It’s Only Money

Lately it seems like there is no respite from the constant barrage of headlines with the words “crisis,” “disaster,” or “meltdown.”

Money, it turns out, is exactly like sex. You think of nothing else if you don’t have it and think of other things if you do.
James Baldwin

With the current financial situation, everyone is worried about their job, their house, their children’s future.

Needless to say it’s extraordinarily stressful times. This column will not offer any fool- proof way to save your portfolio or protect your retirement fund — I’ll leave that to the financial experts — but I will tell you that the national mood during an economic slowdown always has a way of affecting how we talk about pocketbook issues with our partners and families at home. According to a poll that was taken by about.com, roughly 7 in 10 respondents are “very stressed” about money. This increased stress also puts enormous pressure on couples who are married or live together.

Money challenges ourselves and our relation- ships like no other issue. Power, control, secu- rity and trust — all important dynamics in our relationship that are intertwined with the financial life of the family. This is the reason money has always been the number one issue that causes couples to fight. So, now that we are confronting the most serious financial cri- sis since the Great Depression is there a way to make it through this financial crisis with your marriage intact? How is a couple sup- posed to deal with inevitable conflict and stress? The first thing to do is to stay calm and try to think clearly. Obviously, communi- cation is key. But let’s take a look at some other strategies that will allow you to work with your partner to manage your finances without major conflict.

Do Not Ignore the Stress

Let’s face it — this mess is unavoidable. As the politicians say, its effects are being felt from Wall Street to Main Street. It would be silly and unwise to try and hide from it, or to ignore it altogether. So if you’re losing sleep, losing weight, or losing your sense of security and control, don’t worry too much. When things look this uncertain, of course your level of stress may increase.

Addressing anxiety and depression may require some specific treatment approaches. Talking about your feelings to a supportive and understanding partner may help. Also, meditation and guided imagery can provide a needed respite from upsetting news and offer you a sense of calm and control. However, if you find yourself consumed by fears of finan- cial ruin or are unable to function during your normal day, you may need to consult a men- tal health professional for guidance. When we begin to react to stress with irritability or with increased substance abuse, a professional should be consulted to offer other options to combat these destructive feelings.

Protect the Relationship

In these uncertain times, when you feel you have little control over your future, it is even more important to maintain the intimate con- nection between you and your partner. Your relationship should provide a safe and secure place to deal with all aspects of this crisis (or any crisis for that matter). If all of your discus- sions devolve into an unproductive conflict, that feeling of isolation and uncertainty will only become more intense. It is a challenge for all of us in committed relationships to try and understand our partners and their emo- tions without being judgmental or dismissive.

According to a poll that was taken by about.com, roughly 7 in 10 respondents are “very stressed” about money. This increased stress also puts enormous pressure on couples who are married or live together.

This new crisis also provides an opportunity for couples to figure out new ways to connect with each other and have some fun (on a budget, of course). Although spending time with the family is always important, mom and dad need to make sure they spend as much time together as they can. I often tell couples that taking a walk together not only gives them a chance to be alone and talk, they can also get much needed exercise that will help dissipate stress . . . all for free.

The Roles Might Change

Mother, father, homemaker or breadwinner — our roles in a family help to define us. Changes in jobs or income can cause these roles to have to be redefined and dealing with those changes isn’t easy. Having to adapt to a new role challenge the relationship as well as the individual. The full-time parent may now be forced to return to the work-force or the pri- mary breadwinner may have to stay home with the kids.

The challenge of adapting to these new roles is daunting for the couple and puts an enormous amount of stress on the entire family system. The kids may have to adapt to having their father become the primary caretaker or see significantly less of their mother who has just taken a new full-time job. Depending on the ages of the kids, they might also have to chip in to help: older siblings babysitting younger ones; part-time jobs to help pay for clothes; and those extras that their parents can no longer provide.

One thing seems certain in the uncertainty of the current financial crisis –it is going to last awhile. While we don’t know how this crisis is going to end, we do know that managing the crisis requires flexibility in reacting to changing financial trends over time. This reality holds true for your relationship as well. Dealing with your partner more constructively about money might be the most positive outcome of this financial mess. Plan on having regular conversations about money with your partner and your kids. Focus on solutions for the future, not finding blame for past actions. Couples who make their financial life a priority now in their marriage will have an easier time navigating the financial challenges they encounter in the months to come.

When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.
Franklin D. Roosevelt

Coping with Financial Stress


Do Not Panic

There are always options and decisions to make when managing a crisis. Negotiating with your partner to decide the right options for your family without conflict is the primary goal. Consult the appropriate professional for guidance (mental health or financial) if you continue to feel stress and anxiety.

Soft Start-Up

Talking with your partner about the financial issues in the family should be approached gently when you are concerned that the conversation might become upset- ting and hurtful. If the conversation seems to be going in the wrong direction, call a time-out and cool off before resuming the discussion.

Full Disclosure

All the facts, good and bad, need to be available to both of you. You need to know what you have, what you owe, what you make before you decide where it should go.

Focus on Solutions

This is not the time for anger and blame about how the financial problems developed. Work together to find the future solutions that are right for your family. Concentrate on the direction to take immediately, in six months and in one year.