Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Financial Hardship

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on March 12, 2012

Elizabeth and Jeffrey, both in their mid-fifties, have been married for ten years. It is a second marriage for both. Together they have an eight-year old son, Ara. Jeffrey has kids from his previous marriage, but they are grown and live independently. Elizabeth and Jeffrey were very ambivalent about getting married. They met in a Salsa class, and they both enjoyed dancing quite a bit. They were both lonely and looking for partners, but the idea of marriage was scary. Elizabeth wanted a child; she felt that her window was closing rapidly. Jeffrey had children, so he did not share the urgency. Elizabeth implored Jeffrey and with much rush, they married, had a child, bought a house in a good neighborhood, and started what they termed “the American dream.” The problems came because both Elizabeth and Jeffrey are self-employed. They both have to market their skills to stay in business, and with all the transitions from single life to married life to family life to home ownership, their marketing skills were put to rest. Consequently, they are facing losing their home. The “American dream” is becoming an “American nightmare”. Elizabeth and Jeffrey are hard-working, earnest people who do not want a hand-out. They want to work, for themselves, that is.

This couple comes to me in significant relationship distress. Each one thinks the other should shoulder the financial burden of keeping up on the mortgage payments. Jeffrey feels that he was railroaded into this “family life” and he never really wanted to start another family. Elizabeth feels that Jeffrey is the “man of the house” and so he should take financial responsibility for his family. In their standoff, both reluctantly market their skills and both of them blame the other for their financial decline. The fear that they feel is palpable, as is the anger. My job is to show both Elizabeth and Jeffrey their role in their predicament. Decisions made over ten years ago are now causing them significant distress. This long delay in seeing cause and effect makes it hard to piece this puzzle together. The puzzle, as they see it, is how two smart hard-working people can be so close to foreclosure. The mystery is large if one looks in the short-term, but pulling the camera back, one can see how this came down. I help them to see the long view, not as a way of imposing guilt, but as a way of understanding that difficult decisions got them into this predicament and so better decisions now can get them out of it. I urge the thoughtfulness of long-term thinking as a way of helping them navigate these rough waters. In some ways, what I say is obvious. Yet, in other ways, when the stress is overwhelming, the obvious becomes obscured. I am no financial planner, as I tell them, but I can help them sort through the feelings of anger and resentment so that they can have clear thinking, resulting in better decision-making. I am optimistic.

2 Responses to “Financial Hardship”

  1. Shelly said

    How complicated, how painful. How can you help this couple since you aren’t telling them anything they don’t know. Did they enter into marriage with unrealistic expectations from one another?

  2. There is knowing and there is knowing. The pain of the present is so deep that it is hard to connect the present pain to decisions from many years ago. This is downstream, so it is easy to “forget” how one decision leads to another which leads to a trouble spot. The idea of our therapy is to tie the past to the present so they can go forward with more conscious and thoughtful decision making skills. This is a life-long process which is, as you say, painful, but ultimately helpful. Thanks.

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