What to Do When Financial Problems Hit Your Marriage

Advice for when a financial crisis, like unemployment, hits your marriage

couple talking finances
Sharon Dominick/Creative Images/Getty Images

Financial problems in marriage such as uncertainty about your financial future, unemployment, and sudden financial hardship will hurt your marriage if you both do not talk about it or if either of you hide your head in the sand. You must discuss this issue and face the reality of your financial status.

Practical Tips for Handling Unemployment

When short-term unemployment turns into long-term unemployment and unemployment benefits run out, feelings of panic, depression, guilt, blame, fear and helplessness may set in.

The worse thing to do is to blame the unemployed spouse or yourself for the situation. Recognize that there are ways to cope with the stress coming between the two of you.

"A critical point is whether couples can remember and express the things they admire about each other. People under stress often cease to notice and acknowledge the helpful things their partners or children do, responding only to the irritating ones. This undermines the 'economy of gratitude' that sustains mutual trust and obligations in a healthy family, creating the psychological equivalent of a credit crunch." Stephanie Coontz in "Husbands, Wives and Hard Times -- History May Not Be a Guide" on NYTImes.com (2009).
  • You need to talk. Don't be in denial. Even though it may be difficult, talk about your financial situation. Focus on what you can do about your financial problems and then try to do it.
"Hard times also force hard discussions — and sometimes that builds more intimacy and resilience. Couples often don’t talk enough about deeply held values, feelings about sacrifice, the primacy of the relationship over work, parenting, etc. This is especially true about money: figuring out to budget and how much they need to be “happy.” A bad economy can force people to take up these difficult conversations. If couples are honest and compassionate with one another, if they learn to work it out as a team, they could emerge with a better relationship." Pepper Schwartz in "Husbands, Wives and Hard Times -- Difficult But Valuable Conversations" on NYTImes.com (2009).
"23 percent of survey respondents said they won't do anything differently, even if the economy continues to weaken. Hoping for the best isn't a strategy; planning ahead is the best way to protect your family and build a strong financial future"  MMI Provides Advice for Coping With Financial Hardship, on  Business Wire (2008).
  • Be realistic. List your fixed expenses and your flexible expenses. Identify where you can't cut back and where you can cut back such as cutting off cable or satellite television, looking for a less expensive telephone plan, deciding to not eat out, etc. Analyze what would be sensible changes in your budget and what wouldn't make financial sense. For example, for some couples, switching to higher deductibles in automobile, house, and health insurance would be beneficial. For others, such a move could make the family finances worse in the long run. Consider getting retraining assistance, grow a vegetable garden or see if you can get a garden plot in a community garden, be open to working odd jobs or taking a temporary position, think about starting your own small business.
"Our relationship dynamics and resentments get played out with money," says Jenn Berman, PhD, a marriage and family therapist. "It's not uncommon to see a person get mad at his or her spouse, and then go out and buy something as revenge." in Managing Marriage and Money Problems by Heather Hatfield on  WebMd.com
  • Control your spending. Don't rely on credit cards unless it is an emergency or for health care. If you have savings, try not to dip into your savings unless you both consider the expense absolutely necessary.
    • Get help. Don't let your pride or ego stop you from getting the assistance you and your family need to get back on your feet. Call 211 for information about available services in your area. You may be eligible for help in getting food, child care, medical care, paying your utilities, and more. If unemployment has put you living paycheck to paycheck and you are behind in your bills, learn your legal rights concerning your debts, then talk with your creditors about your financial problems.
    "Trying to prove your spouse wrong is the wrong way to go," says psychologist Dr. Jonathan Rich, author of The Couple's Guide to Love and Money. "Aim instead to create a plan that works for both of you."
    in Marriage and Money: Get it Right by Pat Regnier & Amanda Gengler on  Cnn.com (2006).
    • Be honest. Share your concerns and expectations with each other about your financial problems and the financial decisions the two of you have made. Share what you are willing to do and what you won't do. Some decisions you may face with unemployment include relocating, downsizing to a smaller residence, taking jobs you wouldn't have considered a year ago, and going back to school to change your career. Don't turn your discussions about financial problems into a win-lose situation.
      • Don't run from your problems. Don't try to escape from your unemployment and financial problems. Overeating, smoking, drinking, overspending, not sleeping, etc. will only make your situation worse. Remember the importance of taking care of yourselves, both emotionally and physically. That means regular sleep, a healthy diet, exercise, and having some fun and laughter in your lives. Talk with each other about free fun activities for you and your kids.
      • Don't give up. If either you or your spouse has given up or are severely depressed, then asking for help is not an option. Don't wait until it is too late to save your marriage.

      Asking for help may be the most difficult, but necessary, part of a financial crisis. You and your partner need to come together more than ever to pull through this and support each other. Start discussing the changes you need to make right away to get back on your feet. 

      *Article updated by Marni Feuerman