After more than two years of economic turmoil caused by the pandemic, Americans are exposed to never-ending bad news about money: prices are rising, interest rates are rising, markets are volatile, and the prospect of a recession looms large. As a result, many of us struggle with personal economic security and stare at an uncertain financial future.
Describing the situation as tense seems like an understatement. For couples and families, the losses from this type of stress can be especially harmful. Even during economic booms, couples around the world consistently rank finances as the greatest stressor they face, according to Howard Markman, co-director of DU University’s Center for Marital and Family Studies and Jon Evans Distinguished Professor of Psychology.
“It’s the biggest issue that couples argue about, especially in the context of the economic chaos caused by COVID and now the high inflation rate,” Markman says. But what makes financial stress high on the list, he says, is how regularly it affects people’s lives.
“You deal with money issues every single day,” Markman points out. This creates an urgent and recurring need to address problems, negotiate, and collaborate on difficult monetary decisions. Many couples simply lack the knowledge and skills to make it happen without a fight.
“It’s not financial problems that cause divorce or relationship problems, per se,” Markman says. “It’s how people deal with money problems.”
But the good news, Markman says, is that “these are skills and principles that people can learn.” He believes that all couples, before marrying or committing to live together, should attend a class on basic communication skills and conflict management, such as those offered at the DU Couples Therapy Clinic, which is part of the Child and Family Psychology Center. It is a free class open to all.
The therapists at Couples Clinic follow the internationally recognized Prevention and Relationship Education Program (PREP). It is an evidence-based, research-tested, short-term, effective approach to couples therapy developed by Markman, who also serves as the clinic’s director and oversees program implementation.
PREP teaches couples that making improvements to their communication doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult.
“We’ve tried real ways to help people talk about issues,” Markman says. “For example, most couples talk about financial problems at the worst possible time,” waiting for impending financial decisions, escalating tensions, and declining time and privacy, which is a recipe for combat.
Instead, Markman suggests setting aside time in advance to discuss finances and to practice applying the simple and effective methods taught as part of the initial preparatory process. “This helps people avoid negative communication patterns,” he says.
“After 40 years of researching DU, we knew that rabbit holes fell out,” he adds. PREP teaches couples to recognize and avoid these rabbit holes and then fill them with more productive communication skills. The DU Couples Therapy Clinic offers a variety of free classes and workshops, as well as professional counseling services on a sliding scale of fees, based on ability to pay. Sessions cost less than $5 per session. For more information, call the Couples Clinic at 306-871-303 or fill in a contact form Online.
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