Guest post: why materialism is bad for your marriage

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When I was doing the research for a book I wrote aimed at helping couples make better money decisions, called Financial Bliss, I spoke to a number of people (and used their quotes anonymously) about what they wanted from their money and how that affected their relationship. In a couple of cases where the relationship had ended, it seemed one – or both partner’s love of shopping was a contributory factor.

So I was really interested when Karen Pine (one half of the team behind the fantastic money guide Sheconomics) wrote about materialism and relationships. Here’s her thought provoking article:

Here’s a quick quiz if you’re married or have a partner:

How important is having money and lots of things to you?

1. Not at all important
2. Quite important
3. Important
4. Very important

How important is having money and lots of things to your partner?

1. Not at all important
2. Quite important
3. Important
4. Very important

The results of the research
Researchers* asked 1,734 couples in the US this question. The answers revealed a lot about the state of people’s marriages.

  • If both partners were materialistic: (answering 3 or 4 above) they were likely to have a rocky relationship.
  • If both partners answered 1 or 2: their marriage was much more stable and their relationship quality higher.

Materialism and marriage don’t mix?
The researchers concluded that materialism is bad for marriages. Of course, this is a correlational study so the direction of causality is unknown. Materialism may affect the quality of a marriage, but a bad marriage may also increase materialism.

  • People in poor marriages probably engage in more compensatory consumption, turning to money and stuff to provide the fulfillment they don’t get from their relationship.

I’ve known many women who’ve diverted all their desires into revamping a kitchen or restoring a barn only to discover it was actually their marriage that desperately needed renovation. If only they’d gone to Relate instead of Ikea, they could have saved a fortune and stocked up on happiness instead of granite work-tops!

What studies may show
In the US study 20% of marriages comprised couples who were both materialistic and admitted that money was very important to them. These couples were also better off financially, but their relationships were in a sorry state. Again, there are a multitude of reasons for this.

It’s easy to imagine the passion-killing effects of over-working to earn more, spending time investing in material things and not in the relationship, and a desperate need to ‘prove’ something to people because of poor self-esteem.

No-one is saying that poverty makes people happier. Just that money makes poor marriage cement, as this ad in Private Eye years ago demonstrated:

“Spike Milligan would like to meet a rich, well-insured widow – intention: murder,”

Perhaps Spike knew that a relationship based on money wouldn’t work. Not sure we’d recommend his alternative though!

*Jason S. Carroll, Lukas R. Dean, Lindsey L. Call, Dean M. Busby. Materialism and Marriage: Couple Profiles of Congruent and Incongruent Spouses. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 2011; 10 (4): 287 DOI:10.1080/15332691.2011.613306

Related articles:

When money is tight, it’s easy to argue over the finances. But talking isn’t impossible

Are you affected by financial abuse? What can you do if your partner is controlling over money or abusive?

Linked credit files; how to get your partner’s details off your credit file

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