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Short on Cash? Invest in the Relationship

By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, February 8, 2009

It's often said that money is the main cause of marital discord and even divorce.

But that's not quite accurate. What really causes the fights is all the emotional baggage -- fear, mistrust, immaturity, selfishness, or lack of self-worth -- that gets stirred up when money enters the conversation. Money -- that's just a convenient, albeit huge, hook for the quarrels.

As I was going through the many "love and money" books I get this time of year, I decided to choose two non-financial works for the Color of Money Book Club pick for February.

This month I've selected "10 Great Dates to Energize Your Marriage" by David and Claudia Arp (Zondervan, $12.99), available in bookstores and online. There's also a companion book I recommend, "52 Fantastic Dates for You and Your Mate" (Thomas Nelson, $12.99), which you can get at any of the online bookstores or at http://www.marriagealive.com (click on the link for "catalog/store," then "full catalog").

The Arps are the founders of Marriage Alive International, a nonprofit organization that strives to build better marriages and families.

Their approach is soft-spoken, low-key and humorous -- despite the serious topic. Their goal is to take couples back to their dating days, when love was in the air and money was just paper.

Perhaps the world's most famous dating couple right now is President Obama and first lady Michelle (what a lovely name). The first couple has frequently talked about their regular Friday night dates.

The concept of both books is deceptively simple. In the first book, couples go on 10 dates, each intended to concentrate on a particular skill. The first three dates focus on developing an effective way to communicate. Subsequent dates involve learning to encourage each other, finding unity in your diversity, building a creative love life (whoopee), working together as a team, balancing your roles as partners and parents, developing spiritual intimacy and setting goals for your marriage.

In "52 Fantastic Dates for You and Your Mate," the Arps have created even more interesting ways to get couples talking to each other, and not about the kids or the MasterCard bill. Some ideas include a bubble date -- as in blowing bubbles.

"Be willing to let your child out from time to time," they write. "It will add laughter and fun to your marriage team."

What's fun and frugal about these dates is that you don't have to spend money. You can if you want to, but it's not about the place, meal or event. It's about reconnecting.

"Great dates involve communicating with one another, reviving the spark that initially ignited your fire, and developing mutual interests and goals that are not focused on your careers or your children," the Arps write. "Great dates can revitalize your relationship."

That certainly may be in order for a lot of couples dealing with the fallout from the recession. In a recent survey focusing on relationships and finances, 43 percent of U.S. couples said the economic downturn has caused them to argue more often, primarily about finances. One in 10 couples reported that the role of the primary breadwinner had changed over the past six months because of a job loss or salary decrease, according to the third annual "Can't Buy Me Love" survey conducted for PayPal, the online payment-processing company.

The research that PayPal commissioned examined topics centered on love and money in the United States, Australia, Canada, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands and Britain.

The survey found that more American couples are hiding purchases from their partners (23 percent), and that U.S. couples bring the largest levels of debt into their relationships (51 percent).

If your marriage needs a financial boost, get these date books.

"Every divorce prevented saves the government money in down-the-road services," Claudia Arp said in an interview. "We believe that when we strengthen marriages, we strengthen our economy."

With the economy in a crisis, "10 Great Dates" is an easy and inexpensive way to make a difference in marriages and families.

To become a member of the Color of Money Book Club, all you have to do is read the recommended book. I also invite you to join me online to chat about the book. We'll have a live discussion with David and Claudia Arp at noon Feb. 25 at http://www.washingtonpost.com.

In addition, every month I randomly select readers to receive a copy of the book, donated by the publisher. For a chance to win a copy of "10 Great Dates to Energize Your Marriage" or "52 Fantastic Dates for You and Your Mate," send an e-mail to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name and an address so we can send you one of the books if you win.

· On the air: Michelle Singletary discusses personal finance Tuesdays on NPR's "Day to Day" program and at http://www.npr.org.

· By mail: Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.

· By e-mail: singletarym@washpost.com.

Comments and questions are welcome, but because of the volume of mail, personal responses are not always possible. Please note that comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

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