Is Keeping Love Alive During a Recession Worth It?

By Caitlin Shetterly

One of the hardest things to keep in balance during a recession is a relationship–especially when one of the people involved has lost their job. The truth is that whether you’re single, dating, or married, the stress you experience while you’re going through a tough time affects the “happiness” potential of everyone around you.

When my husband and I were leveled by the recession during our first year of marriage, we were forced to move in with my mother. We came up with a few simple ways to keep our marriage strong during our darkest days, and they helped us so much that we still use them even now that we’re living in our own apartment and facing brighter horizons.

First, we learned that needed time together. Just taking twenty minutes to go for swim or a walk reminded us what we love about each other and took us out of the slog of trying to pull our lives back up by their bootstraps. Another great “date” is a good ol’ cup of Joe. Just this small splurge at your favorite coffee shop will go a long way towards making your lives feel less bleak.

Also just the break to reconnect and have a little getaway—even when times are tough—will keep love alive. Now, if you’re really trying to cut back, you can make a thermos of coffee at home—but make sure you take it somewhere else to drink it.  A park or a beach can seem like a getaway even during these last days of winter.

Then, we had to talk to each other—talk truly is cheap! We all forget to talk to our partners when the road is rocky. Especially when one of us is out of work and there’s a mountain of shame and frustration it can be hard to know where to begin. I think that for men, especially, finding the words to say how hard losing a job is can be a challenge. When my husband, Dan, was out of work and we were living with my mother, we came up with a plan: At the end of each day we took a few moments to tell each other a few things we were grateful for in each other. We kept it simple and just said what made us feel lucky and tried not to diverge into the “what makes me crazy” territory. This pause of kindness kept us close.

Our next revelation: we needed to PLAY. I know this sounds odd, but we started playing board games. If you think about it, when was the last time you played a board game? Remember how, as kids, we could spend an entire evening with Clue? We’re all so stuck to our computers and iPhones these days that it’s easy to forget that board games exist. Dan and I spent many an evening playing Monopoly when our bank account was at its lowest ebb. Hey, we didn’t have any real money, but at least we could play with fake money! And it was a fun, simple way to engage with each other without spending much- needed real cash on a date. (If you have a child, wait till they go to bed, make a big bowl of popcorn and start playing–this will save you the  money you would have paid a babysitter and you’ll still have fun!)

When we drove across the country from California to Maine to move in with Mom, we hauled a tower of bills behind us. Somehow in the stress of our lives collapsing I suddenly felt like I couldn’t handle even looking at the bills without panicking and the bulk of that job fell on Dan’s shoulders.  This didn’t work well because Dan was already so stressed about losing work, that to make him the person to navigate the insanity of creditors and overdue bills was not fair. It created tension between us.

Finally, we came up with the plan that at least as long as the recession lasted, all bets were are off for making the checkbook and bill paying only one person’s problem. At the very least, we both needed to be talking about what was in the bank, what was needed for food and other essentials, where any trims could happen and what the plan was going to be for the future. We still plan this way to this day: we sit down with a cup of tea and discuss what’s going on with our money (or lack of money) and where we need to allocate funds. We found that financial responsibility has to be something everyone chips in with; shoving it all on one person’s shoulders is unfair and, ultimately, destructive. Coming together over the checkbook made us much closer and opened the lines of communication.

Finally, experts believe that kissing is the easiest and fastest way to establish intimacy. They say it’s something about the neurons in the brain and the mouth to mouth contact. Dan and I have always tried to give each other a kiss goodnight and a kiss when we say goodbye—even when we want to kill each other. Kissing is free and…it might just keep the spark alive when everything else feels like it’s falling apart.

Remember that just because your financial lives are shaky, it doesn’t mean your relationship has to collapse. With these simple solutions, you can remain strong.

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By Caitlin Shetterly is the author of Made for You and Me: Going West, Going Broke, Finding Home. She is a frequent contributor to National Public Radio where she reports on arts and culture, food, and lifestyle. She can be heard on both All Things Considered and Weekend Edition. For Weekend Edition, she created a series of autobiographical audio diaries about the Recession under the title Diary of a Recession. These diaries, along with her blog, Passage West, inspired her memoir Made For You and Me: Going West, Going Broke, Finding Home (Voice, March 8, 2011).