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Wilburn: Keep financial, marital stress in check
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Lately there's been a lot of tension between my husband and me about our finances. How can we get past this?

Even in the best of economic times, it is not unusual for couples to experience stress over financial issues. In fact, research indicates that money worries are the No. 1 cause of disputes for couples, even if they don't realize it.

In the February 2009 edition of the journal Family Relations, a study found that when couples were asked what they thought were their biggest sources of conflict, money did not make the top of the list. But when the couples were observed working through different conflicts, those involving money were often more emotional, tended to last longer and were more likely to remain unresolved than conflicts that were not related to finances.

When times are tough, this kind of stress is likely even more common.

Whether couples are facing stark financial choices because of changing or uncertain finances or are simply reacting negatively to the general economic conditions, there are a few recommendations experts offer for keeping your relationship on an even keel.

Here are some of those recommendations, from the Eat, Save and Be Healthy blog from the Ohio State University Extension and from the Financial Crisis and Families page on extension.org, the national online resource from land-grant universities across the United States:

  • If you're facing tough times, you need to lean on each other more than usual; keep that in mind. Talk to each other respectfully and listen to each other's concerns.
  • Refrain from placing blame on each other. Rather, focus on how to resolve and work through problems together.
  • If you find things getting heated, take a break to cool off. Go for a walk or find another way to separate for a little while to calm down. But come back to resolve the issue; don't let the issue stay unresolved.
  • Don't bring up past issues. That's not a productive way to solve a problem and only serves to hurt the current discussion.
  • A budget or financial action plan is always good to have. If you don't already have one, sit down together to develop it, with both of you offering input. Be aware, though — just looking at family financial information in black and white for the first time can be stressful. Remember that you're both on the same side: The goal is to take control of the finances and be sure you're both comfortable with your saving and spending goals.
  • Set aside a regular time for family meetings to share information and concerns. Make sure that finances are not the only topic of discussion and consider ending the meeting with a special family activity or treat.
  • Spend family time. It doesn't have to cost money. Children feel a sense of stability and normalcy when engaging in enjoyable activities with their family. Go bike riding, play cards or board games, do sports, cook and bake together, eat your meals as a family (not around the television).

Resolving money issues is never easy. But working through these hard issues with patience and compassion could actually help strengthen your relationship in the end.

Adapted from: Human Development and Family Science for Ohio State University Extension.

Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Her Family Ties column runs in Sunday Life on the first Sunday of each month. Contact: 770-535-8290.

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