Your Mental Health during COVID-19

The restrictions that have been imposed due to the pandemic have had a dramatic effect on overall mental health, according to a Gallup poll taken in November 2020. Although the majority of adults in America currently rate their mental health as excellent or good (76%), that represents a 9 point drop over 2019 and a corresponding sharp increase in negative ratings. As a counselor, I don’t need a Gallup poll to tell me people are experiencing a decline in mental and emotional health because of the pandemic and the restrictions imposed to contain the spread. 

Now enter the second wave of COVID-19. Some states are implementing shutdowns again, which could cause continued deterioration in the mental health of both children and adults in America. If you’ve been feeling negative emotional consequences of the pandemic, you are going to have to be extra vigilant and make a strong, intentional effort to take steps to keep yourself in a positive mental state. 

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Be very intentional about maintaining basic habits that have a significant impact on your mental health. These include eating healthy foods on a regular basis, getting sufficient sleep, and exercising. When you are feeling low or experiencing anxiety or depression, it can be difficult to motivate yourself to maintain basic healthy habits. If you’re experiencing this scenario, find a “basics buddy” to whom you can be accountable. Your buddy might also need help to keep up healthy habits, so it could really be good for both of you.

 Find more ways to connect

Maybe you were ok not seeing people for a couple of months during the initial restrictions. But if you keep it up for too long, you may find such isolation adversely affecting your relationships and your emotional and mental health. Now is the time to look into participating in online book clubs, setting up chat groups with friends, and planning regular, scheduled “visits” with family members utilizing one of the many video conferencing platforms available. 

Research new financial streams

If your income has been impacted, don’t allow yourself to give up or sit around the house. Do some research to look into side gigs that would work in this new economy. You might be surprised at the many ways you can make money! 

You can sell things on eBay or Craig’s List, look into being a distributor for a product you really love, or begin a hobby creating products you can sell, like homemade soaps. Try freelancing or consulting. Publish an ebook. Get paid to take surveys or do user tests. 

Just the act of discovering the many income options available can give you a sense of hope that things may turn out all right. By finding what works for you and starting to earn your own little side income, you could be building something that will be a source of relief. 

Get help

There’s no doubt that the longer the shutdown lasts, the more difficult it will be to maintain long-term emotional and mental health. If you are trying to implement these steps and it just isn’t giving you enough relief, do not hesitate to get help from a licensed mental health expert. Find someone in your area, or feel free to call me today to see how I can help. 

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Strengthening Your Marriage During the Pandemic

Proximity does not automatically equal connection. During the pandemic, you and your spouse may be spending many more hours together in the same location, but that doesn’t mean you’re connecting better – in fact, you may be having a harder time. Or if one or both of you are essential workers, you may not be “stuck” together all the time as many married couples are, but you may have additional stress from being out and about during the pandemic, probably working harder than usual and possibly being in greater risk of catching COVID-19.

These are the times that can try a marriage, but you can use this time to strengthen your marriage instead if you take proactive steps.

Have an attitude of gratitude. You will hear this advice in virtually every self-help or mental health recommendation, and for good reason – it works. A positive, thankful attitude colors the way you react to all the experiences of life. During this time of pandemic, when it’s so easy to focus on what we don’t have right now, focus on what you do have instead.

Affirm your spouse daily. This is connected to a spirit of gratitude and positivity. While your spouse may have some annoying traits, recognize that he or she is not perfect and doesn’t have to be. Your spouse is his or her own person, as are you. You don’t want your spouse to try to mold you into the “perfect” person either. So take time to focus on your life partner’s positive traits and affirm them every day. Certainly, thank your spouse for kind acts (“Thanks so much for cleaning up that spill before someone slipped”) but also affirm qualities (“You always seem to notice what other people need before they ask. That’s a wonderful trait.”)

When you verbalize a person’s good points, not only does it make the other person feel appreciated, it makes you actually appreciate the person more. This strengthens your relationship against many stressors and creates an atmosphere in which you can, when necessary, discuss areas of your marriage that need improvement without damaging your bond.

