Bond through life passages — 02 November 2003
The money is gone but we still have

In the last few years a new couples issue has emerged: the drastic
psychological and financial re-adjustment. Couples who were once newly
rich now need to reorient their lives and relationship to a less
affluent status.

One may say with little sympathy, “this is not a problem I share”. Or, “Easy come, easy go”. Yet those who have experienced the financial seesaw require major emotional and practical adjustments, and most people have been at least somewhat impacted by the bear market. We read of older Americans whose retirement plans have been significantly altered and of those who retired and need to go back to work.

A major psychological shift has occurred in the way people view their financial standing. The giddiness about the ever-expanding funds has been silenced. A somber tone is heard when finances are mentioned.

Some people feel relieved that the young dot-com-ers no longer clamor to offer multimillion dollars for homes, inflating the cost of housing in our community. Others are pleased that sanity about money has resumed, and that old-fashioned work standards have prevailed.

Whatever your position, you too have been affected, directly or indirectly, by the shift in the economy. Has this change altered the
dynamic of your relationship?

The couples who come for psychological help due to financial fluctuations talk of shifts in expectations, beliefs, and the way they
view each other due to their finances. For a few these changes threaten their union. The shift from affluence to unemployment has been devastating.

As with any other trauma, people search for someone to blame. But this type of financial catastrophe has no tangible enemy. The situation often ends up in an accusatory resentment by one partner of the other. “If you knew the company was crumbling, why didn’t you get out sooner?” “As the family’s financial whiz, why didn’t you sell the stocks as they began to tumble?” Those type of questions plague frustrated couples who feel badly about their financial losses.

While one partner blames, the other feels shame. While one partner questions, the other feels guilt. While one partner feels victimized, the other feels responsible. Both partners feel deep regrets. These are very hard feelings to cope with.

Was it greed or optimism? Was it ignorance or educated guesses? Was it arrogance or listening to the experts? Was it foolishness or naiveté? It all depends upon your view. Who knew the bear would be so ferocious for so long? How much was it within anyone’s control?

The marital bliss may have been short lived if economic magic is what held it together. Couples who remember how they started and what their original dreams were about fair better than those who took the road up as the new, expected reality.

Most people tend to believe that their good fortunes are a sign of their recognized value. How else could the gambling industry become so successful? It is the childlike magical view that our “specialness” will reward us. So when we lose, is it evidence that we are not lucky- or not worthy?
“How do we continue to associate with our friends who did manage to ride the wave to financial success?” “Will they still value us as their friends even though we are unable to share the same level of monetary freedom as they do?”
The couple’s worth as a unit within society and the individual’s worth
within the couple comes into question.
“Do you still love me  now that we are poor again?” Are we still on the
same team or have we lost our union and turned into resentful enemies?

It often depends on the depth of commitment and expectations each member
of the couple has. If you felt that your partner owed you a luxurious
existence, then you are likely to reconsider the marriage once the
finances collapsed.
However, if love, teamwork and dedication to each other propelled you
into this union, then you will be able to stay together, lick your
wounds and re-assess your options as you forge ahead together.

  • Money is what you have or don’t have- it is not who you are.
  • No one is entitled to riches.
  • Financial success is no proof of personal worth.
  • Losses cement, not divide, a healthy relationship.
  •  If you are young- the future is ahead of you. Reassess the lessons
    learned.
  • If you are in mid career  and mid marriage  cherish what you do have.
  • If you are close to, or in retirement, research indicates work is
    healthier.

There is a lesson in this time for all of us, find yours and feel enriched by it. Your power lies in the love you feel for each other-and
that, unlike money, can not vanish. It is forever yours.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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