Money really can’t buy you love: study finds materialism hard on marriage

It seems that being a material girl — or guy — can be hard on a marriage, especially if both spouses place a high value on money and accumulating possessions, research suggests.

In a study by Brigham Young University, researchers found that materialism in a spouse was associated with lower levels of responsiveness to the partner, less emotional maturity, poor communication and higher levels of conflict.

The study, published Thursday in the Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, also found that love of money in one or both spouses led to reduced satisfaction in the relationship and threatened the marriage’s stability.

“We did find that materialism is harmful to marriage and that the effect of it seems to be widespread,” lead author Jason Carroll, a professor of family life at Brigham Young in Provo, Utah, said in an interview. “This is more of an erosion pattern, rather than a landfall pattern.”

Carroll said couples in which both spouses reported not caring about money — about 14 per cent of the group — scored 10 to 15 per cent higher on marriage stability and other measures of relationship quality than did couples where one or both are materialistic.

The effect was particularly pronounced when both the husband and wife worshipped at the altar of consumerism, as was the case in about 20 per cent of participants. “Couples where both spouses are materialistic were worse off on nearly every measure we looked at,” he said.

The study involved 1,734 married couples across the United States. Each spouse filled out a questionnaire, which included a self-report on how much he or she values “having money and lots of things.”

Researchers expected there would be more conflict and lower marital satisfaction when there was a mismatch in values between partners, with one being materialistic and the other not, Carroll said.

“However, our study found that it’s actually the couples where both have high levels of materialism that struggled the most,” he said. “So even when spouses were unified in that value stance, they were the couples that (fared the worst).”

Carroll said being materialistic could lead some people to spend more than they can afford, creating debt and financial stress that can wear away the emotional glue that holds couples together. The focus by one spouse on money and what it can buy can also leave the partner feeling neglected and unhappy, he suggested.

With fears about the volatile economy, those whose happiness relies on augmenting and showing off their possessions may have difficulty if forced to tighten their belts, he said, adding that it’s important to sort out their wants from needs.

“The wants in the long run really won’t be the biggest foundation to their happiness because it’s not really getting to what they truly need.

“If we prioritize relationships and keep them at the top of our focus, that really helps us from getting sucked into the materialistic messages in the culture and helps us where true happiness will be found.”

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