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Talking About Money Builds Healthy Relationships

In working to build and sustain healthy relationships, Stronger Families knows that money plays a crucial role. Therefore, the organization includes a module on money and communication – using Money Habitudes cards – in its hallmark relationship program, which largely serves the military and marriage mentors in churches. Stronger Families is a non-profit that provides education, resources, advocacy and training that supports marriages and families in its home state of Washington as well as in Oregon and Idaho. The organization (formerly known as Families Northwest) also works in a pre-marital context – including single people, dating and engaged – as well as with married couples who are parents.

Recognizing that a key determinant of healthy marriages is the way money is managed, Stronger Families includes a financial module in its standard marriage seminars.
The organization uses its hallmark program with the military and marriage mentors in churches.

Called Oxygen For Your Relationships, it is a four-hour seminar meant to give couples an action plan for their relationship, to design a support system to build on their successes, and to learn to help others with their relationships. The seminar integrates three different but complementary tools. The first is the Couple Checkup from Life Innovations (formerly PREPARE/ENRICH), which highlights strengths, as well as areas for growth in a relationship. The second is Jim Fay and Foster W. Cline’s Love & Logic, which is employed to hone parenting skills. The third tool is Money Habitudes, which is used to provide financial insights for couples as well as open meaningful discussions about how people relate to money and each other. Money Habitudes also sets the stage for budgeting and money management.

Noel Meador, director of communications, says that money plays an important role in sustaining a healthy marriage. “We know that divorce is, oftentimes, precipitated by money fights,” he says.
It was Meador who brought Money Habitudes to the attention of Stronger Families after using it successfully in a prior position with Northwest Family Services, a non-profit Healthy Marriage Initiative (HMI) grantee in Portland, Oregon. There, the organization was looking for a tool that would help people address their finances. They considered many financial-relationship products but found that most began with dry, unengaging exercises like tallying income and expenses to create a budget. Instead, they wanted something that would engage participants, get them to open up and enjoy the process.

Meador notes that they considered all financial tools, focusing on the budget and dependencies. Unless you’re a complete Excel junkie, you’re going to go, ‘No thanks.’

To initiate a financial discussion and engage participants, the organization found Money Habitudes ideal. The cards’ non-threatening approach, coupled with personal and interpersonal insights, offered a way to understand the relationship with money in a holistic light, bypassing the immediate focus on hard numbers.

“If you don’t understand why you’re doing what you’re doing, you’re just going to keep replicating your mistakes. You can have the greatest, most sophisticated budget plan available, but it won’t address what Money Habitudes does – and that is: What’s the psychology behind why you want to spend or want to save?” says Meador.
In conjunction with Money Habitudes, the organization used content adapted from Dave Ramsey’s financial education courses. This second, complementary component built on the conversations started by Money Habitudes and focused on more concrete financial steps, especially budgeting.

As a lead-in to more structured money decisions, participants rigorously sought feedback on Money Habitudes, which earned top marks. They did this to comply with a tracking mandate from the HMI grant. They said Money Habitudes were the thing that cracked the nut for them. When they could finally understand why their husband or wife did what they did, then they could come to the table and talk about the budget; before that, they’d just get in a fight about the budget … That was a huge breakthrough,” says Meador.

Stronger Families incorporates a half-day curriculum with marriage mentors in local churches, addressing relationship, financial, and parenting health. Though not formal, it equips mentors with tools to teach other couples enhancing or salvaging marriages.

Discussing serious relationship issues, even with a trusted friend and mentor, can be challenging, especially if significant issues need resolution. Money Habitudes are effective for peer marriage counselors, addressing financial challenges and initiating constructive dialogues that explore other relationship aspects. It sets the stage for broader discussions, fostering a pattern of respectful dialogue where partners understand each other’s motivations and attitudes.

When Stronger Families works with the military—mostly based at nearby Fort Lewis—it is directly with groups of soldiers. Here, they face a situation considerably different from that found with their marriage mentor initiative. The military population faces some obvious and significant challenges, not least of which is deployment.
“Money is a huge qualifier for how they weather the storm during the deployment process,” says Meador.

Outside of deployments, where one spouse manages the home, challenges confront military marriages. Many couples, young and newly married, acclimate to the unique stresses of military life. Secondly, many have also just begun to earn a significant paycheck. And, third, many service members and their spouses have not had much financial education.

Yes, we want them to manage their budget and understand their financial situation, being good stewards of their money. Our ultimate goal is for them to recognize how their finances impact their treatment of their spouse and contribute to conflicts from poor communication. And that’s the value of Money Habitudes.”