Show mutual respect. With all the stress we’re under, either from being cooped up at home or being an essential worker, there is bound to be an increase of annoyances. If you are regularly affirming your spouse, you should be in a good place to be able to address important issues lovingly and respectfully without hurt feelings. If necessary, you can come up with a “code phrase” that evokes a sense of playful love as a precursor to the discussion. It could be a line from a movie you both know (“What we have here is a failure to communicate!”) that signals you need to talk. Admit candidly to each other that the other person might not want to hear what has to be said right now, but agree to disarm or drop barriers so that you can both discuss the issue civilly and peacefully and allow time to internalize.

Hug, kiss, and spend time together. Oxytocin is one of those hormones released from the brain that creates good feelings. This hormone is released in long embraces of 20 seconds or more and in kisses of 3 seconds or more. I recommend hugging and kissing like this at least twice a day, creating a physical and hormonal bond between you.

Still keep up your “date night,” or start one if you haven’t been in the habit. You don’t have to go out, just spend time together, away from the children, work, and chores. This can also include picking up a hobby together, like bicycling, puzzle-building, or origami. Whatever it is, let it include exercise and/or discussion, not sitting in front of the TV or video screen together. Though the occasional movie night can be fun, it doesn’t foster as much communication and bonding. 

These pieces of advice apply to marriage at any time, but during the pandemic, sensitivity, respect, communication, and spending time together are critically important. Contact me if you find your marriage needs some help from a marriage counselor to make it through these tough times.

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Creativity – Could It Be the Answer to Curbing Stress?

Most of us deal with stress at various times in our lives. Currently, while our world still struggles against the COVID-19 pandemic, that stress and anxiety is heightened in many people. However, research shows that creativity may be an important key to reducing stress and anxiety and living longer, healthier lives.

The Science of Creativity

In a recent study carried out by the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, researchers gave healthy adults some basic art supplies to use for 45 minutes. The study found that 75% of the participants experienced a drop in their cortisol level, which is the hormone the body secretes in response to stress. 

A study done by Johns Hopkins on jazz musicians found that as the musicians improvised, the frontal area of the brain used for deliberation, self-monitoring, or test-taking decreased in activity. This suggests the “turning off” of more conscious thought, freeing more experiential and emotional parts of the brain to express themselves. 

Another study followed 1,000 elderly men over nearly 20 years and found that the more creative men lived longer, healthier lives. 

Reducing Your Stress Levels

All this science just demonstrates what we counselors have known all along – that focusing on a creative pursuit helps the mind to slow down, be in the present moment, be diverted from that which is causing stress or anxiety, and ultimately, feel more peaceful. 

Creativity engages the imagination, which frees us of the taskmaster of the prefrontal cortex – as the jazz musicians taught us – while still providing enough framework for being constructive and productive. When you’re really, deeply focused on your task, you can reach a state called “flow,” technically defined as an “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.” When you’re in this state, you may lose track of time, not notice anything else that’s going on, and “forget yourself.”

The wonderful thing about creative pursuits is that they release massive amounts of pleasure-inducing, performance-inducing chemicals in the brain: dopamine, endorphins, serotonin, and more. All these help to improve our mood, thus decreasing stress and anxiety. These “happy hormones” really flood the system when you reach the state of flow and often last for days afterward. 

The key to applying the benefits of creativity to your life is to determine what you actually like to do that can distract you from your stressors and give you the opportunity to escape into a world of creation and expression. Any creative endeavor will do, really. Try a couple of things and find what works best for you. 

If the idea of a blank piece of paper and crayons causes you to panic because you “don’t know what to draw,” try adult coloring books. They are a great springboard for releasing your inner artist. Perhaps you have musical skills. Have you ever tried composing? What about creative writing? Maybe try poetry or short stories. Creative cooking, creative dance, photography – there are many avenues you can try.

