Rags To Riches: Getting Out of Marital Bankruptcy


Because of our own humble (let’s be honest, horrible) beginnings, Ron and I often find ourselves counseling married friends who are hurting. People feel free to share their failures with us because we’ve been transparent about our failures—and our success.

I honestly believe that there is a huge pocket of non-Christians out there operating in healthier, happier marriages than many Christians due to the simple fact that they respect and admire each other. That is hard for me to admit. I think many Christians believe (as I did) that we should automatically hold the corner on the market for marriage because we serve the Creator of marriage. Just being “equally yoked” ought be the most important thing in a healthy marriage, right? I’m loath to admit that I no longer think that.

In my constant encouragement that wives honor and revere their husbands to build their self-esteem, the feedback I most often get is: “If I treat him like he’s valuable to me, I’d be lying. You’re asking me to be fake if you want me to honor a man that has no honor. God doesn’t want me to be fake does He?”

In an online article, Debbi Pearl writes:

God designed us, so he knows what our husbands need in order to function properly in their roles as men who cherish the woman in their life. By nature, men need honor (this includes not questioning their decisions). They need respect (treated as if they are wise). They need reverence (daily admired as a man who is accomplishing great things). They need to be accepted for who and what they are, just like they are. Men need to feel they are in command and doing a good job.
A man cannot cherish a strong woman who has expressed her displeasure with him and is holding out until he fulfills her ideal. You say he should have Christ’s love. Is that what you want? Do you want your husband to have to seek supernatural power just to find a way to love you? What most men cherish in their wives is the memory when love was fun and free, with no demands—the time when she smiled at him with a sweet, girlish, “I think you are wonderful” look. She was so feminine then, so much the woman. It was a time when he wanted to hold her just because she was his, a time when he wanted to give her everything. A vague memory keeps him hoping. He is as disappointed in love as you are, maybe more. He is just as lonely. He just fills up his loneliness doing things that will distract him from the reality of the emptiness he knows is there but does not know how to fix. His helpmeet is not pleased with him. He is a loser. —http://nogreaterjoy.org/articles/the-jezebel-profile/

Debi Pearl wrote the book “Created To Be His Help-meet.” It is old-fashioned, counter-culture, widely disputed, frequently bashed, polarizing (either praised or despised!) and this book saved my marriage and gave me my dream husband. Hate it or love it—you will surely choose one or the other—but there is no denying that it worked miracles in my life. When something works time and time again (there are thousands of women who give testimony to the fact that this book is a life changer) isn’t it worth considering? One of the most important things I learned from Debi is that good self-esteem is the key to healthy love, healthy disagreements, growth of character, better parenting, openness to the Holy Spirit’s internal work, and even great sex.

Many wives find it too hard to honor and admire a husband who has lost all honor and virtue in their eyes. How do we fix this? If a healthy, mutually adoring marriage is what we desire, but we find ourselves bankrupt, is it still achievable? Should we just give up?

On the back cover of Michael and Debi Pearl’s book “Marriage God’s Way,” they write:

A good marriage is 50/50. A perfect marriage is 100/100. It is a man and a woman each giving 100% to the other. What if he or she won’t give 100%? Then you can match his 10% with your 10% and continue in an unfulfilling relationship, or, by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, you can give 100% of your talents and abilities to your man for his sake and his blessing and watch his 10% grow into 100%. Someone has to start the process. Holding out will never do. Only by giving do you receive. Love and honor make more love and honor. — From the back cover of Michael and Debi Pearl’s book “Marriage God’s Way”

When I read that, I hear financial principles tucked into marital advice.

I’m in no way saying that our faith isn’t important; and, at the end of this article, I hope you’ll agree with me that the Holy Spirit is definitely our most important ally and THE main ingredient in a marriage that honors the Creator of marriage.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I’m going to go a bit secular on you.

I propose we consider putting secular financial principles to work in our marriages.

What if we approached marriage the way we approach money. The Bible says we’re just as good at loving and cherishing money as we are at loving people (often times we’re better at money). If I made it my goal to become a millionaire, would you look at my small paycheck and call it impossible? Would you say I was lying to myself if I thought being wealthy was possible. We know that’s not true. Countless people have wild success stories of humble beginnings that grew into empires. Look up “millionaires and billionaires who started from nothing” and you’ll get enough google results to read for days.

And we love those stories.

