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First Comes Love, Then Comes Money

Ever wonder what the “secrets” are behind happily married couples’ personal finance tactics? It’s no secret that while we do choose our spouse, we don’t choose each other’s personal financial background, habits, attitudes, money personalities, or ability/inability to balance a monthly budget. Financial harmony in marriage isn’t automatic. Below are six research-based, money management strategies used by couples in great marriages (Skogrand, Johnson, Horrocks, & DeFrain, 2010). As you read, consider which tip you could implement now.

Strategy 1: One Spouse Handles the Finances, Budgets, or Pays the Bills

This first tip may not work for everyone, however; when one spouse makes sure all the bills are paid, it’s less likely for financial obligations to fall between the cracks. A positive side effect of one spouse managing day-to-day spending? Communication with the non-managing spouse is required to stay on the same page.

EXPERT TIP: To simplify your monthly money management tasks, decide together which bills to pay manually and which to set up automatic payments for each month.

Strategy 2: Have a plan

Couples in great marriages reported having a financial plan that they decided on together. They didn’t ignore their finances from month to month or year to year. For example, a plan to get out of x amount of debt by the end of the year or to save x amount of money in an emergency fund as quickly as possible.

EXPERT TIP: Go out for a quarterly “money date” to create, review, and take steps to stay on track with your financial plan together.

Strategy 3: Little or No Debt

Couples specifically stated they had little or no debt or were paying off debt quickly. The quickest way to pay off debt is to make “power payments” otherwise known as the “snowball method”.

EXPERT TIP: is a free program developed by finance experts at Utah State University Extension that will take the debt payment information you enter and create a payment plan using power payments. When followed, the power payment strategy will help you knock out your debt as fast as possible.

Strategy 4: Live Within Means

The majority of the happily married couples surveyed said they did not buy what they could not pay for. They were frugal. They lived within their means. We might each define
what “living within our means” looks like a bit differently. The important thing is that we don’t regularly supplement our spending with credit cards.

EXPERT TIP: Together, choose a category in your monthly budget i.e. eating out, entertainment, clothing, etc. and review your spending for the past 30 days. Are you surprised by what you spent? Should you consider adjusting your spending in this category for the following month?

Strategy 5: Communicate about Money

Not surprising that these couples reported talking about money together. What was surprising? Some of them had never argued about money and others were currently
having money disagreements. What’s the take-home message? Even couples in great marriages disagree about money! They have the communication skills necessary to work through their disagreements.

EXPERT TIP: Regular date nights can help you reconnect and strengthen your communication skills. See for the USU Extension-sponsored date nights near you.

Strategy 6: Trust

What does financial trust look like? Being open about purchases, not spending extravagantly on credit cards, not making major financial decisions without the other spouse. Couples in great marriages shared financial trust. Examine financial trust in your marriage.

EXPERT TIP: Express gratitude to your spouse for something they do that helps you trust them financially. Together these strategies can sharpen our skills and strengthen our financial relationship.

Research and information provided by Amanda Christensen

Amanda is an Extension Associate Professor at Utah State University. She has authored fact sheets, grants, national award-winning curriculum, T.V. & radio segments related to personal finance throughout her career. She runs the Utah Money Moms blog and social media platforms. Her favorite things include her husband of 7 years, her 2-year-old son, Yellowstone National Park, the Utah Jazz, andthe Hale Center Theatre. Connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @UtahMoneyMoms.


Check out for more personal finance topics and follow along on your favorite social media platform @utahmoneymoms.


Gottman’s Sound Marital House

Building a healthy marriage is similar to building a house. You have to start with the foundation and work your way upward from there. John Gottman, one of the most well-recognized researchers on couple relationships, has created the “Sound Relationship House” theory to guide couples on their journey of constructing a healthy relationship. He describes 7 levels that are built one on top of the other to achieve this goal.

Level 1: Build Love Maps

This involves really getting to know your partner. Ask about their likes and dislikes, dreams, fears, hopes. You can do this by asking open-ended questions.

