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Answered By:


Sheryl A. Kingsberg, PhD

Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor Departments of Reproductive Biology and Psychiatry Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine Cleveland, OH

Q:

I'm having trouble making ends meet. With the holidays coming up, it seems like all my partner and I talk about is money. Our sex life is nonexistent. I really want to reconnect, de-stress and forget about all this money stuff. Any advice?

A: 

Given the economy these days, you can bet that you're not alone with your financial troubles. Many families are suffering. And you're right—the upcoming holidays just add more stress to an already difficult time.

Economic issues are one of the "hot" buttons when it comes to marital stress. Numerous studies show that hard times can increase the risk of divorce as well as physical abuse and child neglect. One interesting study of about 80 couples found men were more hostile toward their wives when they were under economic strain and less likely to be warm and supportive. Not surprisingly, this made women less satisfied with the marriage. In other words, one reason you're feeling so disconnected from your husband could be because he's disconnected from you and isn't treating you with the support and warmth you need to feel loving. Furthermore, stress can decrease sexual desire in both men and women.

To reconnect emotionally and sexually, it is important to consciously recognize that both of you have been struggling to cope with the stress of finances. This creates a bond between the two of you and allows you to team up—"us against the world" instead of you against your partner.

Then you can purposely plan activities that are distracting and inexpensive and remind you of happier, more carefree times. What activities did you enjoy together? For instance, if you both loved biking, then take an afternoon bike ride. Don't have bikes? Borrow them from a neighbor or check craigslist.com for free bikes. Other suggestions for low-cost reconnecting:

  • Instead of expensive dinners out, pack a picnic dinner and a cheap bottle of wine and dine al fresco in the park or even the backyard. If you are in a cold-weather climate, light a romantic fire or cuddle under a blanket watching an old favorite movie.
  • Take a walk every night after dinner.
  • Designate one day a week in which you both agree to not talk about financial issues at all.
  • Focus on your goals rather than your checkbook. Talk with each other about your near- and long-term goals for your family. Identify five goals you both agree on and discuss what it will take to get there.
  • Discuss the holidays and where you can save money. For instance:
    • Agree to make gifts for each other and family members or to give the gift of time instead of “stuff.”
    • If you typically host the big holiday dinner and still want to do it, offer to fix the main dish (turkey, ham, etc.) but ask everyone to bring a side dish or dessert.
    • If you have children, try to keep their expectations in check. Most children older than 3 can understand at some level the concept of money and moderation.

Finally, I urge you to talk with a counselor before things get too bad in your marriage. Most communities offer counseling services on a sliding-scale basis.

This content is supported by an educational grant from Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Corporation