When we read these success stories, we wish that the same thing could happen to us. The “rags to riches” premise fuels movies and novels. It’s the American dream and it’s universally desired. Well, I’ve had my own “rags to riches” experience in my marriage. I started out hating the honor-less jerk I married; and, today, I absolutely adore and deeply appreciate that same man. I’m going to use financial principles to convey to you just how I “earned” this millionaire marriage.

Don’t balk at me earning it. I did. You can’t take that away from me. I know we can’t earn salvation and we can’t earn Christ’s grace, but a healthy marriage is no different than a million dollars. It is something that MUST be earned. Through diligence, hard-work, and self-denial—the same disciplines that go into earning money.

This morning I googled “What are the habits of rich people?”

On the first page of results, I found an article by Forbes Magazine entitled “9 Financial Habits That Can Make You Wealthy.” Since Forbes is a trusted source for the financially minded, I decided to transpose this list of 9 Habits into equally valuable advice for a “rich” marriage.

Habit #1: Reverse Your Thinking

Forbes quotes Nancy Butler, a Certified Financial Planner, “Most people spend some money, pay their bills and save what’s left,” says Butler. “And that’s backwards: You should be saving for your financial goals first, paying your bills and and then consider spending the money you have leftover.”

I agree that a reversal is needed. Our culture says that it’s ok to dwell on our needs. That what I need should fuel my conversations with my spouse—my needs and boundaries should be protected first and foremost, and THEN I can be a healthy individual in a healthy marriage. No. Self-sacrifice—putting my spouse and his needs first—will profit me much more than my own self-protection. In constantly denying myself and putting my spouse first, I make sound deposits into his bank. Building his self-esteem and giving him the collateral he needs to stop scrounging and desperately protecting himself which frees him up to love me. If I meet his needs first, he can relax in knowing that I will continue to put him first and he can in turn relax and put me first. I pay his bills and he pays mine in a sense.

Habit #2: Look Where You Want To Go

Forbes says, “Just as performance athletes imagine themselves making the shot over and over again, knowing what you want your money to do for you gives your goals a better chance of being reached. To get going on saving for the future, financial experts often suggest having a five-year plan, where you create specific money goals you’d like to achieve in five years and what you need to achieve those goals.”

If you live like someone who wants to own a home, even though you haven’t bought the house yet, you aren’t lying to yourself, you’re investing in the future. Honoring and admiring your husband even when he doesn’t seem worthy of it is INVESTING. You are investing in him what you look forward to him becoming. He won’t become a loving, cherishing husband without this investment.

When I began the tough job of honoring young, selfish, unsuccessful Ron, I saw a noticeable return on that investment within the first two weeks. I began mentally choosing to always put him first. I rubbed his feet at then end of a long day (a long day where I worked a lot and he worked a little and I was the one more deserving of said foot rub). I cooked his favorite foods and tried to spend as little money as possible (we weren’t just maritally broke back then, we were plain old broke!) to show him I was on his team. I listened to what was important to him and tried to make it important to me.

I know how against our modern “equality” driven society that sounds, but it worked. IT WORKED!!!! Today, Ron cherishes me. He looks at me every day as though I were the most beautiful amazing thing he’s ever seen. Every day. He thanks me for every meal I cook, and he praises the way I love our children. He thinks I’m funny, and he loves being with me. He would choose me over any other friend. Any day, any time.

Ron’s workplace has a free keg that the employees can stay and enjoy after work hours any night of the week. Ron actually enjoys the occasional beer. Do you know he hasn’t stayed after work for a beer with friends more than once or twice in two years? He hurries home to me. He can’t wait to see my smile. I earned this by painful self-sacrifice in the early years when Ron stared at the tv all day and bit my head off when I bought the “too expensive brand of aluminum foil!”

I believed Ron could become the man Debi Pearl said he would be if I treated him the way God intended a wife to be to her man. I wasn’t lying to Ron when I said he was amazing back then, I was investing.

Habit #3: Adopt Your Own Private Mind Tricks

Forbes calls them “‘heuristics,’ these rule-of-thumb strategies we create for ourselves—such as not spending more than $15 on an item of baby clothing, or more than $50 on a pair of shoes—can help simplify the many choices we make in a day. Behavioral economists believe that adopting good heuristics can help one develop good money habits.”

