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Fallout: The Financial Crisis

Relationships feel recession strain

Marketplace Staff Feb 13, 2009
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TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Bill Radke: Tomorrow could be one of the more tense Valentine’s Days in a while. Many couples are dealing with the kind of financial pressure that can sink a relationship.

Gail Cunningham is with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, and she told me couples are coming through her doors stressed out.

Gail Cunningham: With the skyrocketing job losses, it really is a concern to us. Because of course, if the income is cut in half or evaporates entirely, that certainly puts stress on your daily living expenses, such as your mortgage or rent payments, your putting food on the table, keeping your utilities on, just the basics like that. And of course through the years, the court documents have shown that financial distress is one of the major causes of divorce. And interestingly enough, we’re seeing people who can’t afford to get divorced. The economic reality simply is the fact that they cannot afford to set up two different residents with two different sets of expenses.

Radke: Maybe keep some people together?

Cunningham: Really, it’s probably cheaper to stay together now.

Radke: This is an intimate issue, Gail, that a lot of couples have maybe never had to confront together before.

Cunningham: You’re exactly right. You know, it’s really interesting that people would almost rather talk about anything than their finances. And not until they have a financial distress do they, are they forced into having this conversation.

Radke: You’ve talked about something called “financial infidelity,” what is that?

Cunningham: Well, that is what we call it when one partner is hiding purchases or debt from the other. This can be a homewrecker for sure, and I can promise you that if you are sitting across the desk from a couple where financial infidelity surfaces, the blame game starts. And you can cut the tension with a knife, it is so thick within the room. This is one of the most distressful things that we hate to see, because once the people leave our office, we know that it’s going to get worse.

Radke: Well, Gail, this recession is not ending soon. What advice can you give couples who want to stick together through this?

Cunningham: On Valentine’s Day, we suggest giving the gift of open conversation about money. I think this is a good time to say, “Hey honey, let’s sit down and take another look at our finances.” And if you’re in financial distress, you may need to take a look weekly, or at least monthly. You know, people will feel more secure, and that will diminish the stress level in your house, if you face it head-on, develop a plan and then you’ve got some hope for a way out.

Radke: Gail Cunningham with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. Thank you, and happy Valentine’s Day.

Cunningham: Thank you.

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