Remember, the goal is to find a creative pursuit that takes your mind off what is causing you anxiety and onto the creation of something new and beautiful. Find what moves you, what lifts your spirits, and dive in.

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Politics and Your Marriage

Every couple has differences. You’re two different people with different backgrounds, different experiences, and different triggers. Some differences are inconsequential and easily overlooked, but when they are connected with deeply held beliefs and core values, as is usually the case with politics, religion, and child-rearing, much sensitivity and compassion are required to ensure peaceful coexistence. 

Of the three issues, politics may be the easiest to tackle. But that doesn’t mean it will be easy. When you and your spouse disagree on politics, you may feel threatened, as if your concept of right and wrong is being challenged. When dealing with political differences, the most important qualities that must be in play are the sincere desire to treat your spouse with respect, to understand each other, and to find common ground – or at least declare a ceasefire. You don’t have to agree on everything, and that’s ok. 

When working through your differences, try these strategies:

  • Choose love and respect. See the differences as an opportunity to get to know each other better, to understand each other better, and to grow closer by it. Attitude is just about the most important aspect of mental health and relationship health. A positive, respectful, mutually supportive attitude can carry a couple through almost any hardship in life. And there will be hardships, so consider working through this issue as practice for the big stuff that may come.
  • Discuss and listen. Approach differences with curiosity. Be interested in why your spouse has these views and discover the key issues that motivate that decision, then compare them to the key issues that motivate you. Just seeing that you’re focusing on different things might be enough to explain your differences. You might agree that, yes, Candidate A might do a better job on this issue, but Candidate B might do a better job on that issue. Recognizing the strengths each candidate has can help you both feel validated as you recognize that based on your key issues, each has a valid point.
  • Consider triggers. The person you support might remind your spouse of someone he or she was hurt by – an authoritarian parent or a bad boss, perhaps. It’s hard sometimes to separate our emotions from our judgments.
  • Your trigger might not be the person but rather an issue that upsets you in an unhealthy manner. If you feel you’re getting angry or emotionally upset, take deep breaths or take a break. Watch for this in your spouse as well, and take a break if necessary. If one issue is particularly painful, you may have to agree not to discuss that issue.
  • Look at yourself and ask, “How would I feel if my spouse said that to me?” Ask yourself if you are following the golden rule in your political discussions – do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
  • If all else fails, ban the subject until after the election. This also means not watching or reading political information in each other’s presence. This way you avoid overhearing what is going on and seeing each other’s reactions. When the election is over, no gloating if your candidate won; no sulking if your candidate lost; and no saying “I told you so.” The goal is to keep the peace.

If you’re having political differences in your relationship, maybe have your spouse read this article so you’re both following the same game plan. As an added bonus, the principles used to overcome or at least live in harmony with political differences can also be applied to other sensitive issues like religion and child-rearing. These have their own unique difficulties, but they, too, can be resolved amicably, when the couple is committed to each other.

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Bored and Stuck at Home? Ideas for Your Mental and Emotional Health

Life isn’t returning to normal very quickly in various parts of the country, including here in NYC. People living in urban areas, in particular, tend to be accustomed to having lots of exciting activities to engage in outside of their homes, but that’s not possible right now. Playhouses, movie theaters, and professional sports venues are mostly closed; gyms, too, are closed or considerably restricted; restaurants may allow outdoor seating with limited capacity, but as it gets colder, fewer people will want to eat al fresco. Face-to-face book clubs, sports clubs, and other group activities aren’t happening. So what can you do to get out of the house, stay active, and maintain your mental and emotional health? 

Hobbies and Pastimes for Mental and Emotional Health in COVID-19 Times

Yes, time spent watching TV or surfing the web has increased dramatically in the last few months, but I don’t recommend these as particularly good for mental health. There’s so much on mass media that can drag one down, and it does not generally engage the brain or the body. These are two important factors for mental health – engaging the brain and the body. Many people are picking up new hobbies that address both of these important factors. 

