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Can Money Undo Your Marriage?

Whoever thought money would be the great equalizer? Has anyone else noticed that the most popular e-word of late—the economy—is changing not just your grocery budget, but your relationship with your partner?

One of the biggest surprises the “e-conomy” has uncovered is my relationship with my husband. Our lower bank balances and fiscal challenges have lain bare: 1. the ways our individual money dynamics overlap, and 2. the relationship dynamics that money has covered up.

For us, having money and spending it on travel, food, and entertainment was a way for us to connect. After the dust of the recession settled, we started looking at how we spent less and less time with each other. Without employing the spending habits, we had developed—going out to eat, taking trips, entertaining friends—we discovered we had less in common.

Facing the Spending Hangover

We had plenty in common before. But we began to notice that our things in common were more about what we were spending together than what we were doing together. We used money as a way to meet each other. Shopping together. Weekend trips together. It’s hard not to love the person you’re with when you’re at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa.

To me, along with every other challenge the recession has posed, it has offered a continued practice of ruthless honesty and recalibration. Together we have been asking deep questions: What do I like about you? What do you like about me? What are ways we overlap? And don’t? How have we bridged it in the past? Or not. How do we bridge it now?

Don’t Be Frugal with Your Efforts

If you’re facing this inquiry, too, and hoping your relationship will survive the transition, take the following suggestions to heart. If you have some of your own, write them in the comments.

1. Write down the things each of you loves to do. See where you intersect.

2. Then, write down the things you and your partner genuinely love to do together that don’t cost money. Not activities that are inexpensive, but the ones that cost no money.

3. Find a terrific counselor or relationship group that can give you ideas to recalibrate your partnership to your new personal economy.

4. Keep the conversation going. Remember that money has profound effects on a relationship. Be willing to learn from them as your relationship evolves.

5. Be open to new ways of connecting that previously were hidden by financial convenience.

Less Money, More Value?

The inquiry is about where relationships meet money. How have we been living our lives through money? What choices have we made that don’t represent who we are at core? For my husband and I, getting to know each other in this raw and newly rooted way has been a surprising and fascinating journey.

For many people going through major relationship shifts and changes, money has represented access to what we think is important. Whatever it is that you’ve wanted to be or do, money is usually a vehicle to expedite it. Now that money is less available, ask yourself, what is the focus? Who am I in relationship with less money? What do I value?