October 25, 2016

Money Misery

Conflict over finances is one of the most common problems in marriage, and one of the top causes of divorce.

People have very strong feelings about money, especially when there isn't enough of it. Psychologically, money can represent safety, self-esteem, social status, security, and the power to control one's destiny. No wonder people are so emotional about it!

In practical terms, we need money to get along in life, to pay the rent, feed and clothe our families, have some extra fun now and then, and - we hope - provide some security for the future.

If there isn't enough money, we have to make tough decisions. Fighting over how to spend or save is a common problem among couples. Even when partners are in agreement, being short on funds is stressful, and constant stress can undermine even the best of relationships.

Unfortunately, it seems that most people today are facing some kind of money trouble. The average household is burdened with debts of all kinds. Aside from mortgages, the most common debts are auto loans, student loans, and credit card debt.

Credit cards are especially bad, because they encourage us to spend more than we should, and they make it difficult to ever pay what we owe. Accurate statistics are hard to find, because there are many different ways to analyze the numbers. But in general it seems that more than a third of households carry some kind of ongoing credit card debt. The median amount of that debt is around $2,300, but many families owe much more, with an average of over $5,000, and with some reaching $17,000 or more.*

Even the lower numbers can cause real problems. Take a look at this excerpt from a bill I received earlier this year.

My balance that month was a bit over $2,700. Since I pay my bills in full every month, this represents one month's expenses. If I were to make only the minimum payment every month, it would take me 14 years to pay for one month's worth of purchases. Fourteen years! And that assumes that I didn't make any more purchases, ever again, on that credit card! That $2,700 would end up costing me over $5,700, more than twice as much as I originally spent. Suddenly, all that stuff I bought on sale doesn't look like such a good deal.

The bank suggests another option. If I pay a higher amount each month, I can get this paid off in three years, for a total cost of $3,500. Note that they frame this as a "savings" of $2,200. This is not saving! This is just losing less. And, once again, these numbers are valid only if I stop using the card.

Many, many people are caught in this kind of trap. Somehow they never manage to pay off that debt. Fourteen years later, they are still making those endless payments. So much money that could have gone into a savings account, or a nice vacation. Money that could have bought karate lessons for the kids, a spa weekend for Mom and Dad, or a life-saving operation for Fluffy (who had to be put down instead). Money that could have been donated to a worthy charity, or used to throw a fabulous anniversary party. All that money just thrown away paying interest on long-forgotten purchases.

No wonder people are stressed, upset, and angry. No wonder every buying decision turns into an argument. The credit card bill added to all the other monthly expenses can make us feel like we are bleeding to death, with every new expense a stab to the heart.

Of course, the best option is not to get into debt in the first place.

The next best option is to end the cycle of debt. It will require a higher level of consciousness about spending, coupled with plenty of self-discipline, to break the habits that create and maintain the problem. If the situation is especially bad, or if both spouses can't agree on the best approach, credit counseling can be a great way to come up with a good strategy.

Married or single, taking control of your finances and living debt-free is one of the best things you can do for yourself.

Here are some helpful resources:
* Statistics adapted from information at Creditcards.com

October 11, 2016

Thanks, Honey

Do you thank your spouse?

It's amazing to me that many people refuse to thank their partners for doing the things that keep the household and the relationship running smoothly.

"Why should I thank my wife for washing the dishes? It's her job."

"Taking the trash out is my husband's job, I don't need to thank him for that."

When a waitress refills your coffee, do you thank her? When a hotel bellman delivers your luggage to your room, do you thank him and give him a tip? When a docent at the zoo explains giraffe behavior to your kids, do you say thanks?

Have you ever said thank you to a store clerk who handed you your change, or to a UPS driver who delivered a package? When you leave an antique store or a specialty boutique, do you say thank you to the owner, even when you didn't buy anything? Do you say "Good boy" when your dog greets you at the door?

The fact is, most of us habitually thank others for doing things that are just part of the job. It's common courtesy. Our spouses deserve the same courtesy. Our spouses don't want to be just household drudges, ignored and taken for granted. They want to feel appreciated.

I'm happy to say that my husband and I thank each other every day for the little (and sometimes big) things we do. Thanks for helping me in the garden. Thanks for doing the laundry. Thanks for getting the things I like at the grocery store. Thanks for bringing the trash cans up from the street.

If you haven't been doing this, give it a try. Your spouse may be surprised! You can make it even better by saying, "I just want you to know that I appreciate the things you do, and all your hard work."

It takes almost no effort, yet it means a great deal.

Thank you says: I notice you, I appreciate you, what you do is important, you matter to me. It feels good to hear it, and it feels good to say it.

September 23, 2016

The Dictionary of Interpersonal Relationships

I'm very happy to announce that my new book is now available on Amazon.

