Monthly Archives: January 2009

Your Husband Was a Banker

He used to work at Lehman.  Or Bear.  Or maybe he’s technically still working, say at Morgan Stanley, but he’s so terrified he’s out in the coming March cuts that he can’t work.  Oh, he says he’s working all the time:  he’s at the office, he’s online, he’s reading everything he can get his hands on. But he’s not really accomplishing anything; he’s obsessing.  And he’s not sleeping, either.  Instead, he’s pacing the apartment in the middle of the night, checking the markets in Japan or running the numbers on your household expenses and his so-called bonus.   He’s devouring 100-calorie packs and hiding the wrappers, but hasn’t eaten a real meal in days.  And his sexual desire?  Well, it seems your formerly big swinging d___ is just as limp and sagging as the economy.  Except for his mood:  he’s as volatile as the VIX these days.

What’s a wife to do?

Let’s be clear:  none of this is easy for you.  Even if you’re not a member of the bogus Dating a Banker Anonymous (see NPR’s Linda Holme’s brilliant journalistic debunking: you’re apt to be feeling deprived and angry as well as sympatheticand concerned.  If you’ve been together for any length of time, you’ve seen him moody and obsessed before, but this is different.  And you married aself-confident problem solver, not a whiney loser.  Trying to be supportive is not only difficult, it’s frustrating.  After all, he wasn’t great at paying attention to your emotional needs in the good times, but this is unbelievable.  But it’s possible your husband is depressed.  Not sad, not down, not lazy (although he may be those things, too), but clinicallydepressed.  And as much as it seems that he can and should just pull himself together, he may really be unable to without professional help.

How to tell if he’s clinically depressed?  The symptoms:

  • Changes in sleep habits:  over-sleeping, inability to fall asleep or stay asleep
  • Loss of appetite, or over-eating (notice the self-regulation difficulties here?  (Particularly hard for the take control kind of guy he once was)
  • Brain fog:  confusion, difficulty making decisions
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness (not that he couldn’t have used a bit of a bit of introspection and humility, but this is a hit to his sense of self that’s not leading to behavior change)
  •  Thoughts of suicide,  thinking he and the family would be better off with him dead
  • Depressed mood, maybe accompanied by c rying jags (this from a guy who didn’t cry at his dad’s funeral.  Or his baby’s birth)
  • Fatigue
  • Agitation, inability to sit still

What helps and what you can do:

  • Do something.  Anything.
  • Stay as calm and patient as possible. Then go for a run.  Or yell in the shower.
  • Listen.  Reframe what he finds overwhelming into something smaller and doable.  Help him move from worrying about the worst case scenario to thinking about what he, the two of you together, can DO to make a small difference.  Break it down in small bits.    Come up with a game plan, or two.  Time now to move beyond Plan B to Plan C and Plan D.
  • Guide him to take (small) action.  It’s counter-intuitive, but when you’re depressed and feel like doing nothing, the best thing to do is anything at all.  Help him break the problem into manageable bits, and start tackling them.  The goal is to steer away from obsessing about ‘best’ thing to do.  When the obsessing starts, help him focus on one small task that’s doable, and then cross it off the list.  The feeling of accomplishment builds.  Take a break, pat yourself on the back, and dive in for the next round.
  • Destigmatize help-seeking.  Throw out names of guys he knows who are manly and successful – and still see a shrink.  Offer to go with him, to help your marriage.  Whatever it takes.  He needs professional help now.  This isn’t something you just ‘come out of’.
  • Explore options. There are things that help financial depression besides a new job and a fat 401-K.  Depending on the specifics of his situation, there are lots of things to try: individual and couples psychotherapy, light therapy, behavioral approaches to tackle procrastination, anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication.  Working up a physical sweat helps the mental sweat:  hit the gym or go for a run together.  Remember getting moving is really hard when you’re depressed, you may well  have to take the initiative here.
  • Get him to laugh.  Laughter alters not only mood, but physiology.  You can’t give him a sense of humor if he doesn’t already have one, but you probably do know what will get him to crack a smile, if not a belly laugh.  
  • Be selfish. Chances are you’re having your own problems with all this, too.  Make sure you take good care of yourself.  Stress has a way of spreading…more on that soon.

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.


Soothe the Stress: Breathe

Soothe the Stress:    A compendium of tips that work.  Try one, try ‘em all Continue reading

Calm Your Kids’ Anxiety. Part I: Attitude

First, you’ve got to calm your own.  Opinions vary about how much adults should or shouldn’t tell kids about money (or sex) – or when.  There’s one thing every parent eventually comes to understand.  Your kids KNOW.  They know everything

Oh, they don’t always get it right, and  they miss the details  and interpret things from their own point of view.    But they always know when something is up.  You can talk with your spouse in the other room, behind closed doors.  You can whisper on the phone to your best friend.  You can even refuse to have any conversations about what’s worrying you when they are home.  They still know.  They smell the anxiety, kids do.  And they hone in on it and – here’s the worst part – they interpret it according to their own level of maturity and mindset.    Which means they get the important parts wrong and draw some very surprising conclusions.

