For already-committed couples, belt tightening can strengthen the relationship.
"People are going back to basics and are spending more time together instead of spending money," Weil says. She also noticed that among her marriage counseling practice, adultery is down. Would-be cheaters are saying, "I won't spend $500 [to wine and dine the other person] when I can't pay for my kids to go to private school." A restoration of economic health—and newfound cash in the wallet—is likely to undo this benefit of the recession, however.
If couples can weather the storm, the toll that economic distress takes on them can ultimately be a benefit. "There are going to be some rocks that you've got to navigate, and nuggets of resentment, but very quickly after that, it's going to bring you back stronger," says Kyla Lange Hart, a principal at Toniq, a New York-based brand strategy firm.
That's why, she says, many couples can look forward to the days after the recession. Hart says shared hardships can lead to a "sensibility shift": instead of each person thinking of themselves as individuals, couples and families recognize that they're a team—that kind of mindset will endure post-recession make them stronger well after the stock market rebounds.
Chicago Tribune reporter Kayce T. Ataiyero predicts that recession-generation kids who watch their parents fix old bikes, cut back on family vacations, cook at home and enlist other money-saving measures, will in turn be more aware of saving and spending in their future. In a recent article, she wrote that today's kids will grow up with recession-ready attitudes, though not quite at the extremes of Great Depression children, who "learned to hoard money in their houses for fear of another banking collapse." The downside, says Stephanie Condon in a recent CBSNews article, is that they are also more likely to grow up obese or with behavioral problems and with less attention to their education, effectively resulting in a "reversal of decades of improvements," according to a Duke University study that she cites.
House And Home
For most couples—and even singles—owning a home is an integral part of their American dream. Research conducted by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University states, "In American society, buying a home is a rite of passage symbolizing that a person has achieved a certain economic status. Thus, attaining this goal should increase an individual's satisfaction with his or her life." According to Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, after the economy picks up, home ownership may not hold the glory it once did. Nor will buying a home "together," represent the same rite of passage for couples. It simply might not be an option. Citing flexibility and mobility as important factors in the post-recession U.S., Florida believes that houses in the suburbs will be replaced by apartments in the city.
"Homeownership occupies a central place in the American dream primarily because decades of policy have put it there," Florida explained in The Atlantic. Florida also explained that there is a correlation between home ownership and higher rates of unemployment because those who are not tied to a home are more willing to move in search of work, and suggests that various tax incentives that encourage people to purchase homes should be eliminated, encouraging people to rent.
Of course, for many couples like Do It Yourself magazine columnists Sherry and John Petersik, buying a home together represents a kind of consummation of the relationship. As their blog YoungHouseLove attests, the couple moved from Manhattan to Richmond, Virginia, purchased a little fix-me-up, got engaged and married, and improved their relationship as they remodeled their house. But a new home doesn't always remain a love nest. Despite the symbolic achievement and unity of buying together, for many couples, home ownership puts undue economic strain on the relationship. Florida's article makes it clear that as long as people need to tighten their belts, the better off they are renting, not trying to own.
Next: Dating Goes Dutch, Permanently?