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Hard Times Make For Difficult Conversations

If people have trouble taking about money during the best of times, you can imagine what a deep recession does to the dialog in the average household.

With the economy sinking and unemployment soaring, more and more couples are now facing financial stress.

That’s why marital experts say it is important for couples who are beginning to feel the repercussions of the economic crisis to take time to work on their relationship to ensure it will endure.

Financial instability can “create a tremendous amount of stress, communication problems and sexual dysfunction,” says Dr. Leslie Feher, a New York-based author and clinical psychologist who specializes in relationship counseling. She added that couples often displace their emotions and take things out on each other or their children.

However, she says, couples need to recognize “this is a transitional period, they need to hold on.”

Start With The Basics

Feher said one of the most important things for couples experiencing troubles due to financial issues is to get acquainted all over again. One way couples should do this, she said, is to reintroduce casual dating to their lives.

This will allow you to spend some quality time together, she says, adding that this should be a time during which you don't talk about finances but instead stress your inner needs as opposed to focusing on external, superficial and monetary needs.

While not talking about finances at times can be helpful, you can't avoid it So when you do decide to take on the issue be aware there may be deep-seated reasons behind how your partner sees things.

Love and Money -- A CNBC Special Report
Love and Money -- A CNBC Special Report

Dr. John Curtis, author of "Marriage Built to Last," says one of the most important issues couples should discuss during these tough times is that role that money played in each of their lives growing up.

“There is all this baggage that couples can bring into a marriage,” says Curtis, He says how someone was brought up to think about money often has a big impact on how they think about it later in life as an adult.

“This is a real critical questions that all couples should ask themselves," he says, adding, “It will separate the emotional baggage from money. It lets you stand back and treat money more as you would in a business.”

In addition, if there are children in the picture, being able to understand each other's previous experiences with money can help create a united front on how you plan to integrate money into your kids' lives, as well as help avoid future tension within the family.

Another important topic for couples to delve into, he said, is how each partner copes with anxiety—as that could end up having an impact on your bottom line and exacerbating your financial strain.

“Anxiety is like a full bladder, you have to do something with it," Curtis say. It can be detrimental if one (or both) of the partners are spending money by engaging in high-cost activities like shopping or spa treatments—in order to cope with their stress.

A useful exercise, he suggests, for couples whose financial difficulties are creating a rift in their relationship is to spend time focusing on how they see their relationship in the future.

Writing a so-called “mission statement” that describes the future ideal state of your marriage is a great way for couples to communicate and begin to appreciate many of the pleasures of their relationship that are free-of-charge, he says.

Dr. Jack Singer, a licensed psychologist and relationship expert based in Laguna, Calif. says he continues to see patients who are under stress from their finances and whose marriages are in jeopardy because they are not properly communicating with each other.

“The first thing I do is teach people how to communicate with each other...Instead of berating your partner, you need to emphasize that you they are just as frightened as they are. As a team you may be able to resolve the situation for the betterment of everyone,” he said.

Five Tips To Talking

Singer gives his patients the following five exercises to help improve their communication.

  • Disarming: Find some validity in what the other person is saying even if you think they are acting unreasonably.
  • Empathy: Try to see the world through your partner’s eyes. Before you respond to their comments, paraphrase what they said to make sure you are correctly interpreting what they are trying to say.
  • Inquire: Ask gentle probing questions to get a better sense of what your partner is feeling.
  • “I feel” Statements: When communicating about a feeling that you are having, begin your statement with “I feel” rather than point blame by saying, “you make me feel” which will put your partner on the defensive.
  • Be positive: Try to find something genuinely positive to say to your partner even during the heat of battle. “This is probably the hardest for people to do when they’re in the heat of battling," says Singer said, but if you can find a way to do it, it is very important and can be very effective.

Singer says it is important for couples to recognize that there was a reason they got together in the first place. Often learning how to listen to each other again can help them deal as a team with the issues ahead and help remind them why they fell in love in the first place.