And if you aren’t talking about their anxiety – or your own – about the family’s finances, their anxiety doesn’t just go away.  It goes underground, where they process it as best they can.  Out comes their  kid-version of some very adult situations.  If they can’t talk with you about their worries, they take those worries wherever they take their other concerns:  maybe to the gym or a friend, but maybe to nightmares and misinformation.

So what’s a parent to do?  Name it, claim it, aim it.   Try it yourself first, and then use it with your kids.  You’ll be doing double duty, each reinforcing the other.

Name it:  What exactly are you anxious about?  What’s your worst case scenario, and what’s the probability of that?  You know all those “How am I ever going to…?” questions you’re freaking out about?  Well turn them from fake questions that just churn your stomache into real questions, with answers you just haven’t yet uncovered. 

Claim it: Make the problem yours.  You may not have chosen to be laid off, but now that you are, figure out how to make it work for you and your family.   What could possibly be good about this situation?  How are you going to maximize that?  How’s the family going to rediscover the values and shared experiences that matter to you?  How are you going to pick what to give up, what to keep, and what to add to your life?

Aim it:  What are the next steps to a flexible plan, with contingencies?  Use your anxiety as a motivator to maximize creativity and energy.  Schedule regular family meeting where everyone offers suggestions for how to pull together, make changes, and have fun in the process.  

Coming up next:  Part II:  Tailor the approach to your child’s developmental level and temperament.   C’mon back…

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

Why Your Teenager Should be Worried About the Economy.

I was recently interviewed for the February issue of  Money Magazine,
Money February '09

Money February '09

a piece on how to address your teenager’s anxiety about the economic crisis.  During the interview I asked the writer, Jennifer Barrett, what advice she was hearing from financial advisors and bankers – the money professionals.  She told me one money manager advised parents to tell their teenagers there’s nothing for them to worry about, that everything’s ok.

Hardly financial advice.  But psychological advice?

Well, l just blurted out: “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard!  If your teenage kid isn’t worried about the economy, you’ve got bigger things to worry about!  Because it means she isn’t reading the news, watching tv or
learning anything online!  And if she doesn’t know what’s going on in the world, how is she going to be prepared to live independently in it?”

How could a teenager not be anxious?  Every day there’s some new information about unemployment rising so much that even internships are hard to come by, colleges losing endowment money, untrustworthy adults running the world. Your teenager’s friend’s mother has lost her job, her friend’s dad has been hiding in his study hoping no one knows his professional life as he knew it is over, and you are walking around a ball of anxiety trying to act normal while checking prices on canned goods.

So what’s a parent to do?  Teenagers are selfish.  They want to know what all this has to do with them.  Tell them.  And then tell them a little bit about the part that doesn’t have to do with them.  And then – here’s the most important part – discuss how their lives will be affected, and together come up with what they can do to help.  Be specific (that always helps allay anxiety), keep it short (one or two small things), and remind them that, though they’re moving into the adult world, they’re not quite there yet.  Meantime, the adults are taking responsibility.  In your house, at least.

Oh, and check out Money Magazine.  Let’s see what made it into the article – and what you think about it!

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

On Facing the World, Being with One Another

Lunch. Upper East Side on a recession weekday. Look out any window…lookingoutthewindowinafacemaskAny morning, any evening, any day
Maybe the sun is shining
birds are winging or
rain is falling from a heavy sky –
What do you want me to do,
to do for you to see you through?
this is all a dream we dreamed
one afternoon long ago

Too much stress. Times are tough, money’s tight, worklife insecure. Seems everyone’s reading the business section, following the financial news. Obama’s SEC proposal: good or bad idea? Will Feinberg approve A.I.G. bonuses? Will UBS disclose client names? Should you be eligible for an “I’m a Madoff victim” discount? Lost jobs in lost industries, death of dreams, reluctant trading down. Frugality joins green as the new cool (read: necessary) thing. Give up the vacation? Sell the apartment? Pull the kids out of private school? Take any work you can find, if only you could?

But it’s summer: You’ve got to lighten up, get out, get some perspective. Be with other people. Maybe a little entertainment, or escape. Certainly a little beauty: Look better, feel better. From the inside out. Appearances matter. Put your best foot forward, put on your face, face the world. Remember what’s important…


Walk into splintered sunlight
Inch your way through dead dreams
to another land
Maybe you’re tired and broken
Your tongue is twisted
with words half spoken
and thoughts unclear
What do you want me to do
to do for you to see you through
A a box of rain will ease the pain
and love will see you through*


Or there’s always plastic surgery.

Or being there with one another, for one another. That would be good.

*Box of Rain Grateful Dead. Lyrics by Robert Hunter. Music by Phil Lesh.

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.