actually fun.
  • I am very passionate about personal finance.
  • I love learning more & more about personal finance.

Armed with this knowledge of our disparate — albeit balancing — attitudes toward all things math & finance, we unanimously decided to elect me as the Family CFO.

As a product of these realities, no matter how brief, simple, or painless the financial matter at hand may seem – like Dr. Jekyll quickly becomes Mr. Hyde – when engaged in a discussion about finance, my wife instantly transforms from a happy camper into one frustrated & dissatisfied customer! Which, both of us ALWAYS mistakenly interpreted as anger…

The Breakthrough…

Therein lies the problem… we always misinterpreted her anxiety for anger! The other night, after about an hour of solid communication, in passing my wife said, “I just get instant anxiety as soon as we start talking about anything to do with money.” As soon as she uttered those words I stood up & triumphantly replied, “Wait a minute!  That’s it.  You’re not angry… you’re anxious!”

It is important to define the often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed role anxiety & stress usually play in personal finance.  When unaware of their presence… you may experience:

  • The appearance of anger – Although anger may be what you see… it is not the root emotion.  This is what baffled my wife & I both.  She appeared angry, and felt angry, but was not able to successfully illiterate what was causing the feelings of anger… it was anxiety.
  • Eroded communication – No sooner than we began a discussion about our finances, this apparent angry attitude appeared which immediately broke down our ability to communicate effectively.
  • Quickly enacted defense mechanisms – Human nature dictates that negative emotion in one person, will elicit a negative response in another.  This builds upon itself and leads to a defensive point-of-view from both involved parties, which breaks down your ability to solve problems effectively.

After discovering the existence of money anxiety in my wife, we naturally began to search for the root cause of the anxiety itself.

What is Causing the Anxiety?

The good news is… there is hope!  In the presence of anxiety there is always a root cause.  Once we discovered the anxiety, it did not take long for this math/computer/analytical geek to break down the equation into manageable components.  Here is a list of common sources of anxiety as pertaining to personal finance:

  • Dislike for math – Okay, we had already established this, so I will continue to handle the detailed number crunching & just ask her to focus on helping me make decisions based on the end resulting numbers.
  • Fear of the unknown – If you are not the one in control of the finances, you can have a feeling of being uninformed that may lead to anxiety. This wasn’t really the case with us since I always strive to give her any info she needs to make a decision.
  • Feelings of insecurity based on ignorance – Not understanding the topic at hand is a point of contention for a lot of people, especially for men.  My wife & I decided this was not the main source of her anxiety, but may be a small contributor.
  • Lack of security – If your Emergency Fund is inadequately funded, you are only one job loss away from hard financial times with no adequate buffer to hold you over in the interim of finding new work.
  • Inadequate buffer in checking account – If you cannot pay all your monthly bills on the first of each month because you simply don’t have enough money, you are going to have to deal with a whole new set of problems.  You have to wait until you get your second monthly check to pay some of your bills.  This could cause you to be late on some bills, and will cause you constant worry about whether or not you are going to overdraw your account!
  • Lack of dependence on the Lord – Peter instructs us regarding faith in Jesus, “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.”  I Peter 5:7.  Believers need to revisit the scriptures for wisdom & prayerfully consider whether or not they are actively trusting in the promises of God.

So What’s The Answer?

First of all, communication is paramount.  Although Mrs. Jabs & I talk about money quite often, we never sat down to consider points of contention or anxiety each of us may have in relation to our financial health.  Heck, we didn’t even realize that anxiety was the problem… we had wrongfully attributed our contention to the emotion of anger and were just “dealing with it” until I finally snapped and informed my wife that I couldn’t handle the poor attitude any longer.

Secondly, go over the above list to decipher the source of the anxiety.  For us the largest sources of anxiety were last few points:

  1. Lack of security – BINGO!  After realizing her need for security in other areas of our lives, I mentioned this and Mrs. J agreed that she was definitely nervous that we were not adequately prepared for an emergency.  In response to this problem, we have adjusted our goals to reapportion the funding of our emergency fund and the amount we put toward debt repayment.
  2. Inadequate buffer in checking account –  BINGO!  Although I have an adequate buffer, and have been advising my wife to increase her checking account buffer for a few months now, she had not heeded the advice and therefore was always anxious about having enough money in her account.  To combat this we committed to supplying her checking account with a one month buffer, so she can pay all monthly bills on the 1st of the month, and no longer has to worry about whether she has enough to pay any of her bills.
  3. Lack of dependence on the Lord – BINGO!  We can all use a renewed & heightened faith in the Lord and His Word.  We plan to turn over more of the emotional burden to Christ since He promises in His Word that He is ready & willing to take it!  Ahhh, what a blessed hope!

