Can Money Troubles Actually Help Your Marriage Thrive?

What doesn’t kill you might make you stronger

Updated 05/27/18
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Is the love of money the root of all evil? That’s what many religious leaders teach. It’s easy to see where the sentiment comes from, considering financial trouble is one of the leading predictors of divorce. In fact, couples who fight about money once a week are 37 percent more likely to take the train to Splitsville compared to couples who argue about finances just a few times a month.

For some people, however, what doesn’t kill them actually makes them stronger. That’s what the authors of a recent study published in the Journal of Family and Economic Issues found when they investigated whether financial stress can help build up marriages instead of tear them down.

Researchers were interested in looking at relationships that thrived “because of” the Great Recession (which wreaked the most havoc between 2007 and 2009), not “in spite of.” For their analysis, they looked at the survey responses, taken in late 2010 and early 2011, of a national sample of 1,362 heterosexual married couples. In particular, they focused on participants’ answers about financial difficulties since the recession began (including whether or not they’d been through a foreclosure or had problems making mortgage payments); relationship maintenance behaviors (for example, how often they showed their partner affection); the role religion played in their marriage; and whether or not they received social and financial support from family and friends.

Most couples reported that they felt their commitment to their marriages remained about the same during the recent recession, though wives who felt objective economic pressures (such as losing a job or getting their hours cut) did say they were more committed. Couples who perceived they had financial troubles also reported feeling like their marriages were stronger. “Perceived financial stress may be a ‘common enemy’ that couples work together to defeat,” the study’s authors write. “In the process of working together to get through these demands (and the meanings of the demands), they may find themselves feeling closer to each other.”

Unsurprisingly, the study linked a couple’s commitment during stressful financial times to religiosity, relationship maintenance behaviors, and support from loved ones. Feeling like your marriage is sacred, showing your partner you’re invested in them by, for example, doing small things like making them a cup of coffee in the morning, and having some cushioning to relieve some of those financial burdens all appeared to help a marriage better weather a financial sh*t storm.

Invoking the spirit of Captain Obvious, the study points out, “finances are often a source of stress for couples.” That’s why lead author Jeffrey Dew, an associate professor in the family life department at Brigham Young University, recommends making sure partners get on the same page financially as soon as possible by talking through these uncomfortable conversations. In an interview with LearnVest, Dew noted that “the more often couples engaged in sound financial practices together, the more likely they were to be happy."

He suggested partners try “sandwiching these financial discussions between two enjoyable activities, so that they're less stressful. It's so easy for money to drive people apart. But by having a shared objective, you can instead use it to bring you closer together.”

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