In the best of times, money is an explosive topic for most couples. So what happens during a financial crisis? The topic gets even tougher because stress is high and the bills pile up. This tension is ratcheting up just when the two of you are stuck at home, without usual ways to take a time out and access support. It’s a lousy set-up.
Tackling your financial issues is not within my scope of practice. However, navigating ways to have productive conversations is in the counseling wheel house. Here are five ways to weather the financial crisis as a couple during the pandemic:
Put limits on money talk.
More talking doesn’t mean better communicating. And now that the two of you are quarantined together, money conversations could crop up at any time, which is too stressful for anyone to take. At the same time, you may have very real issues you need to discuss so avoidance isn’t the answer, either. Instead, create a schedule for “household business meetings” in which the two of you set aside a regular time to discuss finances. Make sure you also set an end-time for the meeting and stick to it. These boundaries will offer psychological relief.
Just because you are in the same house or apartment all day every day does not mean that you always have to discuss everything face-to-face. Email can give you an opportunity to mull over topics, prepare what you want to say, edit out unproductive emotion or inflammatory language, and can provide a nice breather from the intensity of in-person conversations.
Re-visit and revise your “financial rules.”
While normally you may not bat an eye if your spouse spends $75 on a personal item, this could cause you extreme stress and anger if you’re worried about finances. Your spouse may react differently, and feel like the $75 is “worth it” or “won’t make a difference anyway.” When a crisis hits, it’s important to re-visit your usual ways of doing things to see if they still work for your new normal. You may want to create a list of rules you can each agree to, like “No personal spending above $50 for the next three months without checking with one another.” Or, “Each person’s discretionary budget is cut in half until we’re back at work.” Make rules that make sense for your situation, help you each to feel in control over the family finances, and that are mutually agreed-upon.
Defer to the experts.
What you don’t want to do in a financial crisis is reward the person with the loudest voice or the most bulldog personality. Instead, you want to default to sound financial principles that are based on real numbers. Consult outside sources like Dave Ramsey for ways to recover from financial hardship or check out this article on handling financial emergencies.
Be compassionate with yourself and your spouse.
These are scary times and worries about the health of your family finances, the fate of your business, and your kid’s college education are a lot to take. Times like these can also unearth financial trauma from childhood, like food insecurity, your parents’ bankruptcy, or having to go without necessities. If you or your spouse are getting triggered by recent events, you may be more irritable than usual. You also may be quicker to take offence, harder to talk to, or frazzled and weary. It’s hard to have productive money conversations when deeper issues with childhood trauma are at play. Check in with one another with a simple, “How are you handling this all today?” Then follow up with, “What can I do to help?” Take some time on your own to identify what’s going on with you and how it’s making you feel.
If you or your spouse find yourself struggling with the blend of old trauma with new financial worries, consider reaching out for counseling. At Nova Terra Therapy, we have reduced our telemental health rate for everyone during the shut-down because we don’t want finances to be the reason you don’t get help. Our Burke, VA therapy office and online therapy practice offers a variety of comprehensive mental health services to adults in the Washington DC area. Ultimately, we hope you will make time to care for you and your mental health in therapy. Please reach out if we can help.