Downturn’s difficulties can strengthen relationships
The Denver Post
Like many couples these days, Jennifer and Brian Bernard struggle to pay the bills ” and like many, they’ve learned that that can cause some tense moments at home.
They’re also learning a lesson experts say all couples could benefit from in hard times: Money problems, handled properly, can be used to strengthen a relationship.
“Yesterday we had this big, heavy talk,” Brian said. “I had to keep my yap shut and listen to my wife and acknowledge her feelings, even though my brain was (protesting) in the background.”
Even in boom times, couples fight about money. A 2006 study by Money magazine found that 84 percent of people said money creates tension in marriage and that 15 percent fought about money several times a month.
The key to getting through the hard times is attitude, says Scott Stanley, a psychology professor at the University of Denver who with colleague Howard Markham conducted a long-term survey of 1,500 committed couples.
“You can have trouble paying for stuff, but you’re totally a team working together,” he said. “You probably get grinchy, but you’re supporting each other and pulling for each other.”
In the case of the Bernards, who have been married eight years, Brian is unemployed but is trying to start a business as a green-energy promoter. But there’s no income from that, which worries Jennifer. To be supportive, she usually keeps her fears to herself. But then, Brian said, it becomes like “a giant tension elephant in the house.”
Finally, she spoke up.
“It was very hard for him to hear,” she said. “I had to be very honest but very respectful.”
Brought closer together
The money problems are not yet solved, but the discussion brought them closer.
“This morning, just by the way she put her hand on me or kissed me, it felt different,” he said. “It felt like a real person again.”
Debbie and Bill Reslock, who own an architectural and planning firm in Evergreen, had to slash expenses after clients suddenly curtailed their projects as a result of the economy.
“She jokes that I only want to cut her stuff, but we basically agreed on what to cut out,” Bill said. “We eliminated the least painful things first, and we’ll see how it goes.”
They say they’re lucky that both don’t get down at the same time.
“The stress is there, though, and there are times when we’ll find ourselves in an argument over nothing,” Debbie said. “I think we both recognize how hard this is, so we let each other off the hook.”
For many, arguments erupt over things that last year were no big deal.
Zenith Landers and his partner, Miranda Channel, are working with a very tight budget because he lost his construction job in September.
“The other day at the store, our daughter, Jaya, grabbed a toy off the rack,” Landers said. “I said, ‘Let’s buy it for her,’ but Miranda said, ‘She’s got a million toys at home.’ “
They argued in the store.
“We know we’re in a tight situation,” Landers said. “We try to be more supportive of each other.”
A good friend who recently died left them money for a wedding ring. So, in the same week that they applied for food stamps, they shopped for the ring, although a real celebration will have to wait.
“We don’t have the money right now,” Channel said.
Carol and Vince Hodges have been together long enough to have already learned how to get through money troubles.
In 2004 they went to a financial-planning session and ultimately met with a “money coach” as they struggled to get out of debt.
“Some meetings were not so pleasant,” Carol said. “It might put you in conflict with your husband, but it prompts dialogue where you otherwise might not be dialoguing.”
Now they set aside time each week to carefully go over their finances, and over the years they learned lessons that, in October, they drew from.
Wise to just walk away
“We found an incredible deal on a home on a golf course in Arvada,” Vince said. “We couldn’t walk away from it.”
They weren’t sure they could sell their house in Westminster, which meant the possibility of two mortgages.
They struggled, debated and ultimately backed away.
“In the past, we’d have been able to convince ourselves it was a smart move,” Vince said. “We still want to move, but not so bad that we’re willing to compromise what we’ve done. Having two mortgages out there would have been financial suicide.”
That ability to figure out joint goals will help bring couples through the current crisis, said Mary Claire Allvine, author of “The Family CFO: The Couple’s Business Plan for Love and Money.”
“It’s time to stand back and use this money problem to say, ‘What are we trying to do together?’ “
Colleen O’Connor: 303-954-1083 or email@example.com
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