Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Psychologists help families tackle financial stress

University of Denver research shows conflict over money is the single greatest challenge couples face.

And now, more and more couples are facing that challenge. According to the Federal Reserve, the median U.S. household income is $43,200, and the typical family’s credit card balance is almost 5 percent of their annual income.

The first step is coping with financial stress is to deal with the stressful situation directly, says Martha Wadsworth, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor in DU’s Department of Psychology. “Avoiding the problem is the worst thing someone can do.”

Other tips include:
•    Plan a time to talk about it.
•    Decide if that time will be for venting to release stress or a time for problem solving.
•    Seek out help; look to others for emotional support or financial expertise.
•    Get out and exercise. It’s a great stress reliever. So is deep breathing.

Wadsworth, who studies the effect of chronic financial stress on couples and families, says people also need to face the facts.

“Actively accepting what’s happened is important,” Wadsworth says, “although there is a difference between accepting it and dwelling on it.”

Wadsworth and psychology Professor Howard Markman were awarded a $1.8 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to study the effects of money on relationships.

Starting June 18, the psychology department will help Denver-area couples reinvigorate their relationships through the FRAME (Fatherhood, Relationship, and Marriage Education) project. During the workshop, partners will learn how to handle conflict — financial and otherwise — how to talk about common relationship issues without fighting and how to restore and preserve love, friendship, commitment, fun and sensuality.

The project will pay couples who are raising children together and who have financial difficulties to participate in the study. Participants need to be available for five consecutive Wednesday evenings beginning June 18.

For eligibility requirements, visit the FRAME site. For more information call 303-871-3028 or send an e-mail

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