Ah, Valentine’s day. A swell day for a lad like me whose had the same valentine since I was 17. Still, often there are arguments on this day. Arguments that are on-going in some cases. One thing I have learned as a pastor is how often our arguments are not about what we think they are about. I believe it is easier to see this as the third party, the person with a bit of distance from the presenting problems. 

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Jesus was often approached by people asking questions or presenting problems to him. Very often his response appears to ignore the presenting issue altogether as he aptly gets right to the root of the issue and focuses his mind on it. Sometimes this leaves the reader baffled, and often initially really confuses whoever he is speaking with. Still, it is a gift to be able to do so. 

As someone who does some pre-marital preparation with people and who discusses marital well-being with folks from time to time as struggles arise in marriages I have noticed (along with many others) that very often the presenting issue is not really the problem. Next time (anytime) you find yourself getting hot under the collar, maybe take a step back and try to sort out what is really going on. What need of yours is not being met and which need of your partner’s is not being met and how can you all move forward lovingly. 

Often we think something is rational but in reality emotions are extremely important and we ignore them at our peril. To use a somewhat obvious field within marriage let’s look at finances. With all those numbers and equations involved you would think decisions around money would be  purely rational; you would be mistaken. I want to look at two familiar arguments and reflect on the rational-emotional connection involved. There is paying the mortgage off early and there is how the holidays (and the money involved in them) are to be spent. 

Financial planners are relatively split on what is best when it comes to paying the mortgage off early. Folks like Dave Ramsey are adamant that paying down the mortgage and only investing about 15% of the household income for retirement is the right decision (in Canada we might say 18% to take full advantage of the RRSP). Only once that house is paid off  would Ramsey have you invest more. Ramsey has studied thousands of millionaires and countless people can attest to the wisdom of his system, many have followed this route to a paid off house and healthy bank balance. Other financial planners/advisors argue the math is clear, invest invest invest because the mortgage rate of interest is likely (over 25 years) to be on average far lower than the rate of return on investments. Many folks following this advice end up with a paid off house and a healthy bank balance.  What these have in common is the agreement that aggressively saving and/or paying off debt are important in the long term, a reality that requires living bellow one’s means and regular “sacrifice” in the here and now for the sake of the future. Choosing your route is more than a rational question, emotions are involved.

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Some couples will fight about money and fight often because they cannot agree to (or how much to) save and/or invest because it means giving up something in the moment. Others will argue about the best strategy for long-term financial planning. Here is where we start to see the emotions, the hidden elements. To make a caricature for the sake of argument: James grew up poor, his family moved a lot, looking back on it he realizes his family was evicted more than once. James wants to pay that mortgage off pronto. Steve grew up in a nice house, his parents had stock options that worked well for them…Steve wants to invest. They both believe their position is rational and clear. To come to terms they are going to need to recognize the history and the emotions involved and only then will they be able to establish how to handle the money. Thus many advisors will ultimately tell you pay it off early or not, as long as you live below your means you are doing something smart. (If you are fighting me in your head because you firmly believe one or the other route is the only rational option I invite you to take the time to ask yourself what about your life story or emotional wellbeing might be leading you to that.)

Amanda and Jane have 6000$ to spend on holidays. They have worked hard and saved diligently to get the money together. Amanda is an introvert, Jane an extrovert. Amanda grew up with quiet parents who had a small cottage they went to often, a place without the internet and no tv, a place of board games and books and tea by the fire. Jane grew up with a big family, lots of family parties, trips with multiple households involved,  going to waterparks, concerts, and visiting big cities. Amanda wants a quiet holiday, maybe a retreat, certainly not too many people involved that is how she understand and defines “holiday”. Jane wants to gather a bunch of family and friends and rent a big place for everyone to eat drink and be merry together that is how she defines “holiday”…In my experience both will think their choice is obvious. They will often think they are arguing about the 6000$ they have scrimped and saved over the year, but in truth the argument lies elsewhere, deeper. 

this is what our holidays look like

On this Valentine’s day I have no idea what arguments you might be involved in with loved ones. What I know is that often what looks on the surface to be obvious and rational is anything but. Jesus knew a lot about humanity and so he often sought out the root of the issues before him. May God grant you the patience, wisdom, self-awareness, and love to pause and seek to do the same, especially with your most beloved. 

Happy Valentine’s day everyone, 

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