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By Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D. & Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D.

Are you and your spouse worried in these times of financial uncertainty? During any economic crisis, couples have to face tough financial decisions. This can lead to an increase in stress and exacerbate problems that may already exist in your marriage.  

Think back to when you first met. Do you remember what originally attracted you to your partner? Was it a strong character, fierce independence, a decisive nature? Now, these qualities may suddenly be getting in the way of getting along. Take a look at what has changed in your relationship to help you come to terms with your negative feelings. But that’s not all there is to it. Recognize your own role in what’s happening in your marriage. If you want to stay together and there’s a glimmer of hope, accept the challenge of turning it around. Try some of these ideas to get you started:

1.Identify what you are feeling. As a first step, write down the emotions that now regularly surface. What is happening between you and your partner when you are feeling sad, scared, overwhelmed, embarrassed or frustrated? Chances are you have emotions ranging from disappointment to anger, and these are constantly changing. Don’t worry - this is perfectly normal. But understanding what you feel and why can be the first step toward improving your situation.

2.Stop focusing on the past. Identify the hot button issues that are standing in your way and make efforts to resolve them. Your initiation of changes can be an encouraging sign to your partner. And the sooner you let go of the past, the quicker you can move forward to improve the goodwill in your relationship. It may not be easy to forgive, but it is a gift that you can give to both your partner and yourself.  

3.Limit your arguments. If the situation between the two of you is tense, small annoyances can seem bigger than before. When you argue, allowing bad feelings to fester only makes it worse. Don’t turn your quarrel into something more or attach your reactions to another issue. Agree that you will together explore the problems in your relationship. And spend time learning about conflict resolution, direct communication and active listening skills. There’s a lot of information available through relationship workshops, on the Internet and in the self help section of the bookstore.

4.Begin a process of serious talking. Can’t do it alone? If you really want to work out your differences, you might consider consulting with a marital therapist or joining a couples’ support group. When you each understand more about the other’s needs and capabilities, you’ll be clearer about the compromises you have to make. Then it will be up to both of you to decide whether or not you‘re willing to do the hard work. That may include efforts to change your current expectations, redefine what marriage means to you and create new goals for the relationship.

5.Support each other. Instead of focusing on the negatives or going your separate ways, spend time discussing what you want from one other. Think about what would demonstrate true emotional commitment to you. Prove that you are on each other’s side by deciding to change your attitude and behavior. Invest in your marriage’s emotional bank account. Create excitement, pleasure and fun together - then take advantage of the dividends.

You and your partner are individuals who each have a mind of your own. What you want may have changed since you first tied the knot. And the present economic meltdown probably adds to the pressures in the relationship. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make shifts that will relieve some of the stress. And you don’t have to accept the possibility of divorce. By taking the first steps, you can help strengthen your partner’s trust in you - and the future of your marriage.

© Her Mentor Center, 2009

Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D. & Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D. are co-founders of [Link Removed] a blog for the sandwich generation.  They are authors of a forthcoming book about family relationships and publish a free newsletter, Stepping Stones, through their website.  As psychotherapists, they have over 40 years of collective private practice experience.


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