Ask Amy: Your Relationship In A Recession Whether your lover has just been hit by unemployment or you and your spouse are living in a cash-strapped household, Ask Amy's Amy Dickinson may be able to help. Are economic hard times putting a strain on your relationship?
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Ask Amy: Your Relationship In A Recession

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Ask Amy: Your Relationship In A Recession

Ask Amy: Your Relationship In A Recession

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NEAL CONAN, host.

Right now, it's time to "Ask Amy." An unemployed boyfriend, a cash-strapped relative or a spouse who's still spending like it's 2005, in these days of shrinking 401ks and deep worries about holding onto jobs, the always stressful issue of money strikes more relationships than ever. These tensions can show up in the bedroom, at the dinner table and on dates. Today, we check in with Amy Dickinson, who writes the syndicated "Ask Amy" column for the Chicago Tribune, on your relationship in a recession. And if your relationship is strained by these hard times, give us a call, tell us how. 800-989-8255 is the phone number; email talk@npr.org. And there's a conversation going on at our Web site as well. That's at npr.org; just click on Talk of the Nation. Amy Dickinson, with us today from Chicago. Nice to have you back on the program, Amy.

AMY DICKINSON: Hey, Neal.

CONAN: And here's a letter from a girlfriend whose boyfriend was laid off: Since the layoff, he has not completed his resume, has not contacted people in his industry for leads, though he knows quite a few people. And although he has listings on a few online job sites, he has not followed up on promising postings. I've spoken to him about all this. He agrees that he needs to do more, acknowledges that as time passes, he's more anxious. He's even promised to ramp up his efforts, but always has an excuse for not actually getting things done. I've sent him information for work in his field. I've offered to help fax resumes or do anything that might help and make it a less daunting task. Is there anything more I can do or say?

DICKINSON: Yeah. I got this letter last week, and actually, I'm getting a lot more mail that's reflecting what's going on right now in the economy. You know, I read today that the foreclosure rate is up over 200 percent over the last two years, which is just absolutely mindboggling. And so, you know, it's creating a lot of stress, a lot of very sudden changes, for families and couples. And in this case, this girlfriend was very annoyed...

(Soundbite of laughter)

DICKINSON: At how her boyfriend was coping with his unemployment. And she wanted to know - she wanted an action plan that she could sort of pass on to him. And I said to her, you need to dial it back, darling, like, really back off, because she said in her letter, this guy had never unemployed before; he's 30 years old. And it sounded like he was going through a bit of a paralyzing sort of crisis. But she had already done so much, and it was creating so much of a strain that she needed to sort of step way back, let him know that she trusted him to take whatever steps he needed to take, and that, you know, she was available to help and assist him in any way, including not pay attention to his job search and just have sort of a relationship that's free of that for a little while.

CONAN: It's hard to do that if, you know, half the income is suddenly gone, and then you're worried about losing the house and things like that.

DICKINSON: Oh, no, it's just an incredibly stressful time, and it's, you know, it's causing - I got another letter from a man who said that his wife doesn't work, and she's a housewife, and that's the way they wanted it. And he's done fine and he - they've been very frugal. But her father, his father-in-law, had recently hit up all their family members to support him and his wife and gave them a monthly bill, basically, that all of the siblings were suppose to kick in each month towards this older couple's upkeep. And this son-in-law was very, very resentful, and he said, should I ask my wife to go to work in order to help support her father who's had this very sudden, you know, reversal of fortunes? And I said, yeah, you should.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DICKINSON: You know, honestly, it's like all bets are off.

CONAN: Yeah. And there - the emotional component of losing a job if it's the first time it's happened or even the same, you know, it's a little like grief or certainly losing a house.

DICKINSON: Oh, it's incredibly stressful, and there is a grief process. And I - there are studies that show that men and women deal with job loss differently, in that some men, you know, really a huge part of their identity sort of happens in the workplace - and increasingly for women, to be sure. But when a man who's worked at the same place for a long time loses a job, it can be a tremendous, very serious blow, not just to the ego, but to this - you know, his identity.

CONAN: Yeah, yeah. 800-989-8255. How is the recession affecting your relationship? Give us a call. Email us, talk@npr.org. And let's go to - it says on my screen here, Jeanvierre(ph). Is that right?

JEANVIERRE (Caller): Yes. Hi.

CONAN: From the Berkshires in Massachusetts.