Level 2: Share Fondness and Admiration

It is so easy to look at those around us and see their faults. However, this is obviously not something that promotes a happy relationship. Our goal is to see the good in our partner and share feelings of affirmation and love with them. Choose to see the good rather than try to change what you don’t like.

Level 3: Turn Towards

As humans, we all have the need to love and feel loved, however, we all need that love in different ways. The best person to teach us about our partner’s needs…is them! When they reach out for our love or desire connection, we must choose to turn towards them rather than away. Doing so allows us to become even more aware of our partner’s requests for emotional connection.

Level 4: The Positive Perspective:

This level comes as a result of the first three. When we have a close friendship with our partner, we tend to see them in a generally positive light. We have a good impression of who they are, which helps us to overcome conflicts and challenges more easily. However, if we haven’t spent time to carefully build the first few levels of our foundation, we can experience “negative sentiment override.” This causes us to view our partner negatively, no matter what the situation is.

Level 5: Manage Conflict

Conflict is inevitable in a relationship, so learning to address it in a healthy way is crucial to relationship survival. Managing conflict begins with addressing the issues as well as our responses to them. Focus on the Four Parts of Effective Problem Solving: Softened startup, accepting influence, repair, and de-escalation.

Level 6: Make Life Dreams and Aspirations Come True

Isn’t this a huge component of the “falling in love” process in the first place? We fall in love with an individual and the dream we have for our life together, but often we lose sight of that as reality hits and challenges arise. Making sure to set goals and encourage one another on the path to reaching them can reawaken that excitement that existed when the relationship began.

Level 7: Create Shared Meaning

The attic of our house is where we store the meaning of our lives together. We each bring different backgrounds, cultures, ideas, passions, and understanding to the relationship. But to create stability and unity we must mold it all together. Yes, we are still individuals, but we are also a partnership. Creating meaning in what we do, how we act, and what we say as a couple can be the glue that makes us feel as one.

Just like building a home takes time and diligent effort, creating a happy and healthy relationship takes work. But the end result is worth the time it took to get there.

Research provided by Samantha Marshall


The Benefits of “Flow” and How to Make it Part of Your Life in 2019

Most of us would probably like more money, more free time, and fewer problems. However, research says these aren’t necessarily the paths to happiness. Instead, studies have found that challenges can be greatly beneficial and it is how we interpret everyday experiences, rather than circumstances themselves, that has a direct impact on our self-perceptions, our sense of purpose, and how much we enjoy our lives. Fortunately, it is possible to learn some control of our consciousness so we can channel our thoughts and feelings in patterns that will benefit us. One of the best ways to do this is to immerse ourselves in the optimal experience of “flow.” This state/experience is likely to bring satisfaction, allow us to help others more, and improve the quality of our lives.

What is Flow?

Flow is a mental state that requires action and awareness. It occurs when the challenge of a task is in balance with our skills – that is, when it’s neither too easy (which brings boredom) nor too difficult (which triggers anxiety) and helps us develop as a person. During flow, we are so focused on the task at hand that time gets distorted, we aren’t distracted by irrelevant thoughts, and we have such purpose and intention that nothing else seems to matter. We tend to “lose ourselves” in optimal experience because our consciousness is channeled and engaged. When we are finished with the task, we have a sense of satisfaction, maybe even exhilaration.

How Does Flow Happen?

Flow might sound like a rare and idealistic state, but it doesn’t have to be. It is possible to learn to be in flow and find joy in whatever comes into our daily life, even in difficult circumstances. Those who succeed in doing so follow this blueprint:
Pay attention to details of the environment and situation to find hidden opportunities for action that go well with personal qualities, skills, and strengths.
Set goals appropriate to skill level and situation.
Use internal and external feedback to monitor progress.
Stay focused and adjust the approach to challenges as needed.
Increase complexity of challenges as goals are reached to prevent boredom.