Exercise comes in many forms: working out with a work-out video or channel, doing yoga, taking walks in the park or walking the dog, and bicycling are excellent options. Science has clearly proven that exercise does wonders for emotional well-being. Getting out of the house, soaking up vitamin D from the sun, and breathing in fresh air are very good for your physical health, in addition to the benefits to your muscles from the exercise. 

Other activities that engage the brain include word puzzles, reading, writing a book or poetry, learning a new language, and learning an instrument. Hobbies like knitting, crocheting, and other crafts can be fun and relaxing, as are gardening and baking, which may exercise new muscles or new areas of the brain as you work to master any of these activities.

I recommend you pick up an activity or two in both categories so that you exercise both your body and your mind. 

If you are partnered, married or have children, I recommend you also come up with some fun things you can do with your family. Board games, picnics, creating your own family reading and discussion group, playing Frisbee or some other simple sport as a family – all these will add the dimension of strengthening family bonds.

Other Benefits

Hobbies and pastimes do more for you than just keep your brain and body from turning to mush. They make you a more well-rounded person and add new layers to your personality and your own self-identity. They can expand your circle of friends and connections. The skills you learn, along with the exercise to your brain, may help you in your career path and develop motivation and creativity. When we’re stuck at home with limited activities, these activities can help you structure your time, decrease boredom, and give you something to look forward to after a tough day.

As I have encouraged my clients as well as readers of my blog articles, it’s very important to develop a mindset of finding the best in every situation. Though the shutdowns have been painful in many ways, we don’t have to be victims. Take the time to develop some new interests or pick up old interests and nurture your relationships. You might find that these times have hidden blessings!

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Exhaustion of Infertility

If you’re struggling with the issue of infertility, you know how emotionally exhausting it can be. Pressures can come from within and without, often from people who love you the most and who mean well. It’s critical for you to guard your mental health in order to guard your physical health and increase the possibility of healing infertility.

Exterior pressures

The medical interventions available to help couples overcome fertility issues run a broad range of levels, from following simple medical recommendations to pharmaceuticals and surgery. Some protocols can feel invasive and demeaning, or may eliminate the spontaneity and joy that should accompany love-making.

Having to be constantly vigilant and aware of your body in order to follow medical advice can create a sense of stress, always being in the “fight or flight” mode. If you’re taking medications, some of them also affect mood. Being aware of these side effects may help you remain calmer. When you can say to yourself, “These feelings are just caused by the medication” or “These feelings are just caused by the heightened awareness I’m in right now” you may be able to step outside of your feelings and realize they are not really “you.” 

Other exterior pressures can come from friends and family, who often are trying to be helpful, but other times may be downright rude. Asking “Are you pregnant yet?” is insensitive. In these situations, if you can do so calmly, try to let the person know how you feel. If the person is a friend, he or she will understand and be more sensitive in the future. If not, it might be best to try to avoid that person. You need to surround yourself with supporters, not detractors. 

Other times loved ones may offer a suggestion they read about that helps infertility. This is intended as a kindness. I have had clients who really appreciate these suggestions, but others who feel additional pressure from them. Whichever your response, I encourage you to keep in mind the person’s good intentions and try to discuss as needed so the suggestions are truly helpful, not adding to your anxiety. 

Interior pressures

No matter who we are, we need to be aware of our own self-talk and adjust it to be self-supportive, not self-defeating. This is especially true for those dealing with infertility. Feeling worthless or undeserving, blaming yourself for some past behavior that you perceive may have caused the fertility problems, and experiencing jealousy or sorrow upon seeing couples with children are all common reactions but they are also unhealthy. It’s critical that you learn ways to turn these thoughts around so they do not drag you down. 

We can also sometimes transfer our own emotions to others. In doing so, you are amplifying your own negative feelings by applying them to someone else. For example, you may feel terrible about disappointing your spouse. While your spouse may indeed be disappointed, your own disappointment may be amplifying your perception. Your spouse loves you and therefore is probably more concerned about you than you realize. 