JEANVIERRE: Yeah, that's correct.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

JEANVIERRE: I found that this recession made me see that my relationship with my fiance is strong and going to work and solid. It was a turning point; I was the one that lost most of my work in the fall. And to see the sacrifices that my fiance made so that we could both live off of his salary was unbelievable to me, and then the way that we got together and created spreadsheets of our expenses for the past year together to look through what we can both do to make this work. And I have gone through this experience and come out of it seeing that I have the right man for me. We can now make it through anything. I feel that way now.

CONAN: There's some people calling for his phone number.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JEANVIERRE: No, he's mine, ocupado.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: What kind of sacrifices are you talking about?

JEANVIERRE: Oh, my God, he normally gets a massage every week, like, once a week. He owns his own business, so he can make his own schedule. So, Friday is his day to take care of himself, which is something I've always encouraged him to do. But he canceled his weekly massages. We've cut back on going out. That's what, you know - I said, let's just not go out to dinner for a long time. And he's - let's see - he's taken on a little bit of debt to make it work for us, which is something he never does; he does not ever carry debt. And he took on a little bit of debt, so that, you know, together we'll pay off, but he was the one that had to take it on because I was the one that lost my work. So, it's been amazing to see that.

DICKINSON: Well, can I hop in?

CONAN: Yeah.

DICKINSON: One thing I really like about this is that this couple has worked together, and they basically conducted a full disclosure statement. And one thing I suggested to this man who didn't want to help support his father-in-law was that if your father-in-law is asking you to be a so-called investor in his life, then you need to ask him to sort of open his books to you, to see if there are places where he can economize, so - in order that everybody be on the same page and really, really know exactly what's going on.

JEANVIERRE: Yeah.

DICKINSON: But I have to say, you and your fiance are so lucky in that he can help out only by cutting out a massage. There are people who have to go to work at night. You know, there are people who are having to take on second jobs because their spouse lost their one job, and the strain on families is incredible.

JEANVIERRE: Yeah, yes. I've actually had to go out of my field and accepted work out of my field for a fraction of what I normally make just to bring money in...

CONAN: Yeah.

JEANVIERRE: ...so that I'm not relying just on him.

DICKINSON: And you know, good for you. And here's what I think some people may find, that when they do step out of their field, things open up in a really amazing way. I mean, you know, best case scenario, when people step out of their field or their so-called comfort zone because they're forced to, it's amazing what you can learn.

JEANVIERRE: Yes, it is. I've learned a lot about myself and my commitment to him, my commitment to the relationship. And my ability to just, you know, survive and put the ego aside and say OK, I - you know, I'm of a certain age, and I haven't made this little bit of money since I first got out of college, and that's where I am right now. And that's where I am, and it's going to pass. And I think we keep - our mantra is: it's just for now. That's what we keep saying to each other every day: it's just for now; we will get through this.

CONAN: Jeanvierre, thank you for the phone call. Good luck.

JEANVIERRE: Thank, you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go now to - this is Nadia, Nadia with us from Kansas City.

NADIA (Caller): Yes, hi there. I am actually - I got married on July the 25th, and my husband lost his job shortly after that. And we've just been going through a lot of financial issues, and we have children that we share from previous marriages. And it's basically come down to the point where, you know, I've been actually supporting my own children as well as his and supporting him. I have a mortgage and so many other things that he just had to move out just a few days ago.

CONAN: Oh, I'm so sorry, Nadia.

NADIA: And I just don't know what to do, because I want to be supportive, but at the same time, all the financial stress was on me and I just didn't know where to turn to. And so, because of that, he had to move out and take his children with him. And I'm just not sure how - what I can do at this point. He has been applying like crazy, just can't get a job. He just can't find anything. And it's taken really hard hit on our relationship. And I'm starting to feel like, you know, I'm feeling bad about myself, like I'm not being a supportive wife and I'm not doing my part. But it's just been so hard that, you know, I feel like it's - you know, how was I supposed to pay for the mortgage and for the bills and for support of my own two children, which I don't get child support for? And it was just too much to deal with. And so...

CONAN: Yeah. Amy?

DICKINSON: Well, has he moved out for money reasons or for emotional reasons?

NADIA: I think both. The money reasons was mainly coming from me. I was constantly telling him, you know, I need more help, I need more help. And he was getting, you know, a little from his unemployment check and he was putting that towards the bills. But I just felt it wasn't enough. And it just came down to the point where he just left with his children, and I don't know what to do at this point.

