(The following is a transcription from a video I recorded with Toni Nieuwhof. Please excuse any typos or errors.)
In this article I’m sharing my interview with Toni Nieuwhof. We chatted about the new book that she wrote.
She’s a family law mediator and a former divorce attorney. So, she has a lot of insight here on this whole thing of marriage.
I just read this stat, that divorce filings have increased 34% during the pandemic. And I’ve heard stuff like this over and over and over again.
So clearly this is an issue we need help right now in our marriages. And we all know money is such a big part of this. And so we’re going to talk a little bit to Toni today about how we can improve our marriages, how money works into all that and how we can really just move forward. We’ll hopefully pick her brain a little bit since she’s an expert here and then we can all run out and buy her book.
You can watch a bit of our interview here or read the full transcription below:
Bob Lotich: So Toni, thank you for taking a few minutes to chat with us today.
Toni Nieuwhof: Hey, that’s my pleasure, Bob. Thanks for having me.
Money Struggles In Marriage
Bob Lotich: Well, I’m really excited to have you, because I started reading your book. I haven’t gotten all the way through it yet, but I’m really excited about it. It’s called Before You Split.
You talked a little bit about money in the book, and I loved that you were transparent about some of the things that you and your husband Carey have gone through. It hasn’t always been perfect for you and you’ve had some challenges. And so I’d love to focus our conversation a little bit on those money struggles and just kind of use that as a starting point.
Would you mind just giving us some of the backstory of what were some of those struggles that you guys had in your marriage when it came to money?
Toni Nieuwhof: Wow. That’s a great question.
Handling Money Differently
Well, Carey and I were definitely differently positioned with how we handled money when we came into our marriage.
And it really wasn’t something that we talked about deliberately. But we really didn’t talk about money much before we got married, either. We knew that Carey brought some debt with him and that I had some small savings, not much just a few thousand dollars. And we had this intention that we were going to work together.
But as time went on, we realized that our approaches, our expectations and the decisions that we would make about money were just so very different, but we really did clash over the money issue.
Bob Lotich: So would you mind sharing some of those? I mean, if you’re okay going in specific, some of those things where you guys just viewed things differently.
Budgeting: Saving Vs. Spending
Toni Nieuwhof: Sure. We both were on the same page as far as trying to live within a budget. But where we differed was in some of our overall objectives and approaches. So I’m the saver, obviously. Carey was the spender. And my approach was to try to save, make sure we had money at the end of the day, so that we could save for the future.
I wanted to save for our kids’ education. So I would be as resourceful as I could be with what we had. And that meant that sometimes, you know, I would go to the consignment shop and buy the kids clothes. I’d buy them good quality, but used clothing. Meanwhile, Carey wanted to make purchases that were good quality that would last.
So his idea was, if it’s a choice between a lawnmower that costs $200 or $300 or $500, then we’re going to buy the $500 one because that’s the one that will be more reliable over time. And so we had this, this tension. And it wasn’t just tension. We got into some blowout fights over money just to be honest.
Recognizing The Need For Help
Bob Lotich: So how did you go from there and how did you start progressing forward through that? And how did all that work out?
Toni Nieuwhof: It was tough. I have to say we did step on each other’s toes. We did a few different things.
One was that reached out for help.
When we got to an impasse, what would we do next? We did start relying on other people. So we went to a financial planner to give us a hand in figuring out how much did we actually need to save. And what money did we have available to spend, so that Carey and I had some clarity.
Unaware Deep-Seated Issues
We weren’t conjuring up something objective. And some of these issues were also emotional. Yeah, more deeply seated, emotional problems, you know, even identity issues that we were struggling with. What does my used clothes say about me? There’s just those questions that come up that are attached to money and we’re not necessarily aware of.
Why we’re having the emotional reactions? I think our counselor really helped us make progress in that area.
Fighting for We, Not Me
And then it was a matter of us being able to get to the place where we could sit back and listen to each other. It’s the idea that we really do need to fight for.
Instead of fighting for ME, you reach a point where you realize that for each of us to be in our own individual fortresses (you know shooting arrows at each other), just doesn’t work. We need to get to the point where we can meet in the valley, in between lay down the arms and make a decision that if I win, we lose.
I can’t fight it for me. We have to find a solution that is satisfying for both of us, even if it’s not either one of our original solutions. We may both have to compromise and agree with something that is less than our ideal. But something that we both can agree to and be satisfied with and elevating the value of that shared solution over whatever my original position was.
