THE BLOG

Saving Your Marriage After Financial Hardship

02/29/2012 11:48 am ET | Updated Apr 29, 2012

During these difficult financial times, many couples, usually without ever noticing it, start dealing with life as individuals. They begin to recede from each other and allow a distance to develop. They stop talking. They find their feelings to be too intense and too difficult to face, so they don't share them. They don't want to share that they are scared, so each partner says nothing and goes into a deep and lonely place within. They don't fight for their relationship.

Instead they fight over money and who's at fault in the situation. They blame each other for not making enough money, for spending too much money, for not saving money, or for not spending enough time doing the things that will bring in more money.

Sadly, this distance is a close step toward a wide gap from which many couples do not recover. For over 22 years, I've helped couples turn this around quickly. Our book offers a one-week program to turn your family life around to create a warm, loving home. It begins with a pattern of living that successful couples follow to create a deeper love from struggle.

1) Decide to Fight for Your Marriage

Everyone claims to want a great relationship, not everyone throws everything into maintaining one. Also, please fix the base name on this. When I counseled a couple separated due to financial struggle on a recent "Oprah" episode, the wife shared that this financial struggle was harder than overcoming her recent battle with cancer. Through counseling, she came to understand that she made a decision to fight for her life in a way that she did not for her marriage. Just that decision began a different way of living for her and her husband. Saying to yourself and your partner that we firmly ARE going to get through this and will not allow it to deteriorate our relationship is a crucial step. It both focuses you away from negative conversations about the relationship and creates renewed energy to deal with your collective financial problems.

2) Attack the Problems, Not Each Other

We only have so much energy. The more we expend it blaming and fighting, the less we have to get our problems solved. Now is the time to have that conversation with your spouse, the one that says let's stop arguing and let's start standing up for this couplehood. Not talking is the worst mistake you can make. Force yourselves to go into this eyes wide open. Look at your whole financial situation and start talking together to figure out creative solutions. Divvy up roles, who will research this, talk to this person who might have some answers or ideas. Be determined to focus on loving each other and knowing that as long as the two of you are in this together, that's what counts. Everything else comes and goes; you can truly do with it or without it, but love is the constant we must focus on. Our book explains how to get this conversation going so that the focus is on getting over negative history and working together for the future.

Once you become a team, there's inspiration for positive changes. We think clearer and find more answers. My father-in-law, a judge for over 30 years, told me how unfortunate it was when people would not show in court during foreclosure proceedings. Even if they didn't have an attorney, just showing up could have helped and he could've given them more time to manage things. When people are so overwhelmed and feeling alone, they're more likely to go into a shell and have a wait-and-see attitude, the very opposite of what will help the most. Teamwork is the goal and you may surprise yourself when you find yourself being far more creative and confident about the future when love is more prevalent in your life.

3) Give Yourself Permission to Have Fun

There's a tendency to stop all fun during tough financial times. We have this image that we're supposed to be sad and overworked. If there's a spare second, do something to make money. Life doesn't stop when money is tight. At some point, you'll decide that you have to get back to living, enjoying parts of your day, and it may be long before you've resolved your financial struggle. Why not give that permission to yourself today? You and your partner are allowed to have fun and enjoy life. You can even go on a date for little or no money every week. Try this. On your date, don't talk about money, work or the kids. If you're like most people, you're already laughing out loud wondering what you'll talk about. Get back to loving your time together and creating fun. Don't wait to live life.

4) Get the Children On Board

Parents tend to share as little as possible with their kids because they fear worrying them. Unfortunately for kids, lack of information leads to an overactive imagination. When your kids hear comments during arguments like, "You're spending all our money," your kid thinks, "Oh my gosh, all of our money is going away." Yes, your children need reassurance, but they also desperately need to be apart of this family team. They can handle the truth as long as they know that their parents are on top of this and that there will be love in this family regardless of what comes next. You have the chance to send a powerful message to your children that they will draw on for the rest of their lives: as long as we are focused on the love in a family, we get through anything. Again, in our book, we outline scripts on how to talk to different age children so that they can feel in the loop without feeling anxious.

Now more than ever is the time to send your loved ones this message: Let's focus on us, the love we've shared, the kids we've brought into this world, and how we can get through this together. The honest sharing of thoughts and feelings, no matter how complicated, brings us into the inner sanctum of our psyches. That in itself sends a message of togetherness.