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Will your marriage survive the recession?

Most of us were impacted, in some way, by the Great Recession of 2008. Some of our largest institutions began to fail, people lost their assets, jobs, and homes, and everything became more expensive. 

But along with the untold hardship and loss that resulted from the recession also came troves of research about the effects of the recession on marriage. A recession doesn’t just stress our bank accounts, it also stresses our marriages. It’s important to understand the effects, causes, and solutions to help safe-guard our most precious assets – our relationships. 

In 2022, as we emerge from a global pandemic and cope with the repercussions of war in Ukraine, we are all feeling the effects of higher interest rates and skyrocketing inflation. Not a day goes by where there isn’t a whispering of the word ‘recession’. 

Now is a great time to revisit the lessons of 2008 to ensure that our relationships are prepared to withstand a new host of potential stressors. 

What we knew before the recession (and what holds true today) is that money is the most commonly cited cause of divorce. These facts lead us to conclude that a recession must cause more divorce – but something more interesting occurs. In general, the national divorce rate in the United States spiked downwards in 2008, during the height of the recession. These rates did, however, rebounded to typical levels by 2011. There are multiple theories around the cause of this, including financial considerations, but notably, many couples actually reported becoming more connected than ever during this time. 

Of those whose marriages ended, the causation was starkly related to circumstances. In general, a couple didn’t divorce when a partner lost their job. However, if they lost their home, their marriage was at risk, and the unhappiest and most dysfunctional relationships often disintegrated, although they may not have formally divorced. 

But why? A job loss is an unexpected and uncontrollable event (like illness, accident, or fertility troubles). While these cause stress to a relationship, healthy relationships and those with the necessary communication tools often report a strengthening of their marriages after going through such a challenge. 

On the contrary, foreclosure is often the result of several months of dysfunction and extreme stressors, which can exacerbate existing relationship problems creating a self-perpetuating cycle that becomes hard (but not impossible) to stop. Finally, those marriages already facing extreme challenges often devolved into worse conditions as they did not have the tools to cope with additional stressors to their relationships.

So, what lessons from 2008 can we apply today? 

Now is the time to invest in your marriage to ensure it is ready to withstand the inevitable stressors of recession. 

Recession-proof your marriage with these three simple tips

  • Get realistic about your finances.
    • Sit down together and assess the current state of your finances and potential scenarios (like if one of you had to go on Employment Insurance after a layoff or if interest rates increase on your mortgage). This meeting doesn’t have to be too lengthy or formal but have the discussion in advance to be prepared with potential solutions. Now is also the time to set clear expectations around spending if you have not done so already. Keep communication open, but try to segment these conversations away from your day-to-day. Recession or not, your life together is much more than financial.
  • Invest in your emergency fund
    • An emergency will come – it’s not an ‘if’. This is a ‘when’. Any contribution is better than nothing, even if you only have an extra $20 per pay period – put this away in a savings account. Most banks can now completely automate this function – take advantage of it. You will have an emergency expense, and when you do, you will be grateful for the reduced stress your emergency fund affords. 
  • Prioritize your marriage
    • Healthy marriages benefited from the recession; they didn’t suffer. This isn’t to say that they didn’t face extreme stressors, but they had the tools they needed to weather this storm and came out stronger on the other side. Now is not the time to become complacent. Don’t stop doing what you love to do together as a couple. Communicate more than ever. Check-in frequently with each other. Check-in frequently with yourself. Keep having fun.

As the whispering of the recession becomes louder by the day, we must remember the reality of how this sustained financial stress can affect our relationships. As we learned from 2008 – essentially, two things happened – some marriages ended, but many marriages benefited. Embrace the challenge – you’ve got this. 

If you think you need professional help – now is the time to seek it. If you’re interested in learning more about how I can help ensure your marriage is ready to face any challenge, click here to learn more about my marriage counselling and coaching services. 

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