Some may ask, “If you love personal finance & math so much, and your wife is the exact opposite… why don’t you just handle all the finances & stop consulting her altogether?”  Great question.

I feel I must explain something…

The Importance of Teamwork

“Just because one of you earns the paycheck doesn’t mean that person should lord over how the money is handled.”  – Suze Orman

Although I am The Family CFO, it is very important to me that my wife be at least somewhat involved in the family finances.  Here are just a few great reasons why you need both spouses involved in the money decisions of the house:

  • I need her input – Both man and woman bring important & necessary input to the table.  We think differently, but when you combine the differences in those thought patterns you wind up with a more complete and well-rounded perspective.  I can make decisions without my wife and she can make decisions without me, but I believe the best decisions are those that are made together… with both of our input.
  • Realization of situation – Both spouses need to have at least a basic understanding of where they are financially.  It is crucial that both individuals carry this information with them so they can make informed purchasing decisions day in & day out.  Imagine how frustrating it would be for me if my wife kept making poor decisions because she simply was not properly informed.  To keep her in the dark just does not make good financial sense; even if it may seem like a good or easy solution for a season.
  • Repel the “money grows on trees” mentality – Again, if one person in the relationship handles all things financial, human nature dictates that the other person may very well take this fact for granted.  If you continually do something for someone, they begin to lose touch with the reality of what is being done.  It is important to revisit & review the process on a regular basis to maintain a properly grounded view of how much money is available & for what.

I find the practice of communication worth repeating… successful communication and teamwork are essential to the health and sanctity of any relationship; the topic of finances are no exception.

In Summary…

  • Always maintain open lines of communication, this is crucial to overcoming financial anxiety and stress in relationships.
  • Define each others strengths & weaknesses regarding personal finance, and delegate jobs accordingly.
  • Identify the root cause(s) of the anxiety and/or stress.
  • Work to decipher the changes that need to be made to alleviate these sources of contention and implement your changes.
  • Remember to work together as a team!  My wife’s mantra is “Teamwork makes the dream work”!
  • Lastly & most importantly, remember to trust in the God who created us.  He is able!

Identifying & overcoming money anxiety & stress may seem overwhelming at times, but if you follow these simple steps and concepts you will be amazed at how fast you can increase the health & happiness of your financial relationship.

DFA is passionately dedicated to helping others break the bondage of debt using biblical principles.

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1 Bible Money Matters

Great post, I think it really touches on a lot of important points, chief among them that communication about money (and other things) in a marriage is key. Also love the point about how different people process money situations differently. Some analytically, others with their emotions and feelings. Those of us who are more analytical need to take our wives needs for security and well being into account when planning our finances together.

Great post!

2 Mom

That was a wonderful post and very wise for kid your age 🙂 But then, consider by whom you are inspired! I would like to make one more point about the reasons to share the financial decisions and awareness with your spouse. I ran across this situation time and again during my banking career. Here is the scenario…a couple has been married for 50 years and suddenly, the partner who handles the finances passes away or becomes incapable of making sound decisions. The remaining partner has no idea how to go about dealing with anything financial. They come to rely on persons who may or may not be adequately trained in finance, ie.: customer service reps at their banking institution, with the accompanying potential for disaster!

3 Matt Jabs

Great additional reason to share financial information with your spouse!

I should also add that all of the financial information should be documented somewhere safe! Institutions, account numbers, passwords, etc… but it’s another post for another day! 😉

4 Craig

Thanks for your post.
My wife and I have a ‘budget date’ every Monday night (talk about a cheap date idea). We review where we spent our money in the last week and how our budget is shaping up for the month. As long as I manage to keep things short and sweet it is a very positive time for us. Talking about our finances on a regular basis keeps us unified working towards our financial goals.

5 Matt Jabs

Excellent idea Craig. What an awesome concept… turning a budget meeting into a “date”! Now that is a scenario that will appeal to my wife! I believe you may be on to something there.

