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Strong Healthy Marriage: Learn from other Couples Dealing with the Stresses of the Economy


By Greg and Priscilla Hunt

We can learn from the struggles of other couples. We’re not alone. How are couples maintaining a strong relationship in light of the stresses of the current economic recession? Here are 4 stories from which we can learn – stories of real-life couples.

Story #1: Peter and Carol, both 59, with three married children and 7 grandchildren, had planned to retire at age 60 and return to their home town in the Midwest (They were living and working in the northeast). A sizable portion of Peter’s 401 (k) was invested in his company’s stock, which took a big hit when the economy soured. Peter is the more practical of the two. Carol is the emotional glue for her marriage and her extended family. To their credit, they have developed these tendencies into complementary strengths, which came in very handy in the recent circumstances. Peter, at first, assumed that he would continue working another five year; but he listened effectively as Carol talked about the pull of home town and family. Carol, for her part, allowed Peter to lay out the financial realities confronting them. Brainstorming their options, they came up with the idea to consult with a financial advisor. He was able to show them how they could, with reasonable adjustments to their annual income expectations, go ahead with plans for retirement. Family is a very important value to them, and they included their adult children in the decision-making process because they knew their decision had implications for how much they would be able to leave behind at their death. Peter and Carol have recently completed their move back to their home town, and both are working part time in their fields of expertise, thus reducing the amount they are withdrawing annually from their accumulated assets. More importantly, they are enjoying a closer connection with family and friends and modeling a marriage that others recognize as exceptional.

Story #2: Mark and Stacy, 56 and 51 respectively, were doing extremely well financially until the bottom fell out of the oil and gas industry in the last quarter of 2008/first quarter of 2009. Owners of a business in this field, they suddenly found income streams drying up. Though it wasn’t easy, given the lifestyle they had come to enjoy, they decided together to sell their primary home in a southern city and downsize into something more practical. They also sold their second home in the mountains of Colorado, as well as a good number of “playthings” (including a corporate jet). Given that Stacy was actually spending a good part of the year at the Colorado home, the unexpected upside to this decision is that Mark and Stacy are now spending much more time together, and Mark has commented on how much emotional support Stacy provides with her positive attitude, her listening ear, and her willingness to do whatever it takes to keep them afloat financially until things turn around. Two of their three young adult kids have felt the effects of the decisions they made together. They’re actually taking out student loans to complete their college education.

Story #3: Rhonda and Zack allowed themselves to get into some financial difficulty even before the economy soured. Neither of them was particularly good with money, abusing their credit cards, building more house than they could afford, and ending up more than $40,000 in debt. With one child in college and two in high school, they could see increased financial stress on the horizon. In the spring of 2008, they took steps to put their financial house in order, under the discipline of a financial counselor. Unfortunately, their plans included downsizing, but the value of their house in the current market would likely leave them without equity. They have had to put these plans on hold. Their collaborative decision-making led them to reach out to family and some very special friends in their church for what, in essence, is a set of no-interest loans (one year in length). They realize they’re not out of the woods, but they are learning to live within their means, and they are now talking more honestly and effectively about their budget and expenses.

Story #4: One couple we have come to know has actually found the silver lining in present economic circumstances. Micki and Craig live in a city on the west coast. Newlyweds in their early 30’s, they had felt like home purchase was out of their reach. Even with their combined income, they couldn’t afford the mortgage on a decent house, and they didn’t want to throw all of their savings into a down payment. To their credit, they are both conscientious savers, and they are also opportunistic. With house prices dropping in their market and special incentives for first-time buyers, they were able to get pre-approved for a housing loan that puts home ownership within their reach. They are currently looking. What’s most impressive is the way they have worked together through the whole process. They have talked through the practical and emotional issues. They have consoled one another through disillusionment and disappointment. They have established agreed-upon limits to what they are willing to pay. They have collaborated on issues related to their short-term situation and their long-term interests.

What’s your story?

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Also read Marriage and Money: Relationship Perspective