Q: My wife and I have decent incomes, but neither of us has ever been all that great at making informed financial decisions. I feel like most of the time we're just winging it. Do you have any practical insights for managing our resources well?
Jim: Realistically, I don't think you're asking for advice about the best way to use or apply (invest) your money. That's a highly subjective and personal issue. But I can offer a broader set of principles from financial expert Ron Blue. He suggests the following criteria-based model for making fiscal decisions:
-- For people of faith -- pray together about how to handle your money.
-- Define your decision. What is the question? Often your decision statement will include such words as "choose," "select" and "best."
-- Clarify your objectives. What are you really trying to achieve? What are the decision criteria?
-- Prioritize your objectives. What are the non-negotiables? What are the possible tradeoffs?
-- Identify your alternatives.
-- Evaluate your alternatives. What are the facts?
-- Make a preliminary decision.
-- Assess the risk. What could go wrong here?
-- Make the final decision.
-- Test the decision.
This multi-step matrix offers a number of benefits. What I like is that it maximizes objectivity, minimizes bias and helps defuse emotion-based disagreements. If you and your spouse discuss and apply it carefully, you separate the relevant data from the trivial. That can provide direction for your thinking and set the stage for comfortable consensus.
Q: After the loss of my first marriage, I'm finally ready to remarry. But my intended spouse's children are against the marriage -- in fact, they seem to hate me. What do you suggest?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Marriage & Family Formation: It's never easy to enter into a second marriage and blend a new family. In fact, research shows that a majority of remarriages involving children end in another divorce. Obviously, without detailed knowledge about the dynamics involved, I'm in no position to make definitive statements concerning your chances of success. But if the kids are openly opposed to the marriage, at the very least you can likely expect an even rougher ride than the average couple in your situation.
What I can tell you is that you'll need to approach this situation with extreme care -- and a lot of prayer. An unsuspecting stepparent may be suddenly confronted with a whole set of longstanding alliances and power struggles within the existing (but fractured) household. If you decide to move forward with your plans, you'll need to work extra-hard to overcome the barriers and develop positive bonds with your new stepchildren.
That means taking a sincere interest in the kids and spending lots of one-on-one time with each of them -- even if your initial efforts are rebuffed or, at best, barely tolerated. In particular, you'll want to take special care to praise the children at every opportunity, instead of simply punishing them when they misbehave. In other words, make an intentional effort to "catch them being good."
Because of the unique challenges involved, I strongly recommend that those who are planning to remarry and blend a family should seek professional counseling well before the wedding. Couples who attempt to go it alone are often just setting themselves up for frustration and failure.
Expectations, roles and parenting styles should be clarified and openly discussed with the help of an experienced marriage and family therapist. It won't be easy, but it's part of the challenge of building a successful blended family. Our staff counselors would be more than happy to help you get started; call 855-771-HELP (4357) or visit FocusOnTheFamily.com.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at jimdalyblog.focusonthefamily.com or at Facebook.com/JimDalyFocus.
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