Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Keeping Our Relationships Out of the Toilet When the Economy Tanks

What do we do when the economy is causing our partner to go through difficult times? How can we be supportive? How can we use these times to promote trust and intimacy in our relationship?

The economy is in a downward spiral causing increased pressure at most companies. The amount of incoming work has decreased as customers tighten their belts and brace for tough times ahead. This creates tension in employees as they worry if their jobs are on the line. Since many of us view ourselves largely through our success at work, this increased stress can impact our relationships both at the office and at home.

Our partner may have significant feelings of helplessness during times such as these. Being a family member and part of the team of providers in a home, creates responsibilities that are taken seriously by both partners. Particularly for men, for whom work may be a major part of their identity, feeling powerless to stave off an impending loss of income may be extremely distressing. Women's identities are also attached to their careers, however, a significant portion of their view of themselves may come from their home lives, where they care for their families.

In either situation, being supportive of a partner is distress is an extremely important part of relationships. We enter into a relationship with the hope that we have found a partner in life. Someone who will stand by us in times of joy and in challenging times. We hope that we can count on our partner to be understanding and compassionate when disaster strikes.

How do we accomplish this task? It is our responsibility in our relationship to view our partner as a whole person. Someone who, like us, has issues and problems. When we accept that each of us is human and may suffer during difficult times, we can be empathetic. Stress created during economic downturns is likely not the fault of any family member. We can offer a sympathetic ear, lighten the mood with humor, try to plan inexpensive fun activities and make the best of our time together.

If our partner's suffering begins to impact the relationship a discussion may be in order. We cannot allow walls to be built during times of stress when partners need each other's support the most. We must take the inititative and reach out to open lines of communication. Listening attentively while a partner airs their concerns, offering support and asking pertinent questions to encourage further exploration of feelings are all ways of increasing connection and decreasing tension and frustration. Some partners may need additional time with hobbies for relaxation and reflection.

If partners cannot bridge the tension a session with a relationship counselor may be of help. Often times partners are stuck in a myopic view and merely need a disinterested third party to show them a new way of viewing their situation. Taking action to protect the relationship is vital. Building bridges, not walls, is the goal in healthy relationships.

These difficult economic times will eventually pass. Once the markets have grown through the challenges and customers have regained their confidence in spending, tensions at work will ease. In the interim we use our tools, practice self care, support our partner and protect our relationships through open communication.

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