DICKINSON: OK. Well, I am so, so sorry. This is, you know, this is an example. You have a new marriage, a young relationship. And obviously, I think this is probably very hard on all of your children. The suggestions I would make would be for you to - I don't know what your situation is and I'm not a financial adviser, but I am a divorced woman who was a single mom for many, many years. And if your ex doesn't pay child support, you need to, sort of, pursue that. I think you owe it to your children, your household, to make sure that they receive adequate support. And he should also be receiving some sort of support from his ex if possible. And I would just urge...

NADIA: That's the unfortunate part of the whole situation, is we've been trying to, and we have cases open with the child support enforcement offices here. And it's just not working out; they're not doing enough to help us with getting child support from our exes.

DICKINSON: Right.

NADIA: So, we've been pursuing that avenue for quite a while. But it's basically just us, and actually, it's five children.

DICKINSON: Oh, gosh.

NADIA: Two from me and three from him.

DICKINSON: OK.

NADIA: So, it's a big number.

DICKINSON: All right, Nadia, one more thing. I would also just - you know, I recently got married, too, and I know that it's - with children from previous marriages, it can be really challenging under the best circumstances. So, I just - you know, I would urge you and your husband to try to meet regularly, where you can sort of continue to stay in contact and know one another. And if there's a way for you to meet by yourselves without your kids - if you can get somebody to watch the kids for two hours every Tuesday and Thursday so that you and he can have coffee and talk, I think that - you know, I would really urge you to do that.

NADIA: OK, that's a good idea, keeping in touch.

CONAN: Nadia, good luck.

NADIA: All right, thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. We're talking about relationships in a recession with "Ask Amy's" Amy Dickinson. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And let's get Carla on the line, Carla with us from Long Island in New York.

CARLA (Caller): Hi, how are you, Neal?

CONAN: I'm well. Thank you.

CARLA: Actually, I've been dating someone for five months long distance, and we had planned for February for him to come move here. He's been employed with the same job for 13 years, and he's got a really great position. And now he's telling me he doesn't think he wants to come; because of the recent economic conditions, he just doesn't think that he wants to be the low man on the totem pole.

CONAN: Oh, boy. So, that's lots of planning over a long period of time, all of the sudden, the big monkeywrench in that.

CARLA: Yeah, and I'm not even really sure now what to do if - how to plan a future with someone that doesn't even know that they can have a job here.

DICKINSON: Yeah. Have you ever seen "The Grapes of Wrath"?

(Soundbite of laughter)

DICKINSON: What I'm trying to say is, this is a really serious potentially long-term situation we're dealing with. And I do think that it is very chancy to leave a job right now, honestly, unless you have something very secure at the other end. And look, people have had to switch gears, you know, since the beginning of time. And I know it's a strain on a relationship, but if you could sort of see this as just, OK, we're going to change our plans, and here's what's going to happen now, you can - I mean, this is an opportunity in a way to save money for a wedding, to save money to put money towards a house, which - they're getting cheaper and cheaper, so it's a pretty good deal. So, maybe there's a positive way you can look at this as a hitch. But yeah, I wouldn't suggest that anybody leave a secure job right now.

CARLA: Yeah. Well, that's very helpful. I'll try to look at it that way. Thank you so much.

DICKINSON: OK.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Thanks, Carla. And here's an email from Andy in Jacksonville, Florida: I'm 50. The company I work for is failing. I haven't had to update my resume for 18 years. My girlfriend has her own business near our port, which is doing very well. I find she is upset by my depressed state and wants me to be more upbeat. I don't know how to accomplish that, so I try to fake it. We're not really strained by this so far because I'm faking it pretty well most of the time. I hope things turn around soon. It is really preying on my peace of mind.

And well, I'm not sure how successful a tactic faking it is going to be.

DICKINSON: Right. Well, we've all faked it from time. And you know, sometimes faking it is the best you can do, and so, you know, that's a tactic. But one thing I would suggest is that anybody in a - look, my - the company I work for is in Chapter 11 right now. One of the things you can do is instead of bringing your problem, so to speak, home, your professional problems, your worries and anxieties, you know, there are ways you can network in your field, and you'll be talking to people who share your anxieties and concerns. And you can - I think that professionals, we can all receive a lot of wisdom from our colleagues in the workplace.

CONAN: Amy, thanks as always. I think you're a little profit center for the Tribune.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DICKINSON: Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: Amy Dickinson writes the syndicated "Ask Amy" column for the Chicago Tribune. She joined us today from a studio in Chicago. Tomorrow, it's Science Friday with Ira Flatow. We'll see you again on Monday. This is Talk of the Nation from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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