Communication Strengthens Unity
Bob Lotich: Yeah, that’s good. I know it’s one of the things that I think Linda and I have discovered so much. The thing that has helped us bring unity in our finances, has been communication more than anything else. And a deep understanding of, like you mentioned some of those deep seated things that we all have. That we all bring to the table based on our upbringing.
Based on having a lot of money or a little money or being completely broke or poor or whatever, growing up. All of those things would carry with us, and then we carry those deep seated issues into our marriage. But as we sought to understand each other, on a practical level, that was the thing that made more impact than anything else.
I’m sure that you guys were praying through this whole thing. And I’m just curious, how has God moving through all this?
Help From God
Toni Nieuwhof: Well, I believe. God helped us see the ways our weaknesses were showing up in our relationship. So when you enter marriage as a younger adult, sometimes you think that the world, that your approach to living is the norm.
You have that sort of tunnel vision. And I think we both suffered with that. I mean, we were married and then had a child fairly quickly. Within 18 months we were married and within another 18 months we had our first son. So it was a pretty quick and in the middle of that 36 month period, we were in law school. Things were busy, we were studying and working as well. So it was a pretty quick start to our marriage.
Blaming And Victimization
When you ask how did God help? I know that it was Jesus who would shine the light on those dark things within us and expose them so that we can see them.
One of the problems with struggles in a relationship, like a marriage, is that you often think that it’s your spouse’s fault that you may pay lip service to the “well you know, I’m not perfect.” Obviously I have some weaknesses, but you’re core belief can be it’s mainly your spouses fault.
It sort of runs as a victim narrative in the background. And when you hold onto a victim story, that’s a problem. It’s like wearing glasses that aren’t your own. It’s like you’ve got a blurred vision of images, but you’re not seeing the nuances. And you’re not seeing the complexities.
So even in this issue of struggles over money, each one can believe that they’re being victimized by their spouse. Because they’re just not seeing this clearly. And it’s all because of you, that we’re in this big mess.
Often that’s really not the case that if you take off the glasses and ditch the victim story and just dig deeper, there are more nuances to the struggles you’re in, than you’re willing to admit to.
Bob Lotich: Yeah. I’m sure in almost every disagreement like this, we all have a part to play.
We all have a percentage that is ours. And I’m assuming, based on what you’re saying, that the percentage is always off. It’s always viewed in our own perspective.
Toni Nieuwhof: Yeah, exactly. Like it’s 95% my spouse’s fault and 5% mine. The thing is, I believe that what Jesus allows us to do is to see first of all, that 5%. But then Jesus takes us on a journey, if we let him. And then He’s going to show us, when we go through that journey… and well, there is this other 5% you weren’t aware of, but it is there.
Enneagrams And Our Relationships
Bob Lotich: Yeah. And one of the things that I’ve found fascinating is once we kind of got into the Enneagram a few years ago, we started discovering our Enneagram numbers.
I’ve really enjoyed learning this, because it gives me a framework through which to view my relationships all around me and better understand the people that are around me, including my wife Linda.
The “Right” Thing To Do
And when I understand she’s a 7 on the Enneagram, and I’m a 3, I understand the way that she views the world. It’s like, that’s different! That’s completely different than how I view the world. If I were a 7, when she does “this,” “that” would be the right thing to do. But for me, as a 3 that feels like the wrong thing to do.
And back to a point you were making a few minutes ago, it’s easy to think from your vantage point that “this” is the right thing to do. This is the right way and the way you’re doing it is wrong.
I think that God in his infinite wisdom is just everything. Human beings are so much more complicated than that. Where He created us all so differently. And I just don’t think it’s that black and white. That any one of us that we have this accurate description or perception of what actual right and wrong is on whatever the subject may be.
With specifics, with money on whether or not you buy an item used or you buy it new. Or whether or not you buy something that’s gonna last a long time. Right? Or how much you save for retirement versus not saving. And all these things where it’s easy for me to think, “Oh, this is right thing to do, you know?”
And this is an engineering mindset where it’s just black and white. But, I think a lot of times it’s just a lot more gray. Or in some ways, maybe they’re both right. The way Linda views the world is so much different.
Understanding Our Spouse
Toni Nieuwhof: Yes. Oh, the Enneagram would have been so, so clarifying for us when we started out and even on this money issue.
