There is no doubt that the economy is a hot topic in just about every arena of life these days.  With so many people facing foreclosures and job loss, the negative impact of financial stress on marriage has has become increasingly more apparent.  In fact, the growing number of media reports on the impact of financial stress seems to be influencing academics and policymakers to take a closer look at how to help couples and families cope. Earlier this year the Treasury Department in conjunction with the US Department for Health and Human Services held a summit on relationship finance in response to the growing focus on the interconnection between healthy families, healthy marriages, and economic stress.  And in 2008 researchers at Kansas State University held a Financial Therapy Forum.  As a result of their discussions and research, KSU has now opened a brand new financial therapy clinic which combines the services of  financial advisers with marriage and family therapists.

As a marriage and family therapist, I always try to think in terms of systems, or how each aspect of our lives is impacted and influenced by every other part of life, so this new “trend” is something that my colleagues and I have known for years.  It is the interplay between financial decisions and stressors with common relational issues such as communication that makes money and marriage such a tricky partnership.  To enhance my own understanding of the issue, last year I participated in the Money 1to1 training developed by the AFCPE and FINRA.  This program, designed for therapists, enhanced my understanding of the practical details of financial management so that as a practice we can provide our clients with effective groups and workshops that incorporate both the practical and emotional aspects of money.

Many couples may feel that if they just had enough money to pay their bills (and maybe go on a vacation or buy that new designer bag) then their problems would be solved and their marriage would be better.  The reality is that money is almost universally an area of conflict at some point in a long term relationship regardless of your checking account balance.  Issues of trust and security, differences in spending and saving patterns, conflicting financial goals, and the role money played in your family of origin all play a part in making financial waters difficult territory to navigate.

Of course, I believe that therapy has the potential to be preventative just as much as it can be the remedy for major crisis.  By working with a therapist or financial educator, couples can learn to avoid common pitfalls and develop a better understanding of the emotional issues that are often tied to our financial habits.  In our Money & Marriage groups this fall (a new group for couples starts in October) we will focus on learning more about specific money “personalities” and how to talk about the goals and fears that influence financial behavior in addition to budgeting and cash flow.  As is the case with all of our groups, we believe that through communication and connection with other couples facing similar challenges that everyone can develop new, more effective relationship skills.  This collaboration of financial education and sound therapeutic advice has the potential to help so many couples and families break free from the stress of fighting over finances.  I hope that some of you will join us this fall in group and that together we will continue to build on a more sytemic and collaborative way of dealing with these tough economic times.

~ Esther