If you are dealing with these kinds of emotionally exhausting and unhealthy thought patterns and are unable to find ways to control and redirect your thoughts, please reach out for help. It’s important to have a strong bond of communication with your spouse, but you may also want to find an infertility support group or a counselor who specializes in helping couples struggling with infertility. Reach out to me if you are in the NYC area to see how I can help you.

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Centering When You Feel Anxious

There are many techniques to help you calm down when you feel your anxiety level rising. Almost all of them include deep breathing. This is something most people don’t know how to do, so before I suggest some anxiety-busting techniques, let’s review breathing. 

How to breathe deeply

Unless you’ve been trained as a singer or you play an instrument like the trumpet, you may not know about breathing from the diaphragm. Most of us breathe fairly shallowly throughout the day, and when we get anxious, our breaths become even shorter and shallower. This is why paying attention to your breathing is a part of almost every centering or relaxation technique. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose
  • Let your breath expand your ribcage and your abdomen. If your shoulders are rising but your belly is not, you probably aren’t breathing deeply. Your shoulders and upper rib cage should stay put. Let the lower part of your ribcage and abdomen expand. It may not look attractive to you to see your belly stick out while breathing in, but that’s what you want.
  • Placing one hand on your chest and one hand on your abdomen can help you judge that you are breathing correctly.
  • When you can’t breathe in anymore, slowly exhale from your mouth (or nose, if you prefer) 

Deep breathing brings more oxygen to the brain and muscles, slows the heart rate, relaxes muscles, and improves clear thinking. 

Centering techniques

Below are a few choices of centering techniques, which are best combined with deep breathing. You can stop anxiety in its tracks when you find a couple of techniques that really work for you. 

5-4-3-2-1 method: Close your eyes briefly while breathing deeply, then open your eyes and name 5 things you see, then 4 things you feel, then 3 things you hear, then 2 things you smell, then 1 thing you taste (maybe keep something yummy handy so you taste something other than your own mouth). Take your time and enjoy this process. 

A simpler counting method: A simpler method is just to name, out loud, 3 things you can see, 3 sounds you can hear, etc., until you’ve interrupted your anxious thoughts and begun to calm down. (Remember to breathe deeply!)

Count backward out loud: To stop your brain from racing, sometimes just counting out loud backward from 5 or 10 can help. Counting backward takes a little thought, but not too much stress, and saying it out loud distracts your senses. If you need a greater distraction, try counting backward by 7s starting at 100. That takes more concentration and helps many people calm racing thoughts. 

Talk honestly but positively to yourself: Again out loud, offer yourself simple, positive affirmations: “I’m having feelings I don’t like right now, but they are beginning to disappear as I relax and I will be fine.” “I know I’m feeling worried, but things usually turn out fine, so I’m not going to worry about this.” “Yes, this is upsetting, but I am not helpless.” Recognize your feelings but affirm, out loud, that you are not helpless. They are just emotions. Though they feel like they control you when they’re happening, you have the will to overcome them. 

Relax and focus: Sit in a comfortable chair in a comfortable environment. Focus on what you are feeling physically. Feel the chair or the floor. Rub the fabric with your hands and pay attention to it. Think about your senses, not other thoughts. Then imagine your stress, like water, draining out of you from your head and out through your toes. 

Get your adrenaline pumping:  An alternative to relaxing is to get your blood pumping! Exercise is one of the very best methods to decrease anxiety and worry. If you can add a favorite person or a pet to your exercise, so much the better. Walking a dog gets you out in the fresh air getting exercise with a four-legged friend who loves you. 

Sometimes you need more help

Find which of these techniques work best for you. There are many others, as well, so don’t give up hope; you can find peace. But if the various techniques don’t help you enough and you continue to have problems with excessive anxiety, don’t suffer alone. Find a helpful friend, support group, or professional counselor or psychologist trained in helping people with anxiety. If you are in the NYC area, reach out to me to see what I can do to help you overcome anxiety in your life.