You need both opportunities and skills, as well as the ability to control your consciousness to make use of them. Self-consciousness (worrying about what other people think) and self-centeredness get in the way of this process, as can extreme environmental and social conditions.

When Can Flow Happen?

Some activities seem designed for flow, but the optimal experience of flow can be achieved in almost every aspect of our lives. For example:

1. The Body:

One of the best ways to start improving quality of life and combat depression, boredom, and unhappiness, is learning to control the body and its senses. Tune into your senses, pay attention to all that your body experiences and does, and get creative. As you immerse yourself in the moment and set goals that challenge and motivate you, flow can be experienced in sports, fitness, dance, yoga, martial arts, or in simple tasks such as eating.
2. Thought:

The mind is normally chaotic, making random patterns before settling on a painful or disturbing thought. Thus, it’s helpful to have specific information to focus on. Activities such as watching TV will give you a steady stream of information to distract you from your problems, but it’s more beneficial to have mental habits that give you control and induce flow. These might include doing or creating puzzles or riddles; reading, listening to, or writing stories or poetry; and exploring philosophy, science, music, or history. Find something that interests you and engages your mind, and aim for lifelong learning.

3. Work:

Even the most mundane or demanding job can be an opportunity for flow as you find ways to apply your strengths and develop skills as you look at your tasks and environment from different angles, set personal goals, and find strategies that help you be motivated rather than overwhelmed or bored. Focus on what is in your control rather than what is not. Counter to what we might think, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time because the conditions for flow are more readily available.

4. Relationships:

Optimal experience can be part of relationships with family, friends, and our community. Having a common purpose and open channels of communication, finding new challenges, and investing attention helps induce flow in even routine aspects of family life and relationships. Friendships can provide opportunities to develop expressive skills and feel into touch with our real selves. It is with friends that we often experience excitement, adventure, and discovery. Getting involved in a cause for good and interacting with members of our community beyond family and friends can also bring optimal experience.

Try filling your time rather than killing it by engaging in activities that require focus, increase skills, and develop “self.” Doing so can help you cope with stress, have a healthy relationship with your environment and others, find helpful solutions, and grow in confidence and self-assurance. Pick one aspect of your life in which you’d like to try pursuing optimal experience and go from there. Chances are, over time you’ll be enjoying the sense of purpose, fulfillment, and satisfaction that comes from living with the mental state of flow.


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Reconnecting in Relationships


We all have challenges even in our closest relationships. In fact, most relationships have about 12 things that they disagree on at any one time. Twelve!!! But what’s more important than those struggles are the things we do to build our relationship and to reconnect. When we focus on the things that are going right in our relationships, we can more easily conquer the struggles we may be facing as a team. So how do we reconnect and build a stronger relationship?  Consider the following “three L’s and a T.”

Look at your partner

We see those we love almost every day but when was the last time you looked at them deep in their eyes and really connected with them? Try this, look in your partner’s eyes for about 30 seconds, really pay attention to their expressions, and be in the moment with them. Look at the person as a whole, for who they really are, and not just what you might be hurt or frustrated about.   When we really connect with someone, we feel it deep inside and it also literally stimulates our brain, not to mention helping us to feel closer to our partner!

Laugh with your partner

When we were kids we laughed 200 to 300 times a day but the average adult may only average 12 to 14 times per day! When we lose humor in our relationship, we may get too wound up and lose sight of the bigger picture and being able to see humor in one another and in challenging moments. For good mental health, it’s a good idea to get five belly laughs a day. So, turn on your silliness and dance around the kitchen or find ways to make each other laugh! It’s not only good for your own health but also strengthens your relationship.

Listen to your partner every day

 Sometimes we think we are being good listeners but in reality, we are more rejecting then we are receiving of our partner. Often times listening is about seeking connection with someone rather than having someone share advice or solve problems. Even if we ask for advice, we are often just seeking to be understood and validated.  So, the next time your partner is sharing their thoughts with you, listen very carefully to what your partner is sharing, not just to the words but why it is important to them.

