Couples who place money and material things high up in their order of priorities are generally less happy than couples who believe money and possessions are not important, researchers from Brigham Young University, Utah, USA reported in the Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy.

The authors say their research confirms The Beatles lyrics “Can’t Buy Me Love” holds true – “the kind of thing that money just can’t buy is a happy and stable marriage”.

Lead author, Jason Carroll and team gathered data on 1,734 couples across the USA who had been given and completed a relationship evaluation. Among the questions asked was “how important having money and lots of things” was to them.

Their statistical analysis found that couples who did not feel money and possessions were important scored approximately 10% to 15% higher on marriage stability and other relationship measures, compared to those who did.

Jason Carrol said:

“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.”

About one fifth of responding couples valued money high up in their list of priorities, the authors explained. Even though they tended to be economically better off, money was also more frequently a source of conflict for them.

Carroll said:

“How these couples perceive their finances seems to be more important to their marital health than their actual financial situation.”

Even couples which had one materialistic person together with a non-materialistic partner appeared to have more loving and stable relationships compared to those where both were materialistic.

The researchers were surprised at their results, because it was only by self-evaluations that materialism was measured.

Carroll commented:

“Sometimes people can deceive themselves about how important their relationships are to them. It’s helpful to step back and look at where you focus your time.”

The belief that only materialistic people without money have a problem is a myth, Carroll explained. The general idea that if you are rich, it does not matter if you are materialistic is a misguided one. Their study, like some others beforehand, found that the detrimental effects of materialism occur despite income levels – i.e. it has a negative effect on those with and without money.

They found that couples who valued money and possessions highly had less effective communication, they tended to struggle with conflicts in their relationship, were less responsive to each other compared to the non-materialistic couples. Carroll suggests that materialism might have an eroding effect on relationships.

Written by Christian Nordqvist