If there's ever a time when the wedding vow "for richer or poorer" might be put to a serious stress test, that time is now. Many relationships that once thrived on the bliss of the economic boom are now teetering on the brink of collapse, as the country slips further into recession.
Amy Kean and John Schwartz are a husband-and-wife team who offer relationship advice on their popular Amy vs. John" blog on We-TV Web site. In recent months, they have seen a spike in the number of couples seeking advice for frequent fights over money problems.
"The recession is just wreaking havoc on relationships," Kean said.
Many women wrote in to complain that their husbands or boyfriends don't take them out anymore. Kean and Schwartz said it is a classic complaint during tough economic times. Women tend to equate expensive dates with love, respect and affection, they said.
One woman told the pair that she was furious to discover that her fiance has been secretly selling his sperm to make extra cash after getting laid off. She thought it wrong and immoral that he hadn't consulted with her first, because she thought she'd be the only mother of his children.
Married but UnhappyDavid Hellyar, 27, and Khady Hellyar, 28, are one of hundreds of couples whose marriage has been hit hard by financial stress. The couple enjoyed a happy relationship for five years, until David Hellyar 's high-end residential home construction business went sour last year.
Since then, he's been overwhelmed with tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt and car loans.
"It's definitely — stressing, you know, on our relationship. On who I am as a provider, " David Hellyar said.
While David Hellyar continues to look for work every day, Khady Hellyar has become the sole breadwinner as a full-time nanny.
It's a common recession relationship issue: when traditional-minded men who feel they need to be the provider lose their jobs.
"They feel that's their identity. It's emasculating to suddenly not have money — not [to] have power — not being able to call the shots," Kean said.
"It's devastating. I think it's really important for the woman in the relationship to, you know, back off for a while, " Schwartz said.
With the bills piling up, Dave has become emotionally withdrawn and Khady feels unloved.
"I could start feeling the stress he was having. ... he didn't want to talk to me anymore, I thought he didn't care about me anymore," Khady Hellyer said.
Experts said if a couple already has problems, the stress of a recession could blow their relationship to pieces.
Over the last three decades, divorce rates in the United States have remained flat. The National Center for Health Statistics showed no link between economic downturn or recession and divorces. However, finances remain the number one reason couples fight or break up.
Divorced but Living TogetherBut for Dawn Joyce and Tony Joyce, finances is the reason they can't split up.
"Tony and I divorced a year-and-a-half ago, and because of the economy we couldn't sell the house," said Dawn Joyce, 46.
Tony Joyce, 47, had to take a big pay cut and demotion recently when his transport company went through a major restructuring.
His commitment to support his four children — Lauren, 19, a freshman at Illinois State University; Anthony, 17, a senior in high school who's just been accepted by University of Illinois Engineering School; Taylor, 16, a junior in high school; and Madeline, 8 — has made it financially impossible for him to move out. So Tony and Dawn live in the same house but in separate bedrooms.
"We still try to have fun. The last thing we want is the stress of the economic situation and divorce to have a big impact on our children," Tony Joyce said .
The couple still shares household chores and parenting responsibilities, but what's awkward is that Dawn Joyce already has started dating someone else.
"That's probably hardest on them because they don't really see us as divorced, even though we are," Dawn Joyce said.
Neither of them has really been able to move on, she added.
When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Keep GoingAs for Khady Hellyar and Dave Hellyar, the stress over finances and Dave Hellyar 's emotional shutdowns have brought their relationship to the brink. But now, both are committed to staying married by improving communication.
"This has been an opportunity because I want a good marriage," Khady Hellyer said. "I want my husband to be happy."
Relationship experts said the couples that weather this storm will come out stronger.
"If there was ever a time where you really need to depend on your relationship, it's during a recession — during stressful times. I mean, we need love and support, all of us," Kean said.