How Economic Crisis Adds Financial Panic to Divorce Stress

Are you in the midst of a divorce with no road map? If so, an economic crisis can signal unprecedented times for divorcing couples. Foreclosures and bankruptcies may leave you frustrated and worried, and during such times, couples often find themselves splitting their debts instead of assets.

The divorce process is no longer what it used to be. When couples are hard hit by financial problems, they may separate emotionally and physically but continue to live in the same house. In an economic crisis, divorce attorneys find themselves working with clients who have to reduce support payments because they’ve lost their jobs. And, when unable to continue to pay for the basics — let alone nonessentials like piano lessons and art class — parents are busy renegotiating the terms of their agreements.

If, due to economic pressure, you find that you can’t live up to the commitments you’ve made to yourself or the obligations to your family, here are some practical tips to get you through the tough times:

1. Be realistic and face the facts.

If you’re not already, live a simpler life within your means. Focus your efforts, because living your convictions is harder than just making the decision to change. Be accountable for your financial goals. Enjoy yourself without spending money —“ catch up with a friend on a walk, take your children on a hike in the hills, or read a good book from the public library.

2. Create a budget and a spending plan.

Enumerating what needs to be saved and what can be spent is an important money management skill. Set long-term financial goals andshort-termm objectives that will take you in the direction of saving. Conventional wisdom speaks to having an emergency cushion — that is, enough savings for at least six months in the event of job loss or extended health problems.

3. Try to access your money script.

This is governed by a process outside consciousness and is stored in a part of the brain called the amygdala. If you understand how your family of origin dealt with money and your emotional reaction to it, you’ll gain insight into your own financial strategies. It’ll help decrease stress, especially if you’re feeling fiscally paralyzed or even just stuck. You may decide to curb impulse spending if you realize that money and stuff are not necessarily a measure of power or self-worth.

4. Minimize emotional overload.

Everyone gets angry at times and arguments often follow. Don’t digress but deal specifically with the subject at hand, especially during these stressful times. Try not to blame or get defensive. And take some personal responsibility for what’s going on. In the end, be willing to negotiate a compromise.

5. Avoid emotional flooding.

This is a diffused physiological arousal that occurs in a crisis when tensions are high and communication stalls. It becomes difficult to listen, to think clearly or to resolve conflict. A buildup of negative feelings and resentments can be minimized with strategies that calm you down — take a deep breath, count to ten, and walk away.

6. Practice these welcome phrases.

In the middle of a disagreement, saying any one of the following would be reassuring to someone who is feeling misunderstood: “I could be wrong,” “Stay with me and don’t withdraw,” “I see my part in all of this,” “Let’s find a common ground,” and “We’ll somehow work this out.”

Even though the divorce rate dropped sharply during the great depression, that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Marriages were saved but domestic violence increased. When people are forced by economic pressures to stay in a bad marriage it doesn’t always turn out well for their family.

On the other hand, difficult marriages often end in uncertain times. During an economic crisis, people find themselves facing hard realities. Just like those who liquidate stocks to cut their losses, some couples move ahead immediately in other ways. Thinking it may get worse, they decide to divorce before the assets are all gone.

Divorce often feels like the most vulnerable point in your life. And there’s no formula for the best way to work through difficult issues. But you can start by choosing your priorities and focusing on what’s most important to you. While you may have to look at the big picture, take one small step at a time. Be kind to yourself as you make the choices that aren’t easy.