Do recessions and marriage go together? Can marriages survive huge financial losses, unemployment and the loss of medical benefits?
I was recently asked if I thought the economic recession is having a negative impact on marriage? In other words, is there an increase in such things as domestic violence and the rate of divorce?
This is a more difficult question to answer than it may appear to be at first glance. The reason for the complexity is that there are many variables to take into consideration when discussing marriage. For example, is the marriage impacted by alcohol and drug abuse. Did the couple carefully save money in preparation for that "rainy day" when something bad could happen ? Are husband and wife each working and earning a living so that job loss by one could be more easily absorbed by the couple? Is it a strong marriage able to withstand not only economic recession but all the trials and tribulations of life?
It should come as no surprise that newspapers across the nation are reporting an increase in cases of domestic violence alongside unemployment rates. The reasons for the increase are not difficult to find. With unemployment reaching ten percent and more, people are at home most of the day, in the company of their spouse and children and with much greater opportunity to drink and use drugs. Unemployment causes stress, leads to depression and drugs and alcohol provide the fuel for an already explosive situation. This is fertile ground for domestic violence.
For those people with strong marriages in which there are agreed upon values and ways to meet life crises, weathering the storm of financial and job loss will be possible. In most probability, these are the people who had the foresight to save enough money to see themselves through a crisis for a year or more. Even if they were not able to save, the commonly shared view of life will help them form a strategy to get them get through.
One of the important features of a strong marriage relationship is the ability of two people to sit together, discuss their problems without engaging in blame and mutual incriminations and make plans for how they want to meet the crisis. In other words, husband and wife find strength in unity and do not feel alone or isolated.
However, those people with marriages marred by endless quarrelling and conflict, the economic down turn will not help their situation. Does this mean they will end in divorce? Not necessarily.
Does the Divorce Rate Increase?
While statistics show that there tends to be a somewhat higher divorce rate during recessions, it is not as bad as anticipated. There are a variety of reasons for this and many of them have to do with the purpose of marriage.
Purpose of Marriage:
Contrary to the commonly held belief, marriage does not have as its sole purpose giving birth to and raising children. While this is important, the history of marriage shows the this institution continues to be used for many purposes. Among those purposes are economic security. In days long gone by, marriages were arranged between families whose agreed upon purpose was to continue the existence of powerful corporations so that wealth would continue to be available for future generations.
Today, many people marry not only for romantic reasons but because they know that they and their partner will have a greater chance of economic success by combining incomes and resources than by living separately. As my late Grandma used to advise me, "Marry a teacher, she will always have a job and you will both be comfortable." Her presumption was that I would also be working and she was correct. A humorous variation on this theme was the age old joking advice given by every mother and grandmother to their kin, "Remember, darling, its just as easy to marry a rich person as it is to marry a poor one."
In addition to having strong emotional and romantic bonds, married couples stay together during recession because they know that they are secure together but insecure alone. Spouse and family can be and usually are the source of lots of emotional and economic support when times are tough.
One of the factors that sometimes acts as a restraint on divorce proceedings is the single fact that, due to the recession, two people do not have the financial and material resources to divorce or even separate. If maintaining a single household is overwhelming, as we see by the number of housing foreclosures in the nation, then two households will be impossible. Consequently, there are those people who want to divorce but agree to delay proceedings until times improve. They opt to live in separate bedrooms and even opposite ends of the house, if there is enough room, so that they rarely see on another.
As difficult as the economic situation is for millions of American families, the idea is to not give up hope. Couples need to sit down and talk about strategies for a better future but without engaging in the blame game.
If drugs and alcohol make too difficult to sit and talk quietly then its important to go for professional help in ending alcohol and substance abuse.
When couples are ready to jointly plan their future out of this recession, there are many things they might think of doing:
1. Credit counseling agencies can be effective in negotiating with creditors to reduce interest charges and monthly payments.
2. Couples can help one another in the job search and even think about ways of starting their own, private business based on their abilities, skills and experiences.
3. Many people are returning to school in order to strengthen their attractiveness in the job market. I know of several people who are returning to school to go into nursing and some of them are men.
4. People need to make a budget to help get them through difficult times and resist the urge to spend.
5. There are many families who are opting for bankruptcy as a way of getting out of the overwhelming debt that cannot be paid when there is lost income.
There is always counseling. There are non profit psychotherapy organizations that provide extremely low cost therapy services to individuals and couples.
These are just a few ideas. There are many other things that people can do to help themselves. The idea is to not lose hope and to use your marriage and family as a source of support through this difficult time.
Your questions, comments and ideas are strongly encouraged.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD