Marriage counselors know that differing views and expectations about money are often a root cause of marital conflict.  This is particularly true concerning debt.  Not only does a couple experience the pressure of having to repay it, but the manner in which it is discussed (or not discussed) can have lasting impact on their relationship.

“There is an intimacy and a trust factor when it comes to money in a marriage,” says Julie Ann Barnhill, author of ’Til Debt Do Us Part: Answers and Healing for Money Conflicts in Your Marriage. She knows firsthand the importance of a shared understanding of family finances between a husband and wife. “It was more difficult to come clean to my husband about the way I handled money than anything else. Finances were our only sore spot, but that one issue almost ruined our marriage.

“There are certain ‘debtly sins’ that undermine a marriage,” Barnhill says. “These are emotional and relational issues pertaining to how we view money and how we spend money that lead to the breaking down or building up of a marriage relationship.” Borrowing from Gary Chapman’s bestseller, The Five Love Languages, Barnhill says we all have unique “money personalities” and that it’s a “debtly sin” when husbands and wives fail to note their spouse’s money personality—how they regard and spend money—early in their marriage.

“I like money, and I like the things money buys,” Barnhill confesses, noting she’s not alone. Many couples embrace the adage: “I possess; therefore, I am.” This leads to the “debtly sin” of discontent, she says, and the belief that what you have is never good enough. “I remember a time when my husband, Rick, and I would drive around nice neighborhoods and feel lousy because we couldn’t even afford the riding lawn mowers people were using,” she recalls.

“Crafty communication” is another “debtly sin” Barnhill names. “It sounds better than saying we are liars. We give our spouse financial information on a need-to-know basis. I like to buy gifts to show someone love, but that caused real problems when I used a credit card my husband didn’t know about,” she says.

“About ten years ago I received a credit card with my name on it, and it had a $3,500 limit” she remembers. “We were a single-income family and didn’t have much money. I told myself I would keep it for emergencies, and I never told Rick. I eventually pushed that card to its limit, spending on some actual emergency needs and other things I felt I deserved just because life was hard. I got to the point where I couldn’t make the minimum payment, and I had to confess to Rick that I had credit card debt that he didn’t know about.”

“It was a devastating time. I may have appeared to have it all together, but I was living a lie. I was ashamed that I wasn’t a truth-teller. I had to reevaluate my perspective on money and determine why I felt I couldn’t tell my husband things and why I was hiding bills from him.”

The answer to the “debtly sins” is rooted in telling the truth, Barnhill explains. “I’m a liar. That’s the truth the Lord showed me,” Barnhill says, noting God told her: “You lie about money. You lie about what you spend and what you have and what you want.”

Barnhill says she needed to be reminded by God that her marriage was a covenant relationship, not a contractual agreement. “For better or for worse? No, I wanted it better. For richer or for poorer? No, I wanted it richer. But the fact is that I made a vow, a covenant, with my husband before God,” she says.

“These sins also impact our relationship with God,” she adds. “Yet He was faithful even when Rick and I were faithless, when we weren’t communicating with each other or Him, when I didn’t trust Him with our money, and when I was self-centered and having things was more important than being obedient to Him.”

Barnhill says she and her husband had placed their confidence in many things when it came to marriage and money, but now their faith is solely in God. “We have to get a sense of contentment in our relationships with our spouse, our family, and our finances.” In her conferences, she has the audience say aloud: “Right here, right now, if nothing ever changes, it is enough.”

She holds tight to the psalmist’s confession in Psalm 20:7: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”

“He has proven His trustworthiness again and again,” Barnhill says. “No one has to remain in the pit of debtly despair, because there is hope in the name of the Lord our God. You can’t trust in things, and you can’t trust in your checking account. But you can trust in God. He is our provider. He will meet our needs.”