When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. ~Victor Frankl
You don't need me to tell you about the dire state of the American economy and the reverberations being felt around the world. While you're probably well aware of how this is directly impacting your bank account, home value, and nest egg, there is a hidden casualty that doesn't seem to be getting any press: Marriages and relationships are buckling under the stress of these uncertain, stressful economic times.
Money is a sensitive and complicated issue for many couples. Arguments and power struggles can easily result and couples often feel blindsided by how a once strong relationship can be pulled apart by conflicts over finances. Here are five steps you can take to help your relationship survive this economic crisis.
1. Make the decision to keep your relationship a priority
It is easy to lose sight of the importance of your relationship during tough economic times (or during any stressful period). Many loving couples lose their way when worries about job security and money begin to take center stage in their relationship--intimacy is temporarily compromised when you or your partner become overwhelmed by fear; the very bond that supports your union can be weakened when your fears become a mainstay of your relationship.
Becoming conscious of this danger is essential to the health of your marriage or relationship. Make it a habit to check in with each other and acknowledge the importance of your relationship--you both need to make a conscious effort to help your love transcend the hurdles you face. With a little planning you and your partner can create "no-worry-zones" throughout the day--protected moments where you both give one another permission to only think about each other, about the positive aspects of your relationship. Think of these as temporary pit-stops that can allow you both to refuel the relationship.
Remember, if you're anxious about money and/or job security, it will take effort and practice for you to be fully present with your spouse or partner in these moments.
2. Acknowledge and accept changing roles
We all play different roles in our relationships (and in our lives). For instance, you might be the "go-to person" during times of trouble; or maybe you're the joker who makes everyone smile.
Often changes in family income bring about changes in the roles that were a natural part of your relationship--the bread-winner who took pride in supporting her/his family may now have to apply for unemployment (or take two jobs just to make ends meet); The full-time parent may now be forced to leave the children in someone else's care and search for work. Beyond defining us as individuals, many of our assumed roles give particular meaning and value to our lives--and we can feel shaken at our core when stripped of these roles.
Share your struggles with your spouse/partner and supportive others if you are having difficulty transitioning into a new and unwelcome role in your life.
3. Find new ways to connect and enjoy one another
Your income and resources may change drastically during a financial crisis--or you may live with chronic anxiety that your finances can drastically change at any moment. Money that you originally allocated for vacations, dining out, gifts and other leisure activities may suddenly be needed to pay the mortgage or rent, be used for food, and utility bills (or saved for future expenses). Your relationship needs to change with the changing tides of your finances.
The challenge is for you and your partner to seek out new ways to connect and enjoy each other without the constraints of limited finances. You'll need to adopt a new mindset for this to occur and you'll each need to sacrifice. As your inspiration think of the starving artist or broke college student who are able to create meaningful relationships despite being financially destitute. Try to forget the trappings that money brings and head back to romance basics: holding hands, long walks, movies, games (is anyone up for charades?), making each other laugh...brainstorm together on how to have inexpensive, low- to no- cost fun.
4. Learn to ask for help/seek support from each other
Denial and stoicism aren't useful, especially if you're feeling overwhelmed and anxious. Unfortunately, some couples keep their collective heads in the sand and act like it is business as usual until something drastic happens--well, something pretty drastic is happening, so now may be a good time to get your head out of the sand.
All too often couples don't share their fears with one another--this is especially the case for men. It's so common it's become a cliche: the stoic male who'd rather not talk about his feelings (especially emotions that make him feel helpless and not in control); the male who doesn't access his partner for support but instead pulls away and attempts to deal with problems by himself, leaving his spouse/partner feeling isolated, confused and alone. And, while this pattern is more typically seen in men, there are women who also withdraw in the face of stress.
There's no way to sugarcoat this: It's dangerous for you and your partner to begin withdrawing from each other--you'll now be faced with the anxiety of a troubled relationship on top of everything that's playing out across the global economy.
5. Understand how you each cope with stress
Lack of financial security creates anxiety in all of us. As your anxiety level escalates during these uncertain times it becomes easy to displace your reactions to stress onto your partner.
No matter how healthy your relationship or marriage is, it is common for conflict to escalate when you and/or your partner are under stress. Ideally couples will learn to rely on one another to get through the difficult times that are part of every life. The reality, however, is often different.
A brief example of how financial stress negatively affected Vince and Karen:
Vince recently lost his job as a systems analyst at a large insurance company. In order to make ends meet, he needed to find work quickly and took a job making significantly less money. For the first time in their marriage, money was extremely tight. Rather than seek out Karen for support, Vince became more withdrawn and began to feel inadequate as a husband--his self-esteem is tightly wrapped around his ability to support his family. Confused by her husband's behavior, Karen began to confront Vince about his "bad attitude." Repeated conflicts replaced the once peaceful terrain of their marriage.
Part of the problem for Vince and Karen (as well as for many couples) is that they each have very different coping styles when faced with stressful life events. Vince withdraws and ruminates (rather than seeking support from others) and this triggers a fear reaction in Karen who begins to worry that their marriage is in trouble.
Is there a solution to this dilemma?
Become mindful of each other's coping style
Often a marriage or relationship is damaged not by the stress itself, but by the way in which you and your partner cope with stress. The more information you have about how you both deal with the pressures of life (your typical patterns of coping), the more understanding and empathy you will have for one another during relationship rough patches.
Is your relationship worth protecting?
To discover more relationship tips, visit http://StrengthenYourRelationship.com/ and sign up for Dr. Nicastro's FREE Relationship Toolbox Newsletter. As a bonus, you will receive two free relationship reports.
Richard Nicastro, Ph.D. is a relationship and intimacy coach.