Have you recession-proofed your marriage?

There’s a lot of attention on the economy right now and the difficult times we’re in – and many people are worrying and preoccupied with their finances and economic struggles.   This type of stress can take its toll on you and your relationships.   For you and your significant other, it’s more important than ever to take steps to keep your relationship strong.

One could say that the quality of your life is determined 1% by what happens, and 99% by how you react to what happens.  While we can’t control everything that happens in life, we have a lot to say about how we react.

Let’s look at what this means specifically related to finances and our relationships.   If you look at your personal situation and the impact of the economy on that situation, you’ll notice that you may have certain worries, concerns, thoughts and feelings about what’s going on.  You have certain interpretations about what’s going on and what it all means.  But those opinions, thoughts and interpretations are totally distinct from what’s happened.

For example, your 401K may have dropped 50% from what it was a year ago.  That’s what happened. But that’s not where it ends.  You and I add our interpretations to what happened.  For instance, you might say, I’ll never have what I need now when I retire. Or that My husband  and I are in big financial trouble. Even if we don’t say it out loud, this can start to become REAL for us, always there in the background coloring our thoughts, feelings and actions.  We’re now living in the scary world of “We’re in big financial trouble, and we’re not going to be able to retire.”

What can give you power as individuals and as a couple is separating what happened from your story about what happened.  Then you can choose to deal with what’s actually happened and create a powerful plan for how to move to move forward.

Here’s a great exercise you can do as a couple to invest in your relationship so it’s strong and healthy in any economy:

1. Sit down together and get clear about the facts.

      This is where you both look at what’s happened and write it down.  “Our 401K has gone from this amount to that amount.”  Or “We’ve gone from being a two-income household to a one-income household.”  Or maybe it’s something like “There’s been no change in our income… and we’ve been turned down for a loan.”  Putting it all down on paper in black and white gets you both clear on what the basic facts really are.

    2. Notice and share what you’ve “added” to the facts.

        The fact may be that your 401K is down 50 percent.  But what you’ve concluded about that fact is not necessarily true: “We’ll never be able to retire.” Or “We aren’t good parents if we don’t pay for our kids’ entire college education.”  Or “Neither of us is good with money.”  These interpretations of the facts are not necessarily true, and regardless, they get you in trouble and limit what’s possible.

      3. Create solutions together.

          Now that you’ve separated what actually happened from your story about what happened, what solutions can the two of you come up with?  Maybe it’s creating your next goal or project, or a promise to make an appointment with a financial planner to talk about options.   Perhaps you’ll use this as an opportunity to teach your kids the value of working for what they get and of being part of the family finances.  This is your chance to be creative and operate as a team.

        During this process, you may notice there are some feelings of guilt or blame cropping up.  Notice them, and just let them go.  This is an opportunity to move forward and have your attention on what you want to create versus re-hashing the past.  Once you’ve started taking action, reward yourselves: a nice dinner, a family game night.  Little rewards and rituals like this build intimacy and a sense of common purpose.

        This is not a one-time exercise, incidentally.  When faced with challenging circumstances, the tendency we all have is to hold things in, to not really listen with an open mind, and to look for who or what to blame for what’s happening – sometimes blaming ourselves or our partners.   Whatever you do, make time for regular conversations with your partner and keep the lines of communication open.

        Remember, we say the quality of life is determined 1% by what happens, and 99% by our reactions.  While nothing can take away the fact that sometimes life includes difficult circumstances, there’s no more important time to have power and clarity than when you’re dealing with challenges.  Working together as a team, you’ll reap the rewards of the kind of close, intimate partnership that money can’t buy.

        Image credit: Sean Carpenter

        David Cunningham and Deborah Beroset are communication experts and Seminar Leaders for Landmark Education, an international training and development company that’s had well over 1 million people use its programs to cause breakthroughs in their performance, communication, relationships and overall satisfaction.  For more information, please visit www.landmarkeducation.com.

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