Has the stalled, sinking and downright sorry economy — and the abysmal economic conditions it has wrought — cast a cold, even icy, spell over the loving relationships normally enjoyed by couples?
And because of hard times — and the attendant money worries that they bring — are men and women taking things out on each other, and being intimate less, or perhaps, not at all?
In recognition of this developing problem, the Jewish Family and Children's Service of Greater Philadelphia, for example, has introduced JFCS' Economic Crisis Response Services at 1-866-JFCS-NOW.
"Even in good economic times, money is often a major cause of conflict in loving relationships. Couples frequently report that money is a cause of arguments, and it is a topic that, even in the best of relationships, is difficult for couples to discuss and manage," explained Beth Rosenbaum, LCSW, supervisor for the agency's Jewish Family Life Education in Elkins Park.
In the current economic climate, she said, stress related to money matters is much greater, placing much more strain on families and couples: "If a couple is worried about their financial stability and their ability to care for their children and their basic needs, the strain on the relationship can be great."
For couples to be able to restore their relationships to healthier levels — which includes lowering stress and re-establishing strong ties — they must communicate well, talking about fears and worries while problem-solving together, noted Rosenbaum.
"With healthy communication, couples are in better position to make difficult financial decisions. This can be a challenge during stressful times, so it can be helpful for couples to get professional guidance as they confront these issues," she added.
JFCS' Economic Crisis Response Services include emotional support, counseling, support groups, budgeting assistance, chaplaincy support and financial assistance.
At Community College of Philadelphia, David Berg, professor in the behavioral sciences department, talked about the money issues married couples confront all of the time.
"In any marriage — whether it's between straight, gay or bi-sexual people — there are three big stressers you always count on," he said of money, sex and children. "It's usually not enough money, not enough sex, too many children, in some order."
"Forget the idea of luxuries, vacations and other pleasures money can buy," he continued. "On a daily basis, the first thing money offers is a sense of freedom from worry and knowing that you can pay your bills, because as soon as money gets tight, as you can well imagine, then everyone begins to feel very, very stressed."
In the simplest way, couples can tangle, said Berg, arguing over what their priorities should be with the money they have.
"At the same time, mama wants a new pair of shoes and papa wants a new set of tires, so it can start to get tense just from normal amounts of daily stress that can become even greater when things cost more," he said.
Much of how people handle money as married couples stems from how they saw it handled at home, when they were young.
"Money is very symbolic; it symbolizes a lot of things, including how someone grew up and how money was used in the family, whether it was used generously, freely or conditionally.
"Couples may begin to repeat negative patterns they learned at home, so if they had a very traditional family — in which one went out to work and one controlled the purse strings, paid the bills and that sort of thing — they may begin to argue over who makes the decisions about money and whose word carries more weight," explained Berg.
"As they argue, they displace their anger — not at the world or God, for example, but at the person nearest to them, a husband or wife, just as in the old song that says, 'You always hurt the one you love.' "
Cheryl H. Litzke, Ph.D., LMFT, assistant professor in programs in couple and family therapy at Drexel University, said that couples she is seeing in her clinical practice are definitely dealing with this.
"It's affecting all of us at certain levels, and is affecting couples' communication and their sex lives as well, where it could be turning into a demand situation and a you-owe-me sort of thing," she explained. "It's making a major difference financially, of course, with couples talking about money more than ever.
"In today's economy," she continued, "my advice to couples is to find ways to talk that are nonblaming and to put some time aside — although that's harder for couples with children — for themselves, even if it's for something as basic as a long walk together.
"Restaurants are good places, too, if they still fit into the family budget," said Litzke, "because it's hard to yell and scream at each other there usually."