There’s no, no doubt in my mind that having the Enneagram at the time when our money struggles were more intense would have been so helpful. Because Carey, my husband, is wired as an 8. One of the features that goes along with an 8, is that tendency to go to excess. So, if one is good, then two is better and three is better yet.
And then I’m wired as 5. And so my shadow side tends to be that I have this scarcity mindset and that I need to make sure I’ve stored up the minimum. Because there may not be more where that comes from. Having a scarcity mindset with money also has its problems. But you can see how those are almost diametrically opposed to each other. And it’s no surprise that we really struggled.
Sympathizing And Self-Awareness
Bob Lotich: To your point about communication and understanding your spouse, and their motivations behind their behaviors, it really helps you sympathize and understand them better and as a result. And, be more sympathetic to some of their behaviors that were bothering you before, you know.
Toni Nieuwhof: Exactly. And it also helps with self-awareness. It helps me to spot “Oh, yeah. That’s the scarcity mindset showing up again!” And Carey as well can go, “Oh, that’s the excess mindset here?”I don’t really need three of these.
Advice From 30 Years Of Marriage
Bob Lotich: Yeah. So, going back to your story. Looking back, you guys been married a while now, I assume.
Toni Nieuwhof: 30 years.
Bob Lotich: Congratulations, that’s great! So making it 30 years, what can you teach us young folks? Like us, we’ve been married 15 years. What can you teach us about this money thing and how you guys improved your relationship on it? What takeaways, would you share at this point?
Toni Nieuwhof: I would say, do that deliberate planning upfront, so that you have some shared objectives. Even if you don’t agree on the minute details, that’s okay.
First of all, just work on your overall objectives at a high level. What do you both want to achieve? And why? When you ask the why questions often, “why” is more unifying. When you get down to the minute details, you may have a bit more discussion. But starting with why and the overall objectives is a great place to get you on the same page.
And I would say, open communication is definitely a must. There can’t be any secret accounts to store a little bit away just in case. You know, if he ends up flaking out on me. You really need to be open and honest with each other and have all your financial cards on the table and then talk about your expectations.
But when you do, just be aware. If you’ve grown up in an environment where money was a problem or it was scarce, or it often led to family fights… you may have some deeply seated emotions or even triggers around talking about money. So pay attention to the triggers.
If you notice that this conversation is leading you to react at a 10, when what you were talking about only deserved a three. Pay attention to that. Because it will give you a clue that there’s probably something deeper seated. Maybe some baggage or some past wounds under the surface that may trip the two of you up in your marriage.
Pray About It
Pray about it, ask Jesus to shine his light on it. In which I believe He will do. And get some wise advice, talk to a mentor or someone you know who shares your worldview. But also has a great track record with money. Talk to that individual. Or, even go to counseling. But pay attention to those triggers around money. Because your triggers are trying to tell you something.
Bob Lotich: Yeah, that’s really good. That’s really good advice. Because I think most of us who are married, we find that once we get married, there’s buttons that the other one presses that we didn’t know were there. But as soon as they press it, something happens. And when you spot that in yourself, it’s like, “Oh, we’re just having a normal conversation,” instantly.
So you were a divorce attorney?
Toni Nieuwhof: A Christian divorce attorney.
Bob Lotich: So I’m assuming you go into it a little bit more in the book, but talk a little bit about one of those couples who might be listening, who maybe secretly or openly considering divorce. What would you say to them? And especially if money is a big part of that wanting to get out of a marriage. I know some of the advice you just gave would be really applicable, but is there anything else?
Toni Nieuwhof: Well, anyone who’s in that place of really struggling needs to realize that there are three options.
The Three Options
First of all, I’d like to say, if you are really struggling, my heart goes out to you because Carey and I have been in the deepest, darkest places in our marriage too. And I know it’s a heartbreaking place to be. I can also stand here as someone who’s been married for 30 years and hopefully that would give you hope as well.
1. Splitting And The Consequences
But I want to talk about the three options just briefly, that if somebody is secretly or openly talking about splitting, you have an idea of what that involves. You know, that if you have kids, you’re going to be having some difficult conversations about what you’re going to do with parenting and how each of you are going to spend time with your kids.
There’s financial stresses that go along with splitting, like if you’re splitting because of money, it’s a hard place to be splitting means that you take your existing income. And you divided over two households instead of one. So there’s that to deal with and you know, there’s other consequences.
