When the economy tanked in 2008, my private practice was fine. As a couples therapist and someone who treats all types of issues affecting sex and relationships, I was busy. With a couple of books and a thriving teaching schedule as well, I didn’t feel the impact for a while.
Then in 2009 I, started getting calls from couples who basically told me, “I don’t have time to work on my marriage; I can’t feed my family right now.” Couples who had previously come in to talk about their frustration, their lack of communication or their boring sex lives were dropping out of therapy while they tried to figure out how to survive losing their jobs, foreclosing on their homes and avoiding bankruptcy.
I was worried myself. And then in 2010 couples started calling again, this time in desperation. There were making appointments for counseling because they couldn’t afford to get divorced. Many of them were living in homes they couldn’t sell, some living in a virtually invisible divorce, at opposite ends of the house or on different floors. The cost of separating and living in two homes was impossible and court costs for divorce surpassed their yearly income. They had decided that it was a less expensive option to stay together.
And they’re right. In a recent article in "USA Today," fhe Census Bureau reported that there were 65,000 fewer divorces in 2010 than in 2008. This is a 7% decrease in the number of divorces in just a couple of years. This change could be the direct result of a tougher economic climate. It’s expensive to get divorced these days.
Perhaps one unforeseen upside of a struggling economy is that marriage counseling is one investment that always pays off. Couples who may have previously given up on their relationship are working harder to stay together. They are learning the skills necessary to build long-term marriages and to deal with conflict and work through their stale mates.
Jon and Maria came to me after twenty years of marriage. They had been exploring divorce when their attorney suggested that they seek counseling first.
Jon told me in our first session, “It was our lawyer who said, 'You know, I think if you had some good therapy this may not have gotten this far. Go and try it and then come back to me in a year if you still feel the same.'"
I was shocked. They looked at me and shyly, Maria asked, “Do you think you can help us? We really can’t afford to get a divorce right now. We can’t sell the house without losing all of our investment. My job is shaky at best and Jon is doing consulting at home trying to find something more permanent. We cannot go on like we are, but leaving isn’t an option right now.”
Jon and Maria are not alone. I have seen dozens of other couples with similar stories; all of them working on their marriages, trying therapy as an alternative to breaking up. Maria said, “Even if we decide to pursue separation at some point, therapy will help us to communicate about what we need to do. We should have done this years ago.But I guess we had to be scared into it. Maybe this is the best thing that ever happened to us.”
Can the economy save marriage? It saved Jon and Maria’s. Today, in 2011, they are together and committed. They have sent several of their friends for marriage counseling. “It’s the best thing we could have done. We saved our marriage and we still have our home. At least something good came out of this financial disaster.”
Tammy Nelson, Ph.D, is a sex and relationship expert and the author of "What’s Eating You?," "Getting the Sex You Want" and the upcoming "The New Monogamy," due out in 2012. Connect with Tammy at www.drtammynelson.com.