Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Couples and Money

Finances are one of the most common areas of disagreement for couples. When we work with couples experiencing this problem we hear comments about trust, control, stinginess, irresponsibility, lying and dishonesty.

When couples start out with different ideas about money, they can get even further apart with time as each responds to the other. The one who is more frugal can become even tighter when he or she sees a spouse spend in a way that feels superfluous.
When a spouse who is freer with spending feels “controlled” with conversations, criticism or checking, they may find ways to hide spending. What begins as a simple
difference can escalate out of control and erode good will within the couples’ relationship quite quickly.

Here are a few tips that couples can discuss that might help them move from opponents about the family budget to players on the same team.

Talk together about a reasonable amount of money that each of you can spend without consulting the other one. Depending on each individual couple and their finances, it may be as small as $10 or as large as $1,000. Both agree that you will talk about it before any purchases are made (other than necessary ones such as groceries) and problem-solve around the decision.

Work on a budget together. Make sure that you both know the amount of money you receive in your paychecks, any additional income, and the amount of regular bills. Discuss other bills that may not need to be paid monthly but are regular and expected expenses.

Talk out your money differences. Couples with different ideas about spending may not really understand that thoughts of their spouse. For specific purchases that are controversial, talk about your position and why you feel as you do. Try to explain why this purchase is important for you and get a good understanding from your partner about her/his thoughts and feelings about this purchase.

Recognize that finances may just be something that is normal for you to differ on; however, if you remain respectful to each other in the conversations, you will be able to make decisions about expenses that will work for each of you. Think positively about this as a problem to solve, not an attack on your character.

Have conversations about the meaning of money for each of you. What did it mean when you were growing up? How did your parents handle money? How does that affect the way you think about money? Get a better understanding about your spouse and their thoughts about so money so that when you hit these normal roadblocks, you will be able to travel over them more easily.

Consider a financial planner. If you cannot afford one on our own, check with some churches in your area. Some churches and community centers have people who volunteer to help others with this.

Above all, continue to remain positive with your partner and know that you both have the same end goal in mind … a sound financial plan.

Do you have some ideas to share for what helped you to figure out financial differences?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Tip of the Week, June 23, 2008

If you feel yourself getting angry, take a break. Think about something positive or get busy doing something. After a while, think again about what made you mad and decide if it is worth talking about or not. If so, think of a calm and positive way to talk about it.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Men and Depression

My husband is depressed … and I do not know what to do to help him. How can I be helpful?

Depression is the most common psychological problem in America today and it affects the whole family. Sometimes when people are depressed, they turn more into themselves, other times they are irritable and appear to be angry much of the time.

If you think that your husband is depressed, you may be experiencing many reactions yourself. You may be angry, hurt, frustrated, disappointed or even disgusted. You also probably feel pretty helpless about how you can be helpful.

Here are some beginning thoughts about how you might help your husband. These are far from an exhaustive list and we would welcome your own ideas about what you have learned.

1. Educate yourself about depression. There are lots of good sites on the web along with some good books. Learn about the common causes, symptoms and how to help someone who is depressed. We have some recommended reading and web sites on our own web site

2. Try not to take things personally. Recognize that depressed people generally do not sound or act in ways that they normally would when feeling well.

3. Be patient. Change takes a long time and people who are depressed have a considerable lack of energy.

4. Avoid complaining or nagging him about his behavior. In a very loving and non-judgmental way occasionally say things like:
“I worry about you. You seem to have lost your zest for life. Do you notice that change as well?”
“I see that you seem to be sleeping a lot more than usual … naps, sleeping in late (or sleeping very little) and I wonder if there might be something physically wrong with you. What do you think?”
“Try not to get upset with me when I say this because I love you and I want the best for us. You seem to be more irritable lately … in a bad mood a lot. I do not know if there is something specific bothering you, or if maybe you are just in a funk. What do you think?”

5. Notice what is happening when things are better. When you notice that he seems to be a little happier or in a better mood, let him know how happy you are that he seems to be feeling well. Wonder, maybe together, what is helping things go so well.

