Another good friend of mine recently told me that she and her husband were divorcing. All I could think to myself is, “not another one. What’s going on?” But I already knew the answer to the question. It wasn’t lack of love, trust, or commitment. No infidelity or boring sex life. Nothing like that. Their story is one that I’d like to say is uncommonly tragic, but truthfully in these times we live in, their story is unfortunately all too typical.
Jordan and Rachel married in 2001, the peak of America’s turn of the century ‘grand ole’ time’ or what I like to call the calm before the storm. They both had great jobs. Rachel was a newspaper journalist and Jordan was a financial consultant at a prominent bank near Union Street in downtown San Francisco. They worked hard, saved up and bought a really nice home in a small East Bay town named Martinez just a few short miles from Berkeley. They bought a brand new three bedroom home in the Pacheco area with what they told me back in 2002, “no money down” and a low mortgage payment under an adjustable rate that they never thought about and therefore didn’t fear since their home value would increase at a minimum 10% by the following year, enough to “flip” the house and earn a profit or take out equity to purchase a rental property since their jobs were undoubtedly stable, secure, and well paying.
Why would they think otherwise? They both went to UC Berkeley or as Californians say “Cal”, and with less than $7,500 student loan debt between the two of them when they both graduated in 1999, they were prepared to face the new millennium together and in love - complete with a soundtrack of songs like “Wifey” by Next, “On Bended Knee” by Boys II Men, and “Let’s Get Married” by Jagged Edge, along with a variety of feel good songs about love and togetherness by artists like Musiq Soulchild, Maxwell, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, and numerous other singers with neo-soul anthems connected to their names.
With all this passion and enthusiasm influencing their relationship, Jordan decided to get his MBA so he could start making “real money” and since tuition had nearly doubled since he first entered Cal in 1995, he decided to go to grad school part time at night. He got a private student loan to cover the costs - didn’t pay attention to the interest rate or terms. Why should he have? He worked in finance and he’d crunched the numbers, even justifying it with that old mantra “student loan debt is good debt. This is for my future.” At the same time, he’d used his connections at the bank to make a number of high-interest yielding investments with his 401k and Rachel’s personal savings.
“All my friends have their savings in the stock market,” he reasoned. “I’m missing out on way too much money.”
The icing on the cake of their wonderful life occurred in early 2005 when Rachel announced she was pregnant with their first child and they both couldn’t be happier. They turned one of the empty bedrooms into a nursery and eagerly awaited the birth of their son which happened in October of that year. As they went into the holiday season, all was good and life was wonderful. In their minds and in the eyes of all their friends they had the perfect life. The perfect jobs. The perfect home, and of course the perfect marriage.
But something happened that no one expected, predicted, or imagined. The tides began shifting and those ‘grand ole’ perfect times’ began to slowly change. First, at the start of 2006 the adjustable rate mortgage on their home, well it… adjusted. The bank informed them they’d have to pay nearly three times as much a month on their home. Rachel, ready to return to work after maternity leave was told the newspaper was downsizing due to fewer print subscriptions and changes in technology, and her hours were cut nearly in half.
Moreover, in 2007 Jordan had been informed by the bank that they were scaling back home loans due to new mortgage defaults that were emerging at an escalating pace, thus he was offered a layoff with modest severance or a demotion. Though angered by the choice, needless to say he took the demotion. To make up for the salary gap, with just a few more classes left, Jordan had to quit school and take up a second job at night. Six months later the student loan agency hit him with a bill due for an average $250 a month as a result of the non-negotiable ten year maximum payback plan at nine percent for his tuition.
With less pay coming into the household and increased necessities, credit debt piled up and soon the non-stop arguing began only to reach their peak when Rachel discovered nearly all of their joint savings accounts were tied up in failing stocks associated with the catastrophic foreclosure crisis they also soon became a part of as the bank evicted them from their home in the summer of 2009. By 2010, they were in debt so deep their daily arguments had turned into near silence and they separated only to file for divorce just a few weeks ago.
Can I place all the blame for the demise of this once promising marriage on the recession? Of course not. Only the people in a relationship really know what’s going on. However, I can say that as the recession continues less people are getting married, more couples are in debt, more relationships are falling apart, and some statistics even say that people are staying in loveless marriages because breaking up is too expensive. Let’s face it - no one gets married for worse, poorer, bad times, or sickness. Most say their vows but think they will only experience the better, richer, good times, and health – at least in the first years of the marriage. All that other stuff is supposed to happen way later when you’re old and grey and have one foot in the grave anyway, right? Wrong! If there is anything this recession has brought to life it’s that marriages need to be prepared for anything at any time and this blog is dedicated to anyone seeking a ‘Recession Proof Marriage’.
So enjoy the weekly posts, please feel free to comment and pass this blog on to anyone you know who’d benefit from that real and timely suggestions, information, and helpful tips for couples seeking to keep their marriage strong during these immensely difficult times.