This definition of heuristics implies a level of personal adaptivity. In other words, everyone has their own problem areas and needs their own personal fixes. Most of the things Debi Pearl teaches are biblical and therefore universal, but I’m sure that some godly marriages employ them differently than Ron and I did.

Some of our heuristics:

1. Ron gets the final say on any disagreement because he’s the head of our home.
2. Open, respectful communication is of utmost importance. If you keep things behind the dam, it’s not going to be pretty when the dam breaks.
3. Ron takes care of our finances. I know a lot of women have the sole responsibility of the finances. I highly recommend either turning it over to your husband; or, at the very least, making it a team effort. If your husband doesn’t know what’s going on financially, he can’t lead the family. If he isn’t leading, you are. If you’re leading, everything else gets undermined—especially your husbands self-esteem.
4. Time alone together is super duper important. Time to talk about the day, plan for the future, and love on each other is crucial. Even if it’s just time on the couch after the kids are in bed, prioritize time together every day.

These are some of ours. Make your own heuristics, but make sure they follow God’s biblical plan. He made you, He made your husband, He made marriage. His instruction manual is definitely still valid and can be counted on.

Habit #4: Live Like A “Secret” Rich Person

“Las Vegas–based David Sapper, who owns a successful used car business, and his real-estate broker wife make a combined income of $500,000 per year. Yet they live like “secret” rich people, only spending $2,500 per month on all bills and extracurricular expenses like eating out, unlike many of their peers. By putting 90% of his income into savings and investments, Sapper says he’ll be able to retire early.

His advice? “Find the point that you get what you need and you’re happy and comfortable, and just stay there,” says Sapper. “I had an ‘aha!’ moment when I was watching MTV, and LL Cool J was saying, ‘I lease a Honda Accord for $399 a month,’ while other rappers are going broke.”

What kind of “over-spending” has Christian marriages going broke? I believe our over-productive American culture is killing happy marriages. We are splurging our time. We are involved in everything. Our kids have 3 places to go every day and we’re involved at church and we’re signing up for charities and 5ks and we have to work out and we have to have girl’s night at Starbucks and we have to…. but we’re draining the love bank in the process.

I like the quote above about LL Cool J. He’s a famous rapper driving a Honda Accord because he has good enough self-esteem (and wisdom) that he doesn’t need to flaunt his wealth. I believe some of our over involvement is a desperate desire to keep up with everyone else and make sure we look good. And in so doing, we’re deciding to sacrifice a healthy loving marriage. Wisdom says that what I invest the most in is what I will see the most return on. If my marriage gets pennies thrown at it while I’m pouring my wealth of time into my kids and my image, the results are obvious. Why are we surprised?

Habit #5: Tackle Retirement Now

Forbes says, “If you’re in your twenties or thirties, retirement can seem eons away—and saving for it might not seem like a priority. It’s easy to understand: In between paying to attend weddings (which average something like $600 per guest), saving for a down payment on a home, and using anything leftover to put toward “necessities” like vacation, how are you supposed to save anything for retirement? Unfortunately the later you start saving, the more you’ll have to save. But the sooner you sock money away, the more time it has to compound and grow.”

Do you know the statistics for divorce after the kids are grown? In an online article entitled “Empty nest divorce: the kids are gone and so is the magic,” Communities Digital News says:

SAN DIEGO, May 10, 2014 – Just as family law attorneys and divorce professionals have grown used to seeing “gray divorces” among people age 50 and over, there is a new twist in divorce trends. Call it the “empty nest divorce.”

In my own family law practice, more clients than ever are seeking a divorce after a long-term marriage of 20, 30, or even 40 years. This isn’t an isolated situation. Gray divorces have doubled in the last 20 years, defined as divorces among people age 50 and over, even while divorce rates have declined slightly overall.

There is now a specific subset of this group, and the cause for the divorce is clear: the kids have left home for college or their first adult job and living arrangements. Mom and Dad are breathing a sigh of relief that they actually managed to get human beings to adulthood in one piece. Everything should be looking rosy, right?

But now that the kids are gone, so is the magic in the marriage. Couples who have been busy supervising their child’s education, extracurricular activities, social events while teaching them to be honest, moral, and happy finally have time to reconnect their lives. After 20 or 25 years, they realize they don’t have much left in common, and little to say to each other.

Life expectancy is increasing, and someone in his or her 40s or 50s can easily live another 20, 30, even 40 years. People decide they don’t want to continue in an unfulfilling marriage for several decades.

