Is the economy ruining your marriage?

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By George Mannes, Money Magazine senior writer

Question 4. You and your spouse were counting on retiring in 2011. But the 30% decline in your portfolio last year is forcing you to rethink. Now you're constantly bickering about when you'll be able to stop working and what kind of lifestyle you'll have once you do. What's the most important step you can take now to improve the odds you'll eventually have a happy retirement?

A. Aggressively pump up the amount you're saving in your 401(k) and IRA.

B. Start practicing the kind of lifestyle you'd like to have once you retire.

C. Bite the bullet and plan on working for five more years, possibly longer.

Answer: B. Money does have an effect on how happy you will be as a couple in your later years, according to a 2005 study in the International Journal of Aging and Human Development. But the size of your nest egg is not nearly as critical as the quality of the time you spend together.

Studying more than 100 upper-middle-class couples (average age: 69; average length of marriage: 42 years), the researchers found that disagreements about leisure activities were the biggest downer, cited by nearly 40% of couples in unhappy marriages.

Intimacy problems -- both emotional and physical -- were a distant second, and finances came in fifth, behind health and household issues like home repairs.

So by all means, be aggressive about saving and work a little longer if you can. But you and your spouse also need to lay the groundwork for hanging out together for longer periods and having fun together.

The next time you both have a few days off, make it a staycation. Visit a museum. Find a sport or activity that the two of you can learn together. Playing at retirement should help reduce the friction now and contribute to greater happiness later on.

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