Q: My husband and I have had a problem for many of the 32 years we have been married. He lies to me about whether he has paid the bills. I don't know that something hasn't been paid until I get a phone call. I have osteoporosis, and following my doctor's advice, I do not work. My husband has always handled the money, and either he tells me to work or he complains about the extra taxes if I do work. I am at my wit's end with this man. I attend church regularly and pray about this, but nothing seems to help.

A: All relationship problems have the same underlying dynamic: The couple makes some issues more important than their friendship. However, both partners must make this mistake before it can divide them. If one person doesn't take an opposing stand, there will be no controversy.

The issue you write about--money--is potentially more difficult to solve than many problems. Paying bills late will affect your credit, which in turn may keep you from qualifying for certain purchases or loans. Yet this has been going on for many years and so you are well aware of your husband's tendencies. Arguing about it, which we assume has occurred many times, has not helped. Your getting a job has not helped. Even prayer has not changed your husband. You could threaten divorce, but do you really want to go in that direction, and do you honestly believe that your husband would change even if you did?

Getting calls from creditors would be upsetting for anyone, and the temptation to stay angry at your husband is understandable. But if you want to bring God into this situation, you must begin by trying to restore the friendship in your marriage. Practicing friendship is practicing love, and God is love.

A good place to start would be to eliminate angry accusations and ultimatums. If you can do this, your husband will probably become less defensive. If you can go one step further and bless him whenever he crosses your mind, there is a chance that his attitude will shift dramatically. But even if there is no shift, you will experience greater mental wholeness and peace from making this effort.

When we are focused on changing our partner, often we become so frustrated and upset that we don't take the practical steps we could take to ease a problem. Since your husband controls the money, you may not be able to solve everything, but you can make headway in a few areas. For example, although you are not able to work outside your home, there are now many ways to earn money at home, and you could research this and try a few things. Although he has complained about paying extra taxes, your husband has also asked you to work and our guess is that he would welcome the added income. Also, this income might allow you to pay some of the outstanding bills yourself.

Next, you might sit down and make a list of things you could do to head off calls from creditors. For example, you could call to find out when routine bills are due and make a schedule for your husband. You might also suggest to your husband that you divide the bill-paying responsibilities, allowing you to straighten out your relationship with some credit card companies or places of business.
Or perhaps some other approach will occur to you about the practical side of this problem. The important thing is to keep an open mind to options and not be afraid to try new ways to make the situation better. A little gain is better than none, and even one small breakthrough can have a powerful effect on your state of mind.

Even if your husband's attitude remains hostile, there is still something you can do. You can pause frequently and turn to God for peace. Do this especially before you bring up this issue, and if you don't feel peaceful bringing it up, wait until you do. You also want to honor this 32-year marriage by bringing God into all your thoughts and memories about this problem. Do not turn to God to change your husband, but do turn to God for your own sense of peace and understanding. To feel God's presence is possible within any situation, but we can't feel it until we forgive those around us, accept them as they are, and gently put them in God's hands. When we do this, small but potent solutions can open up in unexpected ways.

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