6. Take care of yourself. Depression can be contagious in marriages. Find ways to be with friends, exercise, eat right and plan pleasant times for yourself. Try not to “catch” his depression.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Why Do People “Fall Out of Love”?

The Top Ten Reasons for Why People Fall Out of Love …
… and not necessarily in this order.

1. Conflict. A high level of conflict or a lack of resolving conflict begins the distance and isolation cascade.
2. Too much disrespect or contempt. Even gestures such as eye-rolling or “correcting” a spouse erode loving feelings in a relationship.
3. Someone else. When you “love” someone else, it is easy to believe that you do not and can no longer love the one you are with.
4. Taking the marriage for granted and not finding ways to keep it vital and interesting. It is easy to forget the importance of finding time for and nurturing your relationship and your partner.
5. Thinking that those feelings are gone begets more of the same. The more that you think about a lack of feelings of love, the more you feel a lack of feelings of love. What you look for is what you get.
6. Busyness. Couples with young children have the highest divorce rates because their lives are so focused on children and careers.
7. Serious problems such as alcoholism, workaholism, etc. Love can only hang around for so long when a spouse is over-involved with work or struggles with serious addiction (gambling, shopping, etc.) or alcoholism.
8. Not making the shift from “I” to “We”. Couples must find a way to elevate the relationship in their priority list, not letting go of self-care, but recognizing that they need to look for opportunities to support the health of their relationship.
9. Depression. Sometimes when people are depressed, they think that it is because of their marriage and a change in partners will lift the depression. The spouse of a depressed person may also give up, believing that the living environment is too difficult.
10. Influences from family and friends. Family and friends, who often hear only one side of the story, may encourage ending a marriage. When there is a “divorce culture” among friends, and it may seem that the others are happier and the “grass is greener”, it makes it harder to do the work that needs to be done to turn a marriage around.

We will talk about these ideas in later posts, along with some tips for how to turn things around. We would be interested in your thoughts and stories about what worked for you.

Friday, June 6, 2008

She just doesn't "get" me ...

Getting through to your partner is the responsibility of both the person who is talking and the person who is listening. When people disagree, a natural tendency is to listen with one half of your brain and build your own argument with the other half. Slowing down and really listening before answering can be challenging.

Our recommendation for you, the one who has a point to present, is to find a way to make sure that your partner is in a good space to listen. Here are some suggestions.

Find a good time to talk.
Look for an opportunity when you two can just carve out some time to talk about what is important. Make sure that distractions are minimal, especially if it is an important conversation … so turn off cell phones, make sure that the children are in bed, get away from the television.

Listen carefully to your partner’s response.
Make sure that she really understood the point you were making. If not, gently say something like “I know that you have valid points; however, I want you to understand what I am saying before you respond.”

You may have to “get” her before she can “get” you.
Sometimes people can hear better if they feel that they have been heard first so you may need to let go of your point until you let your partner know and believe that you have heard and understood her, even if you do not agree.

Get agreement to stick with one issue rather than lots of different ones. Ask your partner to agree to this if you start to get off track. It is easy for conversations to become problematic if there is no clear direction.

If either one of you becomes flooded, (your heart rate rises, you feel warm, angry or confused) take a break and calm down.
When anyone gets flooded, they cannot listen well and the reaction is usually the “fight or flight” one. Use this as a time to take a break and think about the conversation. You can revisit it later if it is important.

If talking is not going well, try writing. Sometimes writing, either in e-mail or with a handwritten note can help. Be sure to read over what you wrote before sending it, especially if it is a “hot” topic. In fact, if it is a difficult conversation, you may want to sleep on it and reread it the next day before sending it. If the note sounds angry or “pushy” it may be poorly received. The important advice to remember is to be loving, direct and use lots of “I” statements about your thoughts. Find ways to acknowledge what you believe she is thinking and feeling as a way of letting her know that you want to look for a solution or understanding, not a fight or just to win a point.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Tip of the Week, June 2, 2008

When you marry someone, you get a whole new set of problems. There are always differences between people in a relationship. Expect them. Don’t try to change them. Learn how to compromise, adapt, discuss and accept the differences. Some problems just do not have a solution … however, if you can learn to talk about them, they can enhance, not detract from, your relationship.