Does Materialism Harm Marriage?
October 14, 2011

Does Materialism Harm Marriage?

Couples who rank money and material goods as important in their lives might be worse off in their relationships than those who aren´t as materialistic, says a study published today in the Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy.

The survey of 1,734 married couples across the US, asked about attitudes toward relationship values and issues such as materialism, compassion, communication and the importance of marriage. The results revealed that being financially successful did not make things better between the spouses, reports Courtney Hutchison for ABC News Medical unit.

Among the participants, 58.7 percent had either high or low levels of materialism. In that group, 24.1 percent were both nonmaterialistic, 34.1 percent were both materialistic, and the rest had dissimilar materialism levels, with one spouse ranking high and the other low.

Study author Jason Carroll, a professor of family life at Brigham Young University revealed to Jeannine Stein of the Los Angeles Times, “Couples where both spouses are materialistic were worse off on nearly every measure we looked at.”

“There is a pervasive pattern in the data of eroding communication, poor conflict resolution and low responsiveness to each other,” he added.

Couples in which both spouses were materialistic tended to be materially wealthier than couples who placed less importance on money, which may have implications for couples´ counseling, the authors noted.

“Efforts to develop new interventions aimed directly at addressing the problems associated with materialism in marriage,” the researchers wrote, “may be particularly relevant in the current economic context where financial resources may be lower than many couples´ expectations.”

Carroll and his colleagues have been studying materialism within marriage and how attitudes about money affect relationships. More commonly, scientists have studied the financial situation itself to link money troubles to marital strife. But people can be perfectly well-off and still harbor anxieties about money, Carroll tells MSNBC´s Stephanie Pappas.

“We really wanted to look at the meaning side of it, and the values people bring to this part of marriage and family life,” he said.

It has been commonly cited that relationships fair better when partners share priorities and values, but researchers found that the opposite was true in the case of material goods and money. 

When only one partner was materialistic and the other not, the non-materialistic partner was more able to buoy the marriage, resulting in higher levels of satisfaction, communication and stability in marriages, compared to dual-materialistic ones.

“Spouses that are mismatched on materialism may do better in their relationships than spouses with shared materialistic values because at least one spouse may possess more ℠other-centeredness´ and ℠emotional readiness,´” said Laura Frame, clinical psychologist and supervisor of the Supporting Healthy Relationships Program at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.

Researchers, giving practical purpose to their work, claim their findings supported a notion that a couple´s financial problems were more likely the outcome of behavior or attitude issues, and not just simply a lack of money, AFP reports.


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