It's no secret that money woes can be a serious strain on a marriage, and couples who fight about money are statistically more likely to get divorced. But new research shows that couples who go into marriage with no assets, as well as those who rack up significant debts shortly after marriage, are less satisfied in their marriages over time. What's more, the bigger the debt they incur, the greater the problems.
"It seems to be that assets take the edge off of financial pressure and the worry about making ends meet or being able to pay the bills at the end of the month," says Jeffrey Dew, associate professor at Utah State University, who studied couples' attitudes about money and their own unions. While assets have an indirect cushioning effect, shielding people from anxiety that leads to arguments, Dew told WalletPop in an interview, debts have a more direct, insidious impact.
"With consumer debt, we see more of a direct link between the debt and the actual conflict." For purposes of his research, Dew looked only at consumer debt like credit card balances rather than mortgages or student loans.
Dew says there's no magic number of assets that guarantee you'll be happy or an amount of debt that consigns you to marital misery, but he does say that the worse a couple's fiscal situation, the more conflict that created in their marriage. "The more they had to pay off, the less happy they got over time," he says.
In fact, Dew says, if you take off the table any red-letter deal-breakers like infidelity, or drug and alcohol abuse, money troubles were the sole predictor of divorce for men among the top five areas of conflict couples face. For women, money issues were the top predictor. (Other areas of conflict Dew included in his study were hot-button issues like housework and in-law conflicts.)
Dew says the sizable chunk of change many starry-eyed couples drop on their nuptial celebrations may in fact sow the seeds for a divorce down the road. "If you're going to have a $27,000 wedding, make sure you've got a plan for paying that off and not accruing more debt if you want to maximize your marital happiness," he says, adding that it's a much, much better bet to either save up or celebrate your big day frugally and pay it off rapidly. "You're going to be happier over time," Dew says. The science seems to back him up.
So if you need some ammunition to sway your beloved away from their dream of a lavish, fairy-tale wedding that you haven't saved up to pay for, feel free to show them this article and suggest a romantic weekend in Vegas instead.
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