- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 15, 2009

National research indicates money is not the deal maker when it comes to getting married, but it often is the deal breaker for when a marriage ends.

So if people were arguing over money before the economy started tanking, I bet things are even more tense now.

In a recent conversation with professor Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist who teaches psychology and business at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, she agreed that these are tense and complicated times, but there might be a silver lining.

“I encourage people to be as positive as possible,” Ms. Yarrow said. “There is no question that many people are experiencing genuine hardship and trauma and are making some serious lifestyle adjustments. However, on the positive side of things, we are seeing a shift away from materialism toward values.”

Ms. Yarrow believes more people are rethinking how they define wealth.

“People are exploring where their riches come from and are finding that what really makes their life rich is relationships,” she said. “If you have people in your life that love you and you have people to love, your life is rich. All of the rest of the stuff is great, but it is gravy.”

If money is causing friction in your marriage, consider these suggestions for recession-proofing your marriage, drawn from a recent “Good Morning America” interview featuring Ms. Yarrow.

• Expand your meaning of wealth. A definition of “wealth” and “security” should include all of life’s riches — good health, hobbies, pets, friendships and, most important, spouse and family. In the midst of difficult circumstances, it helps to be intentional about focusing on what you have instead of what you don’t have or have lost.

• Consider new roles. Flexibility in the face of change is the best defense. We often enter into marriage with certain expectations about who should play what role. Now might be a good time to consider expanding those expectations to meet new economic realities. For example, if a husband always has been the breadwinner, but loses his job and the wife, who has been at home, has a skill set that will allow her to find work quickly, switching roles could be a good thing.

Putting your thoughts and feelings on the table concerning this issue can help prevent tension in your relationship. While change may be necessary at the moment, it doesn’t have to be permanent.

• Create a routine. In times of uncertainty, it helps to create as much predictability in your life as you can. Set up weekly budget meetings to include not only talking about finances, but also the best ways to handle anxiety, feelings and your marriage. Don’t forget to schedule weekly meetings specifically for romance to keep the emotional aspects of your relationship strong.

• Mind the gap. Stress and anxiety deplete emotional resources. Everyone has a little less resilience right now and everyone needs a little more support. That “gap” can create misunderstandings that can mushroom into real conflicts. Don’t jump to conclusions. Focus more on your spouse and less on yourself.

• Do the doable. Focus on what you can do and avoid panic around what you can’t. Remember, fear is just a warning bell — worrying does not solve problems; it short-circuits rational thinking. Be mindful and stay in the present. Reach out for help and also help others — it’s empowering. Having an attitude of gratitude and humbleness makes you appreciative rather than feeling angry.

Julie Baumgardner is the executive director of First Things First, an organization dedicated to strengthening marriages and families through education, collaboration and mobilization. She can be reached at julieb@firstthings.org.

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