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Range of Emotions in Dealing with Infertility

Infertility is for most couples an emotional roller coaster. Each month, or after each infertility treatment, there is some hope that this time they will conceive, often to be disappointed once again. Many couples who struggle with infertility do, eventually, conceive and have a healthy child, but the process causes much emotional upheaval, which should not be ignored if the couple is to be healthy and strong for the new baby – or to remain strong together even if no baby ultimately arrives.

Although the general perception of infertility is that it is usually an inadequacy in the woman’s body, the cause of infertility is actually quite evenly split between the man, the woman, a combination of the two, or unknown causes. Both men and women experience emotional stress from infertility, though in different ways or in differing degrees. Some common feelings include feeling inadequate because you can’t conceive; feeling guilty because you can’t give your spouse a child; depression or anxiety; even anger at your spouse if it is his or her physical problem causing the infertility.

Couples struggling with infertility often compare themselves with couples who have children. It’s hard not to. But this can accentuate feelings of loss and even cause envy, damaging relationships with those who have children. Couples can even feel judged by society, believing that people think they’re selfish for not having children or inadequate for not being able to.

Feelings of rejection are common: rejected by God, rejected by your spouse, rejected by your family or community because you can’t have a baby. You may wonder if you don’t deserve a child, if you’re somehow unworthy, or you may blame some past behavior for your fertility issues. This blame game can be very toxic and harmful to oneself and loved ones.

You may be mad at or even hate your body, or begin to feel like you’re chronically “ill” because you spend so much time at fertility treatments or thinking about your body’s functions. Medication side effects can affect your mental health – anxiety, sleep problems, mood swings, depression, and thinking problems are common. Treatment failure may renew your feelings of grief and failure. Infertility treatments are expensive, which may cause financial stress, leading to emotional or marital stress as well. At some point, one spouse may be ready to stop trying while the other wants to continue, thus compounding the problem.

If infertility causes marital stress, you might believe that everything will be all right if you just have a child. This is not always the case in that the emotional stress couples endure throughout fertility treatment and pregnancy can be carried over into parenthood. It is imperative to find ways to heal and strengthen your relationship, with or without a child.

A counselor who has expertise in assisting couples with infertility is your partner in helping you learn how to cope with fertility-related stress. Stress caused by infertility is different from many other causes and should be addressed with a somewhat different approach. The key factors in helping couples include, among others, developing a sense of optimism, feelings of control over their bodies and their environment, and a broader outlook on life and relationships. Find a marriage counselor who has experience with fertility issues. If you are in the New York City area, contact me to see how I can help you.

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When It May Be Time to Leave Your Marriage

The decision to leave a marriage is always a difficult one and should never be taken lightly. As a marriage counselor, I have seen many marriages healed that seemed on the verge of ruin. Sadly, though, some marriages cannot be saved. I have found several situations that tend to be the most difficult to overcome. 

Serial cheating: One act of infidelity can be devastating to the spouse who was betrayed, but when couples come to me after infidelity, the one who stepped outside the marriage is sometimes quite remorseful and wants to change. If the spouse who was betrayed can forgive and learn to trust again, the marriage can flourish. But when a spouse does not take his or her commitment to the other spouse seriously and has no intention of remaining faithful, or if a spouse repeatedly falls into infidelity even after promising to stop, this may be a sign that the marriage cannot be saved. 

Cut-throat relationship: When a couple is always at each other’s throats, it can be very difficult to teach them both how to communicate and disagree in a thoughtful, caring, considerate, and respectful manner. Often, this kind of behavior is a source of anxiety or depression for one or both spouses. If this is not corrected, there can be serious mental health consequences, not just for them but for any children they may have. 

Financial ruin caused by the reckless behavior of one spouse: There are incidences when one spouse spends indiscriminately, gambles excessively, or repeatedly leads the family into bankruptcy with failed business endeavors. If that spouse cannot develop restraint and put the financial needs of the family first, then divorce may be necessary in order to keep the family out of poverty. 