From the description on Amazon: This fascinating reference work covers all aspects of interpersonal relationships. With over 1600 entries, it includes vocabulary from literature, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and linguistics, as well as informal terms and well-known sayings. The insightful explanations of key concepts are especially useful. The Dictionary of Interpersonal Relationships is an indispensable source for writers, students, researchers, and anyone looking for a deeper understanding of the language of human interaction.

Clicking on the image will take you directly to the book's page. Or, you can see all my titles on Amazon's Rosemary K. West page.

September 16, 2016

Renewing Your Vows

Love, hard work, and dedication are just some of the elements that create a successful marriage. After all the ups and downs, adventures, challenges, and joys, one very special way to celebrate your life together is a vow renewal ceremony.

Many couples choose a vow renewal as part of a special anniversary celebration. For others, it is the perfect way to reaffirm their commitment after a difficult period in the relationship. Some just want to remind each other, and the world, that they would happily do it all over again.

Whatever your reason, FTD has created a guide to help you plan the perfect vow renewal. From where the ceremony should be held, to which guests you should invite, it includes tips on the most common do's and don'ts of vow renewal etiquette. Check out the vow renewal guide now to get started on planning yours.

Click on this image to see the complete guide.


September 9, 2016

Sickness and Health

In August, I had a tumor removed from my stomach. Although not malignant, it was problematic, and it had to go. Removing this kind of tumor requires removing part of the stomach. It is a serious operation.

My surgery was scheduled on a Friday. Steve took that day off work so he could be with me -- starting quite early, since we had to check into the hospital at 6:00 am.

He had a long and somewhat anxious wait, as my surgery went well past the expected time, stretching to nearly four hours instead of just two. Finally the doctor came out and explained the complications that had required all the extra work. Everything turned out all right, and Steve was able to see me as I woke up in the recovery area. Once I was settled in my room and napping a bit, he was able to take a short break to get a very late lunch, returning to sit with me until bed time.

Steve spent many hours with me Saturday and Sunday. For most of that time, I wasn't moving or saying much. I wasn't permitted to take any food or drink. There was a tube running down my throat, pumping out whatever blood or other fluids collected in my stomach. A tube connected to my arm provided me with fluid and medication.

I felt miserable, weak, and helpless, but having my husband with me, sometimes holding my hand, sometimes just sitting nearby, was very comforting. He brought me a bouquet of roses so I would have something friendly to look at when he wasn't there.

After two days, my stomach was tested for leaks. Everything looked good, so the throat tube was removed, and I was allowed to consume clear liquids. I didn't have much appetite, but it was nice to be able to sip a little juice or broth. Steve kept an eye on my tray table, making sure that I had everything I needed and that it was all within reach.

Going Home

I was released Tuesday afternoon, just four days after the surgery. Steve had arranged to work at home all week so that he could take care of me. However, on Tuesday evening he had to teach a class that could not be substituted, cancelled, or postponed. So he got a good friend to come and sit with me for a few hours while he was out.

The hospital requires that patients being released have a responsible adult with them. (Uber drivers don't count!) There are good reasons for this. I was still very weak those first couple of days at home, and would not have been able to take care of myself properly. I was told not to drive, climb stairs, or engage in vigorous exercise of any kind. (And really, I didn't feel like doing any of those things. Mostly I felt like lying down.) Steve made sure I had my medications (an unexpectedly complicated errand that involved two pharmacies), and that I didn't have to do anything that might harm my recovery.

For the first week at home, I was on a very restricted diet; Steve had purchased the items that I was allowed to consume, and he was always ready to bring me whatever I needed. I was supposed to exercise by walking, but at first I was a bit shaky, so he walked around with me to make sure I was safe.

Gradually, I got stronger. In general, I felt a little better every day. But once in a while there were problems. One very difficult day, I called Steve at work and asked if he was able to come home. He immediately cancelled his lunch meeting and drove home to help me.

A month later, there are still some restrictions on what I can eat, and my appetite is not what it once was. We like to eat out now and then, but restaurant dining is difficult because so many tasty things are not allowed, and the portions are much too large for me now. Of course, I can order a regular meal (assuming the ingredients are acceptable) and just take the leftovers home. Even better, we order one meal to share. I take as much as I want of whatever is on my list of acceptable foods. Steve has the rest. Most of the time, this is plenty for both of us.

The Promises We Made

Traditional wedding vows usually include some version of "in sickness and in health." Health is easy. Sickness requires time, patience, energy, and dedication.

There is a reason why married people tend to be healthier than singles. Having a trusted partner to look out for you and to help you with whatever you may not able to do alone makes a huge difference in life.

My husband takes good care of me because he wants to, because he worries about me, because it's the right thing to do, because seeing me feel better makes him feel better, because he knows I would do the same for him, and because he loves me.

We promised we would always take care of each other, and we meant it.