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5 things you can do to make your family stronger in bad economic times.

A tough economy presents and opportunity for you and your family to grow closer.

Across the world, financial institutions and businesses are reeling. Auto makers have filed for bankruptcy and many stocks have plunged. Every family is feeling the effects of an unstable job market. For some, the downward spiral of the economy is causing an uptick in anxiety and stress. I recently saw one family in my office that claimed, "We never used to fight about money before, because there was always enough. Now, we seem to bicker everyday." (In my family, even when the economy was good, there never seems to be enough money! But I’ll tell that story a different day.)

The point I’m making is that in this family, and in hundreds of thousands of families like it, being unsure about the future of your job and your bankbook can have a destabilizing effect on everyone involved.

Families don’t have to be ripped apart by bad economic times, though. Studies show that difficult times can actually help bond them together and form a common purpose. Here are five things that you can do today—and everyday—to keep your family strong in tough times.

1. Spend time together. When you’re flush with cash, you’re more prone to give everyone in the family free reign. One goes to a movie, while the other goes out to dinner with friends. When there’s less money, though, there’s less going out and that means more time at home. Rent a movie or take turns playing "Guitar Hero." Or better still, turn off the power supply and play Monopoly by candlelight. Cutting out the distractions gives you a chance to appreciate each other more.

2. Practice family rituals. Regular rituals can include anything from Sabbath dinners every Friday to apple picking every October. They are ways of establishing predictable patterns that say, "This is who we are as a family, and this is what we do." Having a firm family identity increases your sense of connection to others in your household.

3. Give to others. It may be counterintuitive to preach donating time or money just as your coffers dry up, but researchers shows what grandma always taught you: helping others makes you feel good about yourself. Decide as a family how you are going to help out someone in your community. You could go through your closets and donate clothes, volunteer at a soup kitchen, or, as a family, enter a road race for charity. Whatever you give, you get back in spades and it helps everyone in the family bond.

4. Stay physically strong. Having a strong physical state means being able to handle emotional health better. Be sure to eat healthy food, and eat in moderation. If you smoke or drink alcohol, stopping these habits can save your health and your pocketbook. On the other hand, going for a walk, doing push ups, sit ups and pull ups doesn’t cost a cent. When you engage in physical health activities together as a family, it’s a good way of building cohesiveness along with muscle.

5. Talk and listen. Being forced to turn down the intensity of a hectic lifestyle opens up the opportunity for you to sit in one place and have a real conversation. Use it as a chance to see how your partner, children and other family members are thinking, feeling and growing. People love to be heard, and people love to talk. In this case the saying, "talk is cheap" is a good thing!

No one wants to voluntarily suffer through bad times, but sticking with your family and growing stronger as a team, can yield its own dividends.

Scott Haltzman, MD is a clinical assistant professor at Brown University Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior. Dr. Haltzman is also the author of "The Secrets of Happy Families: Eight keys to building a lifetime of connection and contentment," "The Secrets of Happily Married Men: Eight Ways to Win Your Wife's Heart Forever," and "The Secrets of Happily Married Women: How to get more out of your relationship by doing less." You can get more information at his website, www.drscott.com.

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Over 1 million couples turn to Hitched for expert marital advice every year. Sign up now for our newsletter & get exclusive weekly content that will entertain, educate and inspire your marriage.

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