Is the economy ruining your marriage?

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By George Mannes, Money Magazine senior writer

Question 3. Your spouse was laid off a few months ago. You've cut out the housekeeper and family vacations, but your emergency fund is still dwindling, and your partner has no job prospects in sight. In the scenarios below, who suffers the least?

A. Your spouse, the laid-off husband

B. Your spouse, the laid-off wife

C. You, the husband of the laid-off wife

D. You, the wife of the laid-off husband

Answer : C. Losing your job is tough for both men and women, especially if the man strongly identifies with the traditional role of provider. But the effect of your spouse losing his or her job is different for the sexes.

Various studies indicate that women are likely to feel depressed when their husbands are laid off -- an increasingly common occurrence nowadays, with male unemployment rising faster than women's. Yet husbands don't seem to take it so hard when their wives lose their jobs.

Any negative feelings can easily aggravate the strain couples are already experiencing owing to loss of income, says Scott Stanley, co-author of the book "Fighting for Your Marriage." The laid-off partner may feel too low to put all his or her energy into looking for work, especially given how discouraging the job market is -- or even to prepare a meal or pick up the dry cleaning (chores that also serve as a reminder of the stay-at-home spouse role).

The employed partner, meanwhile, may become frustrated by the spouse's lack of get-up-and-go on the job and the home fronts. Both partners may find themselves more critical of their spouse than before, which in turn makes them unhappier with their relationship.

If this describes your household, it's time to alter the pattern. The best way to avoid arguments about changing family responsibilities is to set a few ground rules about how much housework the unemployed spouse should be doing and how much time he or she should spend looking for a job. Then focus on upholding your end of the bargain, not micromanaging your partner's.

"It doesn't matter how you arrange things, but that you both agree to it," says therapist Shapiro.

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