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Therapists: Hard times test marriages

The national economic downturn is taking its toll on married couples dealing with financial stress, according to area marriage counselors.

Dr. Helen Andrews of Waynesville said the poor economy seems to be the primary issue on her clients’ minds.

Money is always a factor in relationships, she said, adding that couples often complain about each other’s spending.

“They’re having to cut back on so many things,” she said.

Money does not cause problems — the problems were already there, Andrews said. A lack of money can magnify existing problems, she said.

“If you haven’t got enough to make ongoing expenses, you’re likely to be frustrated,” she said. “Everything looks bigger.”

Worrying about money can cause couples to be more upset about everything else, she said. Couples having money problems should learn to communicate better.

“The work is to have them talk and listen to each other,” Andrews said.

When economic times are good couples can escape by going shopping, going out to eat or doing something else that is fun.

When there is not money, all there is to do is sit at the house, she said.

Couples need to be better partners and work together rather than blame each other, but many couples have not developed a skill base to work together, she said.

Victor Hamilton, owner of Sylva Christian Counseling, said children’s behavior may worsen when the parents are having financial problems.

Dr. Mary Ellen Griffin, a licensed clinical psychologist in Sylva, said children are aware of their parents’ emotional state and when the parents are worried, the children are, too.

Couples often argue over how money should be spent and what gets higher priority, Hamilton said.

During hard economic times a man supporting a stay-at-home mom may have to take on a second job, which means more time away from home, and that can cause other problems, he said.

And when there is anxiety about money, feelings are more sensitive and emotions can take over, he said.

Anxiety over money can often come out as anger and frustration, he said.

“That’s what therapy is all about — looking under the obvious presenting behavior and seeing what motivates their fear and anxiety,” he said.

Hamilton recommends couples engage in stress reduction techniques to release tension in the body. He said being aware of “proper breathing” is important.

Also, he said, a “spiritual dimension is a crucial element.”

“The times are causing people to return to their roots of spiritual beliefs,” he said.

Divorces probably are not on the rise, he said. Instead, there may be fewer divorces because couples are so focused on making ends meet that they are not thinking about separation. Moreover, divorces can be expensive.

There were 100 divorces in Jackson County in 2008, according to the County Clerk’s Office.

Monty Beck, a Franklin attorney specializing in divorce, said he hasn’t seen an increase in the number of people seeking divorces, but the recession has made it more difficult when it comes to dividing assets.

A couple’s most significant asset is often its home, but now homes are not selling, so the equity can’t be divided.

During economic hard times couples may think twice about getting divorced because of the cost, said Beck, who is a board certified specialist in family law

And when couples separate, that means two households must be maintained when there used to be only one, he noted. The cost of a divorce depends on what issues are involved such as custody, alimony and property, Beck said.

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