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10 Ways to Protect Your Marriage From Financial Stress

When Downsized returns on Tuesday, August 16, Laura and Todd Bruce have dug themselves out of their financial hole, but can’t seem to agree on whether to buy a house.

With Rex’s medical bills piling up, the Bruces’ heated arguments lead their daughter Danielle to worry that they’re headed for divorce.

So, are they? According to psychologist and former financial adviser Cristy Lopez, money woes don’t have to lead to divorce court. Here are Lopez’s 10 tips to prevent the stress of financial troubles from negatively affecting your relationship:

1. Understand your spouse’s relationship with money

Try to understand your spouse’s relationship with money. Money is very emotionally laden and often means different things to different people (e.g., security, love, evil). You don’t have to agree with your spouse, just understand. Understanding goes a long way toward being able to effectively communicate.

2. Understand your relationship with money

Try to figure out what money means to you and why (for example, perhaps it represents love to you, because your parents expressed love by providing material possessions). Were you raised to save money for when you’re older, or to spend it today because you never know if there will be a tomorrow? Are you frugal, or is philanthropy important to you? These are important things to know about yourself.

3. Realize you are a team

Make sure you realize that you and your spouse are a team and try to work together against the situation, not each other.

4. Find a problem-free zone

Make sure to spend quality time together when you’re not discussing money problems, household tasks or any marital issues whatsoever. Remember when you were first dating, before such stressors became part of your relationship? Try to go back in time for a little while.

5. Set a date

Pick a place and set aside a limited amount of time in which to (1) express your concerns without blaming each other and (2) collaboratively work on the issues. This will help prevent both of you from continually bringing up your financial problems or from “accidently” slipping in a “dig” at your partner to drive a point home (e.g., telling a mutual friend that you are unable to go out to dinner because of your spouse’s “out-of-control spending”).

6. Social support

Have other people in your life (not your children or spouse) who can provide social support. A friend can serve as a “sounding board,” allowing you to vent about your financial or other troubles.

7. Connect with a higher power

For some, connecting with a higher power or “force” can also serve as a source of comfort and support, and offer another sounding board for your troubles.

8. Be open to change

Don’t keep beating yourself up over past financial mistakes. Instead of saying “I have a problem with money” (present tense), say “I have made some unwise decisions around money in the past, but am working on improving in this area.” This lets your brain know that you are changing for the better vs. believing that you forever are a person who makes poor financial choices.

9. Take care of yourself

Make sure to get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, enjoy “me time” and take care of your health (for example, don’t skip your annual physical and make regular trips to the dentist). Your physical and mental well-being greatly influence your ability to deal with stressors.

10. Seek professional help

Accept that you may need professional help regarding your finances, such as a financial planner or accountant. You may also need a psychologist to help you and your partner sort out your money issues. Getting professional help can relieve the stress of feeling all alone in your struggles, as well as provide you and your partner with information, education and new skills with which to more successfully deal with your problems.