Now more than ever, unhappy couples are coming to my couples mediation office and emailing me for advice on how to save their financially wounded marriage. They aren't asking me for a job, rather they want to stop their fights about money, job loss and who is to blame for the loss of love and respect in their relationship. As a consequence of today's recession, many cash-strapped couples have entered the conflict zone where they experience 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.
The New Trend
Yet, with money tight and insurance coverage dwindling, the traditional route of costly long-term couples talk therapy is not an option. Instead, a new and empowering trend in marriage is emerging. It is called couples mediation. This cost effective marriage-saving program delivers immediate relief. It focuses on replacing bad verbal habits with good ones, to quickly reinvigorate the respect, trust and intimacy in the marriage. Five empowering mediation tips are found below with many more in my bestselling book, "Fight Less, Love More: 5 Minute Conversations to Change your Relationship without Blowing up or Giving In". In fact, so strong is the influence of job loss on marriages that The New York Times' Tara Siegel Bernard interviewed me on this subject for her recent Your Money column Marriage Maintenance when Money is Tight.
5 Tips to Save a Financially Wounded Marriage
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 habitually 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 nagging you with orders. Partner-up and have a conversation about your bank account, the necessities vs. luxuries, how to budget, and certainly how to jointly advance the job search.
3) Avoid Dumb Emotional Arguments. Have "dollars and sense" conversations. If your mate accuses you of making a financial decision that is selfish and based on your emotions, it probably is. You can short-circuit an argument by replacing emotions (I think) with facts (I checked my files for the amount and...). For example, if you want to visit your parents who live in another state, get the numbers, the costs of transportation, hotels, food, etc., and then have the conversation. Avoid abstract words like "whatever," "about," "maybe," and "probably."
4) Identify Gender Stereotypes. Now that one of you isn't working (though looking for a job is work), it's time to review the division of domestic responsibilities and child care. Job loss is a huge blow to a relationship. It hits, shakes and often exposes underlying gender beliefs relating to what is man's work or woman's work. When one spouse loses his/her job, both members of the couple must be honest with themselves and each other, and re-evaluate their division of labor for mutual benefit.
5) Protect Your Union. Keep it confidential. Have a conversation with your mate about what is public information and can be shared with friends and relatives and what should remain private (your job loss, your bank account, house foreclosure). Avoid major battles by agreeing not to "overshare" private information with others.
Remember that job loss is temporary and marriage should be permanent. Employ these communication tips and you will instantly begin to fight less and love more. Don't risk finding a job, but losing your mate in the process.