Tools for Couples Happiness — 02 December 2012
Can money buy you marital happiness?

The debate about whether money can buy happiness is ongoing.  There are many conflicting studies about whether the poor or the rich are existentially happier. Within any marriage, money may not buy happiness but may potentially create unhappiness. How can you prevent the trauma of financial disharmony?

Having money is, in and of itself, not a solid predictor of marital bliss. Both rich and poor couples feel happier when they see eye-to-eye about managing their funds. When money becomes a source of strife, couples at any financial strata are at risk of grave marital unhappiness.

Professor Jeffrey Dew of Utah State University analyzed responses of 2800 couples who participated in the National Survey of Families and Households. He discovered that “of all the common things couples fight about; money disputes were the best harbingers of divorce.” For wives, disagreements over sex were also predictors of divorce but not as strongly as financial arguments. “For husbands, money disagreements were the only type of common disagreement that predicted whether they would get a divorce.”

In his later study, Professor Dew found that couples who reported disagreeing about finances once a week were over 30 percent more likely to get divorced than those who did so a few times a year.

It is not the amount of money that couples share that contributes to their joys or sorrow but the meaning that they assign to money in their diverging perspectives.

Four common sources of unhappiness in couple’s money differences are: Family of origin patterns of money management, Personality styles, Control, and, Seeking Credit for one’s financial contribution.

Couples are likely to use their family of origin’s money management style as the model for their own. For example, having been raised in a traditional marriage, where the man was the breadwinner and the financial decision maker, may cause the adult son to be frustrated by his wife’s insistence on equal financial decision rights as modeled by her parents.

Personality styles may also be a source of couple’s money disputes. Some people are frugal, while others are spendthrifts. Some value purchasing items as rewards or status symbols, while their mate may prefer to use the money for recreation or vacations.

Having control over financial matters may help a spouse feel autonomous, free and in charge of his/her life. The mate’s input may feel restrictive, controlling or even infantilizing.

Some people view earning money as an accomplishment that merits kudos. Whether or not the spouse is also an income producer, the need to be credited for his/her contributions is equally important to both mates. When the validations are not forthcoming, one may feel unappreciated.

Make your money help your happiness grow:

  • Discuss your family-of-origin financial habits and negotiate your own.
  • Accept your partner’s “money-style” as a valid aspect of his/her appealing personality.
  • Control financial expenditures through mutual decisions.
  •  Give your partner kudos for financial earnings or other contributions to your union for your greater mutual happiness.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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