Relationship expert Laurie Puhn offers advice on how to salvage a marriage that's been strained by money issues.
Now more than ever, people are coming to my couples mediation office to help them save their financially wounded marriages. They aren't asking me for a job; rather they want me to help them stop fighting about their lack of money, job loss, and who is to blame for the absence of love and respect in their relationship. As a consequence of today's recession, many cash-strapped couples are experiencing a marital meltdown. Even happy couples admit that the sudden economic downturn is testing their "I do" commitment.
Couples know that divorce is expensive and traumatic, so they are desperate to avoid it. According to a 2006 wealth study using information from the U.S. Census Bureau, people who married and stayed married built up nearly twice the net worth of people who stayed single over a 15-year period.
Yet, with money tight and insurance coverage dwindling, the traditional route of costly long-term talk therapy for couples is difficult. Instead, a new and empowering trend in marriage is emerging, though most people don't know about it yet: It is called couples mediation. This effective marriage-saving program delivers immediate low-cost relief. It focuses on replacing bad verbal habits with good ones, to quickly reinvigorate the respect, appreciation, and intimacy in the marriage.
What follows are five key tips to save a financially wounded marriage, skills that can be learned and practiced in mediation sessions, as well as through the bestselling book Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship Without Blowing Up or Giving In, from which this article is adapted.
1. Install a daily communication routine.
Love is an asset, and it depreciates. Install a new communication routine to instantly boost the love connection. What you come to expect, you come to neglect, and that's the silent killer in relationships. Turn the neglect around by sharing the priceless words "good morning" and "good night," "hello" and "goodbye," and "I love you because..." with your spouse.
2. Partner up.
Two minds are better than one. If you are unemployed, assume your spouse loves you and wants to help you but doesn't know how. Your spouse can be an asset to your job search. Show your mate respect and ask for his/her help before he/she starts giving you orders. Partner up and have a conversation about how to budget, stretch the dollar, and advance your job search.
3 . Avoid dumb emotional arguments.
Have "dollars and sense" conversations. If your mate accuses you of making financial decisions that are based on your emotions, you probably are. Replace emotions with facts and you will short-circuit many arguments. For example, if you want to visit your family in another state, get the cost of transportation and anything else involved in the trip, then discuss the options. Avoid abstract words like "whatever," "about," "maybe," and "probably."
4. Include daily 30-second love plays.
Spark intimacy with kind acts and words. Use the "Follow-Up Love Play" to show you care, especially when financial issues have taken center stage in your life. Call, text, or email your mate to ask about an event, a meeting, or appointment he/she had that day. Giving your mate a little attention works wonders. Then, use a "Pitch-in Love Play." Volunteer to do something before you're asked to do it. Find a chore, task, or responsibility your mate usually does and do it for him/her.
5 . Protect your union: Keep it confidential.
Have a conversation with your mate about what is personal information and should remain private (your bank account, house foreclosure) and what is public. Avoid major battles by agreeing not to "overshare" private information with others.
Use any or all of these tips, and you will see an immediate difference because every person wants to be loved, respected, and appreciated. Each tip is meant to instill a higher value into your relationship.