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Lots of money can make for an unhappy marriage

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Materialistic marriages can lead to problems.

When it comes to money and marriage, researchers suggest the two may not mix. In a new investigation, married couples who are materialistic with more money also seem to have more marital conflict.

Studies show you can't buy love or happiness

Past studies support the notion that happiness doesn’t come from material goods.

A 2006 Princeton study showed people with high incomes don’t necessarily spend time enjoying themselves, nor are they happier.

Spending money on "things" has been shown to leave people feeling flat emotionally. Ryan Howell, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University and SF State graduate Graham Hill, found money spent in the right places – on family gatherings and dinner with friends - promotes happiness that endures.

Howell suggests it’s life experiences that lead to greater happiness. Howell says, "We don't tend to get bored of happy memories like we do with a material object."

Howell based his conclusions on a study her performed in 2009 on students who don’t have a lot of money. His study was published in the Journal of Positive Psychology

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In the current study, researchers at Brigham Young University found couples who say money is unimportant have healthier relationships.

"Couples where both spouses are materialistic were worse off on nearly every measure we looked at," said Jason Carroll, a BYU professor of family life and lead author of the study. "There is a pervasive pattern in the data of eroding communication, poor conflict resolution and low responsiveness to each other."

Carroll said "Sometimes people can deceive themselves about how important their relationships are to them." In the study, one out of five couples admitted that they love money.

The finding, published in the Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, came as a surprise, Carroll said. Each couple used a self-evaluation to report how important money is in their relationship.

Partners who said money isn’t important scored 10 to 15 percent higher on measures of marriage stability.

The finding comes from surveys of 1,734 married couples across the country. Couples completed questionnaires asking just how much emphasis they placed on "having money and lots of things."

Compared to materialistic couples, partners who said money doesn’t matter had better quality relationships. Even couples where one partner was materialistic fared better than marriages where both partners admitted money was important.

The newest study found materialistic couples may have more money, but they’re also likely to have an unhealthy, unhappy marriage. The finding supports the long held notion that money can’t buy happiness – nor can it buy love.