There’s a lot of attention on the economy right now and the difficult times we’re in. Many people are worrying and preoccupied with their finances and economic struggles. This type of stress can take its toll on you and your relationships. For you and your significant other, it’s more important than ever to take steps to keep your relationship strong.
The key to recession-proofing your relationship lies in understanding that you have control over how you respond to what happens in life. What most people don’t realize is that the quality of your life is determined only 1 percent by what happens, and 99 percent by how you react to what happens. While we can’t control everything that happens in life, we have a lot to say about how we react.
Let’s look at what this means specifically related to finances and our relationships. If you look at your personal situation and the impact of the economy on that situation, you’ll notice that you may have certain worries, concerns, thoughts and feelings about what’s going on. You have certain interpretations about what’s happening and what it all means. But those opinions, thoughts and interpretations are totally distinct from what’s happened.
For example, the value of your 401K may have dropped 50 percent from what it was two years ago. That’s what happened. But that’s not where it ends. You and I add our interpretations to what happened. For instance, you might say, “I’ll never have what I need now when I retire.” Or “My husband and I are in big financial trouble.” Even if we don’t say it out loud, this can start to become REAL for us, always there in the background coloring our thoughts, feelings and actions. We’re now living in the scary world of “We’re in big financial trouble, and we’re not going to be able to retire.”
What can give you power as individuals and as a couple is separating what happened from your story about what happened. You can choose to deal with what has actually happened and create a powerful plan for how to move forward.
Here’s a great exercise you can do as a couple to invest in your relationship so it’s strong and healthy in any economy:
1. Sit down together and get clear about the facts — This is where you both look at what’s happened and write it down. “Our 401K has gone from this amount to that amount.” Or “We’ve gone from being a two-income household to a one-income household.” Or maybe it is something like “There has been no change in our income… and we’ve been turned down for a loan.” Putting it all down on paper in black and white gets you both clear on what the basic facts really are.
2. Note and share what you have “added” to the facts — The fact may be that your 401K is down 50 percent. But what you have concluded about that fact is not necessarily true. Those conclusions may be thoughts such as: “We’ll never be able to retire.” Or “We aren’t good parents if we don’t pay for our kids’ entire college education.” Or “Neither of us is good with money.” These interpretations of the facts are not necessarily true, and regardless, they get you in trouble by limiting what you consider is possible.
3. Create solutions together — Now that you’ve separated what actually happened from your story about what has happened, what solutions can the two of you come up with? Maybe it’s creating your next goal or project, or a promise to make an appointment with a financial planner to talk about options. Perhaps you will use this as an opportunity to teach your kids the value of working for what they get and of being part of the family finances. This is your chance to be creative and operate as a team.
During this process, you may notice there are some feelings of guilt or blame cropping up. Notice them, and just let them go. This is an opportunity to move forward and put your attention on what you want to create versus re-hashing the past. Once you’ve started taking action, consider rewarding yourselves. Maybe you will want to have a nice dinner, a family game night or a weekend outing together. Little rewards and rituals like this build intimacy and a sense of common purpose.
This is not a one-time exercise, incidentally. When we are faced with challenging circumstances, the tendency we have is to hold things in, to not really listen with an open mind, and to look for who or what to blame for what’s happening. Sometimes we end up blaming ourselves or our partners. Instead, try working toward good, clear communication about what has happened and what you can do together. That will help you to focus as a couple on solutions. Whatever you do, make time for regular conversations with your partner and keep the lines of communication open.
Remember, the quality of life is determined 1 percent by what happens and 99 percent by our reactions. No, we can’t change the fact that sometimes life includes difficult circumstances. But there’s no more important time to have power and clarity than when you’re dealing with challenges. Working together as a team, you will reap the rewards of the kind of close and intimate partnership that money can’t buy.
David Cunningham is a communication expert and Seminar Leader for Landmark Education, an international training and development company. More than 1.2 million people have used its programs to cause breakthroughs in their performance, communication, relationships and overall satisfaction. For more information, visit http://www.landmarkeducation.com