Touch daily

 Physical touch is good for our health! Shoot for five hugs a day. Many of these will probably be from your partner, but they can also be from kids or others that are close to you. Touch could also be in the form of holding your partner’s hand while watching TV, giving them a kiss hello or goodbye, or touching them on the shoulder or hair as you walk by just to let them know that you acknowledge them. When we touch someone, we let them know that they are important to us and it builds our relationship.

By practicing these “three L’s and a T” on a daily basis we exercise our relationship muscles so that we continue to grow together rather than letting our relationship atrophy. Reconnecting with your partner doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money, but making some investments every day can make a huge difference in your relationship and your general happiness and satisfaction in life!

Research provided by Naomi Brower

Based on personal communication with Doug Nielsen, psychotherapist and speaker,


Forgiveness: Setting Yourself Free

Forgiving those who have hurt us is something we know we probably should do, but few of us are eager to actually put into practice. When someone has hurt us refusing to forgive someone can seem like one of the only ways to get retribution. There is something extremely gratifying in knowing that forgiveness is ours to withhold.

Too often, we see forgiveness solely as an undeserved kindness we extend to an oppressor. But forgiveness is also a gift we give ourselves—a gift that provides considerable physical and psychological benefits to the giver.

Yes, it can be satisfying to clutch our resentments close to our heart, to replay the injustices done to us over and over. But often, the offending party is oblivious to our anger or underestimates the full extent of it. Meanwhile, we become fixated with the wrongs done to us. The constant rehashing of these wrongs in our minds results in our own torment, but does nothing to punish the injuring party.

Holding on to old resentments is not only unhealthy; it can also hamper our ability to have successful relationships. Bitterness toward one person often seeps into other relationships, causing us to project negative attitudes onto those relationships. Over time, refusal to forgive can also lead to mental anguish and even physical suffering.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the benefits of forgiveness include:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Less stress and hostility
  • Fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety, and chronic pain
  • Lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse
  • Greater psychological and spiritual well-being
  • Healthier relationships

Although forgiveness can be difficult, it is possible. Consider some of the following techniques as you seek to find peace with a situation or person in your life.

1. Choose positive thoughts

Negative thoughts generally bring negative feelings. Choose to focus on gratitude, and the positive times you’ve had in your life and enjoy the positive feelings that follow!

2. Take time to breathe

Take a 10-minute break twice a day to breathe slowly while focusing your mind on a positive time, place or person or just being grateful to be alive.

3. Learn to live without perfection

We all make mistakes. Think of times when you have made mistakes and how grateful you were for others’ forgiveness. Forgive yourself and others for being imperfect. Expect some pain in life and expect humans to make mistakes.

4. Focus on your positive traits

Focus on your abilities, achievements, and goals instead of focusing on others. Focusing on others’ accomplishments can lead to jealousy and endless criticism.

5. Learn the art of detachment.

Detach from the issue or problem causing the pain and look at it without emotion or judgment.

6. Develop empathy

Slow down the pace of making judgments about others and speed up the process of walking in their footsteps. Empathy and understanding of another’s history can ward off a great deal of unnecessary, incorrect interpretations.

7. Chose to let it go

When you forgive others you are not condoning their behavior or giving permission for others to treat you poorly, but by choosing to forgive you let go of the negativity that will weigh you down and keep you stuck in unhappiness.

8. Forgiveness is not a one-time event

True forgiveness can take time, because we may need to replace the old habits of thought with new ones. When we truly forgive someone, we may not forget the offense but we no longer hold resentment toward that person.

While forgiving others can be challenging, it is also ultimately your own best shot at happiness. Refusing to forgive can erode your mental and physical health; it can also compromise your ability to have successful relationships with others. Regardless if you ever receive a satisfactory apology from your offender, choosing to forgive them can release you to live a healthier, happier life.

Research provided by Naomi Brower

Adapted from “Why Forgiveness is Good for You” found on