Is the economy ruining your marriage?
When money is tight, relationships often turn rocky. Take our quiz to see how your union is holding up under the pressure - and what you can do to make it and your finances stronger.
(Money Magazine) -- You know the part of the classic wedding ceremony in which couples vow to stick together "for richer, for poorer"? Well, a lot of spouses lately are really putting the latter part of that promise to the test.
Blame the economy for shaking up once-solid unions. Marital roles are shifting as onetime breadwinners adjust to long bouts of unemployment. Husbands and wives are blaming each other for bad investments and onerous debt. Spouses who once smoothed over spats with a little shopping therapy can no longer afford to fill that prescription. "It's the biggest stress on married couples in the past 60 years," says Margaret Shapiro, a clinical social worker in Philadelphia.
How are you and your spouse coping with the challenges you're facing? And what can you do to ensure you pull together to solve those problems instead of being torn apart by them? The following quiz provides insights into the specific ways the economy may be affecting your marriage, plus the steps you can take to strengthen your relationship -- and your finances.
Question 1: Your company reduced salaries 10% this year, and you're looking hard for ways to cut your family's expenses. But your spouse insists that you're exaggerating the financial difficulties and resists attempts to ratchet back your lifestyle. Every conversation about money is turning into a battle. What is most likely to result in a lasting solution to the tension?
A. Let your spouse pick one splurge each month and enjoy it.
B. Together, take a look at the numbers in your investment and checking accounts.
C. Split up your finances so you don't have to discuss every purchase.
Answer : B. While some couples might benefit from dividing their money or looking the other way when one makes an occasional indulgent purchase, one of the biggest breeding grounds for arguments is simply that most spouses appear to be operating under different sets of "facts" about the resources they have to work with.
According to a study by Jay Zagorsky at Ohio State University's Center for Human Resource Research, the typical husband reports that the couple earn 5% more and have a net worth 10% higher than his wife thinks they do. And men believe household debt is lower than their wives do.
Moreover, the gap between what husbands and wives say their household earns, saves, and owes gets bigger the longer they are married. (The study didn't reveal which spouse is usually closer to the mark.)
Rather than fight about whether you can afford to take a ski vacation this winter or whether it's necessary to ditch your premium cable-TV channels, get the facts you need to make an informed decision. Block out time to sit down together and sort out the basics.
At a minimum you both need to know -- and agree on the numbers for -- your income (look at last year's tax return and this year's most recent pay stubs), your assets (check your account balances online and get a rough estimate of your home's market value at zillow.com), and your liabilities (add up your most recent loan and credit card statements to see how much you owe overall and do a back-of-the-envelope total of your monthly expenses). That way you'll know for sure whether you need to cut back and what extras you can swing.
If the exercise reveals you can't afford the slopes in Vail, find a compromise. Ask your spouse why the trip matters so much: family tradition of a big trip? Relaxation? Love of snow? Then see if you can find a cheaper way to fulfill that goal.