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Finding the Balance between Heart and Mind: Spotlight on Christine Whelan


By Danielle Robinson

Whelan For years, we’ve been told that men don’t marry highly successful women and that money is one of the biggest issues in relationships. Christine B. Whelan, Ph.D., has made it her life’s work to use research and data to help debunk these myths. Her most recent contribution to this effort is a free workbook, Equal from the Start, which guides couples through a conversation about their financial histories, personalities, goals, and future household.

“Conventional wisdom tells us that fighting about money ruins relationships -- when you make it, how you divide it, who manages it, and where you spend it. However, I have found it is not about the money at all. These fights are truly about values and time.”

Equal from the Start is part of Whelan’s work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which aims to help couples identify their own personal values, their values as a couple, and where they want to spend their time and money. Whelan freely shares personal examples to illustrate her message that once couples understand each other’s values and where they want to spend their time, they can begin aligning their spending habits accordingly.

“My husband prefers shopping at Whole Foods and it used to bother me because I thought the groceries were more expensive and they didn’t have everything on our list. Then he told me that he loved taking the kids there on Sunday mornings to enjoy all the samples and goof around together. Once I understood the experience and memories they were making, the nominal extra expense was well worth it. We aligned our values and money and voilà.”

Whelan began her work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2013, where she currently teaches and directs the Money, Relationships, and Equality (MORE) initiative. MORE provides research, teaching and outreach to establish equality for women and men in relationships, family life and financial decision making, while embracing central questions of self-worth, purpose and meaning-seeking.

“Once people understand their purpose, they can begin to align their spending habits with their values, which ultimately leads to a much more intentional and joy-filled life.”

“Purpose is action-oriented and pro-social,” said Whelan. “Once people understand their purpose, they can begin to align their spending habits with their values, which ultimately leads to a much more intentional and joy-filled life.” To help articulate her point, Whelan was fast to also share a Gloria Steinem quote: “We can tell our values by looking at our checkbook stubs.”

The MORE team is working on two future workbooks, Committed to Equality and Giving Together. Committed to Equality will be a workbook for couples already in an established long-term relationship and individuals who would like to reassess or recommit to equality in their financial relationship. Giving Together will be a workbook for couples who are philanthropically minded and will provide worksheets and talking points to help draw out individual passions for causes while guiding a discussion of strategic giving.

Before coming to University of Wisconsin-Madison, Whelan held teaching positions in the Sociology departments at the University of Iowa, Princeton University and University of Pittsburgh. However, Whelan’s interest in dating, self-help and purpose stem back to her undergraduate, graduate and doctoral work at Princeton and Oxford University, where she researched and wrote on these topics.

Whelan Books After school, Whelan’s first and second books, Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women (Simon & Schuster, 2006) and Marry Smart: The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to True Love (Simon & Schuster, 2009) looked at data that debunked the “common knowledge” that once a woman hits thirty, her chances of finding a husband diminish dramatically.

In 2008, Whelan was working at University of Iowa and in the Sociology and Politics department when a student came to her with despair at the fact that he had $50,000 in college debt and no job prospects. This student gave Whelan the inspiration to write Generation WTF: From “What the &%#$?” to a Wise, Tenacious and Fearless You (Templeton Press, 2011).

“Listening to this student, it occurred to me that this was the WTF generation. They felt like the rug had been pulled out from under them and even though there were countless self-help books on the shelves already, they were all geared toward older adults. This was my chance to write something that could help young adults get started on the right foot.”

She then went on to write The Big Picture: A Guide to Finding Your Purpose in Life (Templeton Press, 2016), which is also geared toward young adults. In this book, Whelan helps young-adults to uncover their own personal sense of purpose.

Today, Whelan is devoted to helping people align their purpose, values, time and money to the life they want. Her work continues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she says there is so much more to uncover.

“Life has humbled me,” said Whelan. “In my 20s, I thought I had all the answers and now entering my 40s I realize, I only have more questions. Life is a journey and I’m working to find the balance of heart and mind every day.”

Photo of Danielle Robinson
Danielle Robinson
Executive Director, Jackson Charitable Foundation

With more than 10 years experience in corporate philanthropy, Danielle Robinson inspires generosity and community involvement at Jackson. Danielle holds a bachelor’s degree in communications and specialization in public relations from Michigan State University. Danielle and her husband, Ryan, reside in downtown Lansing and are both Michigan natives. Danielle can be reached at

The Jackson Charitable Foundation is the charitable-giving arm of Jackson National Life Insurance Company®. The Foundation focuses on work that is national in scope and programs supported may include an indirect cost of up to 3% of the organization's work in the project budget. Local community requests to strengthen families and increase economic opportunities in Lansing, Michigan; Chicago, Illinois; and Nashville, Tennessee can be directed to Jackson's Corporate Philanthropy team.