Infidelity, infidelity, or problems with the kids aren’t usually a contributing factor to empty next divorces as they can be in other types of divorce cases. This happens to a couple who have through no fault of their own become strangers to each other outside the roles of Mom and Dad. This is the “we’ve grown apart” divorce.
Read more at http://www.commdiginews.com/life/empty-nest-divorce-the-kids-are-gone-and-so-is-the-magic-17260/#SCYuMxWg6s36CBBD.99

Investing in our marriage is essential if we want to find ourselves still in love when our children are grown.

Habit #6: Know What’s Coming In, and What’s Going Out

“Most of us have good intentions when it comes to saving money. But if you don’t know what’s coming into your bank account and what’s going out, chances are you don’t know how much you can devote to your goals. And most people generally don’t track their income and spending, says Blaylock. ‘It really is shocking to me that clients I work with don’t always review their pay stub,’ he says.”

Our Sunday school teacher first introduced Ron and I to the concept of the Love Tank. We all have a one. Every day Ron and I make withdrawals and deposits into each other’s tanks. When Ron is short or snippy with me, it drains half of my tank. When he says thank you for dinner, it puts one cup back in the 20 gallon tank. That’s just the truth of how we humans operate. If a store gives us good service we walk away satisfied and probably don’t mention it to anyone. After all, that’s the store’s job. But if we get bad service? Look out. We’ll tell ten people how poorly the bag boy did at the grocery store when we get home and find our smooshed bread. That’s the law of the tank. Good behavior puts a little in, bad behavior (or even the lack of good behavior) takes a lot out.

And Forbes makes a point: “Most people don’t track their income and spending.” Do you and your husband share your feelings openly with respect? If not, you probably have no idea how close to empty his tank is. You may have some humiliation coming your way in the form of angry words in public or your husband putting you down in front of friends. (The equivalent of having your credit card denied when you’re standing at the register with a long line of people behind you!)

Habit #7: Getting Out Of Debt

Forbes says, “Everyone has debt at some point in their life. But if you have bad debt—not student loans and mortgages, but credit card debt, where you’re paying high monthly interest rates—nixing it and getting out of the habit of being a debtor—should be priority number one. “I want somebody to develop a plan to have them out of that debt in 36 months or less,” says Blaylock. “It’s hindering you from making progress on your other goals.”

Once upon a time, I had a very big debt. My infidelity and adultery completely emptied Ron’s tank and then some. I was “in the red” big time. Most marriages end at that point. Those deal breaker moments kill an already wounded marriage. By God’s great grace, my husband chose to forgive and keep me despite my having been unfaithful two different times. I was deeply indebted to him. I had a choice. I could bale out and save myself the long trek back to marital health—file divorce and marital bankruptcy—or I could work overtime and weekends to pay my debt.

God’s grace again getting all the credit, I dug in and did the work. There were new boundaries to respect. I was constantly being checked up on and kept accountable. I had to humbly accept the fact that I had proven myself untrustworthy. It was humiliating and painful. I rejected friend requests from harmless male friends on Facebook. I wasn’t allowed to get a job outside of our home. I reported regularly on my comings and goings. I apologized a lot.

It sucked.

But, time and love really do heal wounds. Today, barely a trace remains of the original stringent rules that I had to follow to get out of debt. I’m still careful and I still exercise wisdom in my dealings with the opposite sex, but I can say for certain that I have earned back my husband’s heart and trust and then some. He admires me. He considers me virtuous. He feels safe and content in my love. He feels admired by me. He knows that I hold him far above all other men and would rather die than lose or hurt him. It’s been quite an exciting rebound!

Filing bankruptcy (divorce) kills your credit and has long-standing repercussions. It is so worth it to dig in and sacrifice to get yourself out of debt.

Habit #8: Increasing Your Earnings

“One suggestion: Diversify your income streams by working a second, part-time job doing something you love. As far as earning more, there are a few things one can do. ‘For those who cannot cut their expenses enough, I love the idea of working part-time,’ says Blaylock. Another idea: Look for investment opportunities—perhaps with the help of a financial planner—or other ways to get income to come to you. ‘I think retirement income should come from multiple sources such as rental income, part-time income and retirement assets,’ says Blaylock.”