6 Paul @ FiscalGeek

You nailed it, yes as my wife and I have settled on a financial plan that we are living on the anxiety is gone often replaced with the joy of knowing that we can just purchase something because we’ve budgeted for it. Like you I love the details, she does not, but I’m confident that our plan is indeed a joint plan that she could action if something ever happened to me because she helped develop it. It’s simply amazing how something like this can actually bring you together. It’s time well spent.

7 Steve Rhode

Great post about how money problems and issues are not about the money. I always find it curious that people will hook up with a stranger and swap bodily fluids but not want to talk about money. Gee, which is more intimate.


8 Jason@RedeemingRiches

Great post. I would add Philippians 4:6-7 as a helpful section of scripture to meditate on and use as a weapon against anxiety. This passage has helped me with many aspects of life I tend to get anxious about.

“do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:6-7 ESV

9 Studenomist

One thing I want to mention is that some people simply hate talking about their income/expenses. You may need to ease into the conversation or simply sugar coat everything you say. My girlfriend hates it when I bring up the topic of saving money but she eventually gives us in when I show her what else she can be doing with her money (moving out, vacations). It’s good to hear that the money talk is finally turning a corner with you and your wife.

P.S. I really like Craig’s idea.

10 Matt Jabs

Maybe your girlfriend has some undiscovered money anxiety?

11 H Lee D

@ Mom: that happened in our family. My aunt, who was in charge of everything (financial, household, kid, etc.) died suddenly of a heart attack at 47. Her husband and kid were left completely clueless. It really just added more sadness to the tragedy.

12 Robin Poulin

I love your post and incorporation of trust in God.
I agree that you both need to understand the finances whether it’s fun or not for you. If you do those things you’ve said by identifying each others strengths/fears that’s half the battle. I think you’ve done great in using your strengths and putting things in place to overcome your wife’s fears.
My husband is definitely left-brained thinker and I’m more right-brained but love math too. I had the tendency before I got married to feel angry about money as well. Now I see it was just anxiety because of not having a job to pay well enough to meet my needs – but was working on changing that with a college education and then a better job. I was married in the middle of that and so my husband already had a good job and knew how to budget well. He taught me some great budgeting principles and money discussions quickly became less scary for me. It got even better when we created a program for ourselves to know exactly where every penny went and could look to the future to know when we could afford different things. We talked about all major buying decisions and they could be made quickly with our program so money talks are now not scary at all for me. In fact I look forward to them because we’re discussing our dreams now and how close we are to having them, no worries about IF we can keep up on current bills. That is peace of mind.
Thanks for your words and spirit of faith. Good luck with your budgeting to you and your wife.

13 Matt Jabs

Thank you Robin. Isn’t it amazing how getting things under control reduces our anxiety? Many times we are quick to anger or quick to be anxious simply because we ourselves were unprepared!

What a blessing it is to realize these truths, then move forward to gain better control over our own situation… then move on to create our own opportunities and chase our true dreams.

Your story is very encouraging.

14 Emmons15

Great article! I really enjoyed it and love the M.A.D…(as a math teacher, I may have to borrow that one!) I hope that my wife and I come to great financial understandings, and I appreciate you being open about your family finances.

I will add that before we took the plunge of marriage, we had a sit down (mid-date) about her credit cards debt she was in…

I simply told her that I wasn’t interested in living our lives in debt, and wasn’t interested in jumping into debt at marriage. I asked her to pay off her credit cards and she did, and to this day we pay them in full!

Sometimes it simply takes someone in the marriage to be the leader and set the expectation…I often have brought up the concept of wants and needs…it doesn’t always go over well, but by leading by example in the choices I make in my purchases, she has come to understand this concept much better.

Congrats on as #1 top personal finance post of the week in the Best of Money Carnival #5!

15 Matt Jabs

Thank you Mr. Perdue!

Your “lead by example” attitude is a blessing for your wife, and although she may not always show it, I am sure she appreciates your firm stance. Later in life you’ll be thanking yourselves mightily and, Lord willing, should be able to rest easy and bask in the light of your healthy financial decisions.

Now if only you could stop that guy down the hall from putting shampoo on your door handle you’d be all set! 😉

Emmons 16 rules for life

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