What I’ve heard from my clients is that they think they’re walking away from their problems by leaving. And what they’ve often told me is that they feel like they traded one set of problems for another set, and it was harder than they anticipated.
2. Surviving In A Marriage
The second option I want to talk about, because I believe it’s clarifying, is surviving.
So I described surviving in marriage as staying together under one roof, but emotionally disconnected. This is something you’ve probably seen before and couples can move in and out of these seasons of feeling disconnected. So when you’re surviving, you may be functioning more like roommates or like a business contract in a sense that there’s an arrangement where each of you receive some benefits.
And let’s say, for example, he gets a golf membership and she gets a membership at the gym. And he gets a hunting week away and she gets a week at the all-inclusive resort. It’s sort of this system of benefits that is enough to keep both of them together in the marriage. But the problem is that when there’s that hole at the center. That disconnection. And one of you may end up reacting in an unhealthy way.
And the emptiness. Because we are wired for intimacy, we’re wired to have to be emotionally connected with the people we’re close to. Surviving can be an excellent temporary strategy while you work on rebuilding that connection.
3. Saving Your Marriage
And saving your marriage is the third option. That’s where you both feel loved and cared for and connected. Fully satisfied in your marriage.
I have to say when we were deeply struggling, I didn’t know how we would make it back. I honestly couldn’t imagine being in love with Carey again, when we were in the, in the depths. When we were out on a date night, we had this big blowout argument and we ended up talking about splitting.
So for the two of us, the consequences really started to crystallize. What does this mean for our kids? For our work? Our ministry? And I realized that I didn’t really want to split. The thing was, I wanted the painful version of our marriage to be gone. And I wanted the fun and closeness that we had way back when to be back again.
Hope To Those In The Struggle
I want to give people hope, even when your struggles are intense. We had intense arguments over money, to the point where we would both say things like I didn’t sign up for this. And you know, I don’t know if I can do this anymore. But there’s a way out of that struggle!
You just have to be willing to take some steps and you also have to be willing to examine your own part. What is the part that I am contributing to the depths of our struggles right now?
Bob Lotich: Yeah, that’s great advice. So, anybody in that situation, I think should definitely go grab your book! Who else would benefit from grabbing your book?
Who Should Buy Toni’s Book?
Toni Nieuwhof: Well, it’s, it is written for people who are struggling, but the issues that I talk about would apply to any marriage. So if you’re planning on getting married, or if your marriage hits some rough patches from time to time. Or, you’d rate your marriage as a C. It’s not an, A. It’s not an F. But you’re giving it a C.
I think this book has something to say. Because I give an overview of the issues that you may bump up against. Including dealing with baggage and dealing with expectations. Emotionally responding to each other, or emotional intelligence. Peacemaking. And what about the impact on the kids? How can you be a leader in your marriage? So there’s all these issues that I would hope and pray that people would find something to help them take the next step forward.
Bob Lotich: Yeah, that’s great. And oftentimes people don’t come talking to us, because we’re talking about money often, until things are really bad. And it’s so much easier when you are learning these things and applying these things when they’re not so bad. The best time to build a roof is when it’s sunny, rather than when it’s raining, you know?
I would encourage anybody just to go check out the book. Linda and I are always looking for ways to improve our marriage. We’re in a good spot right now. We’ve had some tough moments, but we’re in a good spot and we want to keep growing in it. So we want to keep learning.
Toni Nieuwhof: Bob, I’d also like to say that if you have a friend, even if your friend is not sure about faith, but your friend is really struggling in their marriage. This book would be a great resource to help them with their marriage. I do mention my faith, but I mentioned it as this is my personal testimony. This is how our faith helped us. I’m not assuming that all of my readers share the same faith.
Bob Lotich: Gotcha. All right. So the book’s called before you split. I’m assuming it’s at Amazon and Barnes and noble and everywhere else.
Toni Nieuwhof: Right. All the places.
Bob Lotich: Great. And if people want to connect with you online, or anywhere else, where can they find you?
Toni Nieuwhof: Sure, at toninieuwhof.com is my website. Smartfamilypodcast.com is the podcast. You can reach out there as well. I’m on Instagram as @ToniNieuwhof and, Facebook and Twitter. If you’re having trouble with my name, though, just look up Before You Split.
Bob Lotich: All right, Toni Well, thank you for taking the time and coming on to chat with us today.
Toni Nieuwhof: Such a pleasure, Bob. Thank you.