I promised you I’d bring God back into center focus before we were through. It’s time. Though I know that there are tons of happily married non-Christians and tons of unhappily married Christians, I believe that the happily married Christians trump all. Because we have Him. Our earnings count double when we are investing in a Christ-focused marriage. He takes our offerings and doubles them because He is that good. He makes a lot of promises to his followers.

We have the promise of “All things working to our good if we love God and are called according to His purpose.” The promise of “In this world you will have many trials, but take heart. I have overcome the world.” The promise of “I am the vine and you are the branches. He who remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.” And, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.”

Those promises are ours in Christ. They promise strength and peace when the world falls apart. When employment is scarce, when someone gets fired, when children are sick, when houses burn down, we rest secure in the promise that our God is faithful, our God is on our side, and he is constantly seeking our best interest. Those are promises we can cling to and rest secure in when a marriage with any other foundation would fail.

Habit #9: Consider Consulting An Expert

Can you believe this is a list of financial advice from Forbes? It’s like it was secretly made for marriage! We need experts! Not just in situations where counseling is necessary. Not just when we’re at the end of our rope and can’t move forward without a mediator (or medication). We need experts because experts know best. I’m no expert, unless you count surviving the hundreds of sinful choices and mistakes we made and becoming a heavenly marriage by God’s great grace to us. I always tell people that Ron and I have “fool’s wisdom.” Wisdom learns from others and avoids making grievous mistakes. Ron and I have “ill-gotten wisdom” from learning everything the hard way!

I went to Debi Pearl the Christian marriage expert when I desperately needed help. The Pearls have been married since 1971. They have five happily married children and eighteen grandchildren. They have been counseling married couples through their ministry “No Greater Joy” for many years and have written several books. I trust their heart for marriage, and I’ve proved their wisdom in my own.

The most valuable Expert is God Himself. Committing ourselves to the study of His Word and prayer is one of the main investments in a godly marriage. Through deepening my walk with Him, in diligence, I have seen improvement in my marriage little by little, day by day for fifteen years. The other godly marriages—that I’ve had the privilege of spying on—have admitted that God’s Word is their secret; that prayer and diligence in becoming more like Christ is the reason for their firm foundation.

If you are currently going bankrupt, I can practically hear your thoughts right now. You’re thinking, “I’ve already done too much wrong. I’m not “godly” like so-and-so.”

Would you consider my horrible example? Ron and I had no proper pre-marital counseling, he came from a very rough, unsaved background, we had sex before marriage, we hated each other within two weeks of marrying after five years of dating, we were broke with no college education in the beginning, and I cheated on him twice. That was our resume. I highly doubt your’s could be much worse. I dare you to believe that you could be a marriage millionaire like Ron and I. I dare you to go for your own “rags to riches.” Those are the best stories. Rich people who make rich children aren’t nearly as inspiring as someone from the ghetto becoming the next Bill Gates.

One more gold nugget from Debi Pearl:

God’s reward is without measure. Men are like clay in the hands of a woman whom they can trust with their hearts. A man, lost or saved, responds to a woman who honors him. When a woman looks to her husband with a face that is full of laughter and delight, he will look forward to being with her. If her voice speaks words of thanksgiving and joyful appreciation of him, he will want to listen to her. If her actions are full of service and creativity, and if she has goodwill towards him, he will be drawn to her as a bee is to honey. This kind of lady is altogether feminine. She is what God created and gave to Adam.
Deep in our heart we all want the same thing. We all want to be loved and cherished. We all cry out with our utmost being to be treasured in the heart of our husbands. It is the greatest honor on earth to know your husband is thrilled that you are his woman. It passes all of earth’s blessings to feel his gaze upon you and know that you are his greatest gift, his most prized possession, his best friend, his favorite pastime, his only chum, and his delight as a lover. It is a great joy to know that he is actually proud you are his. It is not remembering birthdays, opening the door of a car, or other silly customs that we crave, it is the knowledge that he is totally taken with us. We want him to want us. We simply want to be loved. It is God’s perfect will for our husbands to love us. It is God’s perfect will for us to honor, obey and reverence our husbands. God’s way works. If what you are doing this year has not worked, why not go God’s way? —http://nogreaterjoy.org/articles/the-jezebel-profile/ by Debi Pearl

1 Thessalonians 5:24 English Standard Version (ESV)
He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

To view the Article on Forbes that I adapted:


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