Talking about money in marriage is never really just about money. These conversations can be a launching pad for greater connection and purpose. They can teach us a lot, but we may miss it if all we think we’re doing is making a nice spreadsheet and saving for a vacation.

To be honest, I used to feel a lot of anxiety around finances. I didn’t make the best decisions prior to marriage. Actually, neither of us came into our marriage with a clean slate. We both had debt and hands full of bad decisions from our early 20s. Financial talks have never been limited to simple budgets for us. We’ve had to dig our way through a great deal of shame, embarrassment, and even disappointment with the Lord.

I write all of this, not because I have a quick and easy plan to get out of debt or have a perfect financial life — but precisely because we don’t. We are still learning and defining what this area of our life looks like. We didn’t have to reach financial perfection — or get debt free — to strengthen our marriage, ditch stress, or experience God. And if it’s available to us, it’s available to you.

Showing up to the financial conversation isn’t really a solo experience. Shame, fear, and past experiences often like to come to the party, too. Most of us have been taught expectations by our past experiences. When you’ve experienced something enough, it starts to become “normal.”

For me, the culture of my family relating to money was riddled with anxiety. Every time I would swipe my debit card, anxiety were rise within me that I first felt watching my mom pay for our groceries growing up. Finances were often a sensitive, and difficult, topic in our household. I knew that somehow our finances were related to the stress my parents felt. Every expense was a reason for worry, every need felt like too much.

Those years and memories became my normal. I let anxiety into my heart and into my wallet and before I knew it, anxiety had a huge influence in my life. It affected my decisions, helped me make (unwise) choices, and ultimately perpetuated a cycle of fear and financial lack. I came to marriage with these same expectations and ingrained fears — even though the circumstances were entirely different.

As soon as I began to recognize that I was not one with my anxiety and that fear is not a normal state of living, our conversations improved. But it wasn’t just me — we are all influenced by our experiences and emotional patterns. My husband and I both had to do the work of identifying where our feelings and views of money came from, where we learned them, and choosing a better mindset.  

Overcoming shame in particular is not easy — but doing so with a spouse who loves you and accepts you? It’s one of the most powerful keys to connection and abundance you’ll ever have. That, at least, has been our experience.

As we’ve spoken honestly about our finances, and our associated feelings, we’ve seen our stress dissipate and our peace rise. Our connection has grown and we’ve grown more confident. We are braver than we once were. We’ve become more aware of who God really is — not just the God of pretty verses embroidered on pillows — but the living God, who’s with us and helps us, even with our finances. When we get triggered, we talk about it. We get it out in the open. And we help each other to not get stuck in those patterns again, however many times it takes.

And because we have more hope and deeper connection, we’re making wiser choices that reflect the future we desire to have. Together we are overcoming our past mistakes and working as a team to partner with God’s abundance in our lives.

Here are some practical things we’ve done that have helped us on our journey from financial shame towards abundance, and they might help you, too.

  • Prioritize connection over being right. We prioritize our connection to God and our connection to one another. If we don’t feel connected, we don’t talk about important things like finances. We get connected with quality time, or connect to the Lord through prayer and worship.
  • Identify what is influencing your view of finances and get free of it. Spend some time reflecting or journaling. Once we realize what is influencing us, we can choose to empower that belief or not. Together, my husband and I are adopting different mindsets towards finances informed by God, not by our past or our culture.
  • Dream and cultivate hope together. We don’t want to grow bitter in the waiting, and all planning gets easier when you know where you are heading. Talking about our dreams, especially the things that feel impossible now, increases our hope and gives our current circumstances purpose. We don’t wait to have better finances to have better dreams. We challenge ourselves to have gratitude, even when those dreams seem far away.

Through this process, we’ve seen how limited our prior view of finances had been. Because we’ve let the journey be about more than just a budget, we continue in ways that our bank account doesn’t reflect, even as we grow practically in ways that it will. We have budgets and savings goals, too — but I’m so thankful we didn’t stop the conversation there.