Abuse: If one spouse is physically abusing the other spouse or the children, it is critical to get out of the dangerous situation immediately. Emotional abuse and manipulation may have a degree of subjectivity – people have differing degrees of tolerance – but no one deserves to be controlled, belittled, or insulted on a regular basis.

One spouse simply does not want to try: Whatever problems a couple may be having, if both want to fix the marriage, chances are good that it can be repaired and love restored. However, if one spouse simply does not care, does not want to try, or blames the other spouse for all the problems, there is not much that can be done. The spouse who wants to work on the marriage may want to get personal counseling in order to judge clearly what would be the best next step to take.

 As a counselor, it is not my place to recommend divorce to my clients. That is a decision they must come to on their own, though I always encourage couples to try counseling first and to consider divorce only as a last resort—except in the case of physical abuse, in which case one should immediately get to safety. 

Balance the degree of marital dysfunction against the amount of upheaval divorce would cause and the degree of healing that is possible. Then come to the decision that is right for you.

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Finances: The Hot Button for Couples and What You Can Do About It

Money is one of the leading causes of stress and conflict in a marriage. Entering into a marriage with debt and a lack of complete honesty about money are two factors that cause stress. Blending families can add additional financial pressures, such as child support payments. But one of the most important factors in money conflict, I have found, is differing “money personalities.”

People’s attitudes towards money are strongly affected by their personalities and their experiences. Often, the way a person’s parents dealt with money will frame that person’s response to money as an adult. There are a variety of ways to define money personalities, such as spenders, savers, those who see money as a status symbol, those who see it as a means of security, and those who see it as a means to help others. All of these personality types have positive and negative sides, and most people straddle different styles. The challenge for a married couple is for each of you to understand your relationships with money, then determine how those can be blended for a healthy shared view of money. 

Strategies for overcoming money differences

Sit down together and lay everything out on the table – figuratively and literally. You’ll need to discuss your emotional response to money and be ready with details of your income, expenses, and debts. 

First, have a little fun with finding out your money styles. There are lots of different “money quizzes” online, but remember that they tend to have an “all or nothing” approach – you’re either this or that, when in fact, most of us are a blend of types. Take the quizzes with a grain of salt and let them be a chance to laugh together and a springboard for deeper discussion. 

It’s important to treat each other with respect as you go through this process. Some of the reasons for our money usages can actually be very sensitive. For instance, if a man grew up with parents who were constantly worrying about money and never seemed to have enough, he may demonstrate an intense need to save, even when he has plenty of money, because of the fear and insecurity he learned as a child. On the other hand, he might become a spender, not wanting to experience that sense of deprivation ever again. 

Once you both understand each other better, you can look at your finances. A healthy corporation will not remain a healthy corporation for long without clear financial statements, financial goals, and financial budgets. Neither will a marriage. Sit down at least yearly to discuss your goals for the short-term, mid-term, and long-term. When you know your big picture plans, you can make a budget, occasionally reviewing it for accuracy. Include saving for the future, but also include some “fun money” in the budget. 

Lay some ground rules. Decide what expenditures should be discussed before they occur and which ones can be made without discussion. If one of you is more of a spender than the other, try to find a happy medium. You may also consider a separate “fun money” budget for each of you. But it’s important to stay within the allotted amount and not go over it without first discussing it with your spouse.

If you and your spouse have very opposing styles – for instance, one’s a saver and one’s a spender – you will have to work very hard to develop a plan for financial harmony. However, most couples should be able to find a happy medium. Some even gradually redirect a money style. A husband who saves because of childhood poverty could be encouraged to turn his experiences into a combination of developing good saving strategies while also budgeting an allowance to help others in poverty. 

Get help working through your budget – and your marriage

If you’re having trouble working through the process, don’t hesitate to get help. Some of you might benefit from the help of a financial planner. Other couples might benefit from the guidance of a religious leader or a support group. Others may find their marriage needs the help of a counselor. Whatever you need, reach out for support to eliminate money as a source of friction in your marriage.

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