For Love and Money

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Why couples who focus on mutual core values are happier.

When the two of you said “I do,” you both may have longed for a future filled with the finer things — a beautiful house and the latest gadgets. If what you really want is a happy marriage, though, you may want to downsize those dreams. A study published in the Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy (October 2011) suggests that pairs whose happiness relies heavily on money and possessions are less satisfied with their marriages than nonmaterialistic couples, no matter how much money they make.

Researchers at Brigham Young University surveyed more than 1,700 couples, compiled their attitudes toward spending money, and then measured that against their marital satisfaction. According to study author Jason S. Carroll, PhD, when both spouses placed a high value on the acquisition of material goods (about 20 percent of couples), they experienced the lowest levels of marital satisfaction. “Materialism is linked to less effective communication, higher levels of conflict, lower relationship satisfaction and less marriage stability,” he explains.

If you’re eager to turn materialistic tendencies into something more meaningful, talk to your spouse about your money motivations, says Tim Kasser, PhD, chair of the psychology department at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. Do you feel pressure to keep up with the Joneses? Do you use shopping as a coping mechanism when you feel stressed or insecure? “Understanding the sources of a heightened focus on [material goods] might lead to life changes that decrease the hold it has over the couple,” Kasser says.

Kasser also recommends focusing on core values, such as self-acceptance, personal relationships and community. “A strong focus on materialism can be countered, to some extent, by caring about these intrinsic values,” he says. “Research suggests that people focused on intrinsic values tend to be happie