Can a Bad Economy Save Your Marriage?

Spouses who blame the economy for their woes, rather than pointing the finger at their partner, are more likely to be satisfied with their marriages.
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Lisa Diamond is one of the few people who has something positive to say about the economy. Sure, a wide range of problems can be attributed to the continuing recession, the University of Utah psychologist concedes — but from her perspective, that’s a good thing. Diamond, whose research focuses on personal relationships, reports financially squeezed spouses who blame the economy for their woes, rather than pointing the finger at their partner, are more likely to be satisfied with their marriages. She discussed her findings, which were published in the journal Personal Relationships, with Tom Jacobs.

Genesis of the study
“What really struck me was the fact that the news coverage of the global economic crisis created an unprecedented situation in which couples could, if they wanted to, blame someone other than their partner and themselves for their money problems. Usually, when a couple is struggling with money, there’s no ‘outside force’ that couples can blame. But this time, there was, and I thought to myself, Wow, in many ways, this is like a life preserver — some couples will take advantage of this convenient scapegoat and will focus their anger and blame on the global economic crisis, and some couples won’t.”

The data
“I worked with the National Center for Family and Marriage Research, which worked with a survey firm to collect a nationally representative sample with respect to social class, ethnicity, etc. Overall, 7 percent blamed their partner and the economy (for their financial difficulties), 3 percent blamed their partner and not the economy, 42 percent blamed neither the economy nor their partner, and 48 percent blamed the economy and not their partner.”

The Jan-Feb 2012
Miller-McCune

This article appears in our Jan-Feb 2012 issue under the title "But Honey, It’s the Economy!" To see a schedule of when more articles from this issue will appear on Miller-McCune.com, please visit the
Jan-Feb 2012 magazine page.

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The key finding
“The most satisfied couples are those in which couples share responsibility for the household’s money problems and direct some of the blame outside the relationship.”

The gender disparity
“Having a female partner blame the economy was associated with higher relationship satisfaction among ‘unblamed’ men only. [Although] women reported more satisfaction if they received shared blame versus sole blame, men reported more satisfaction if their partner directed all the blame away from him.”

The charitable explanation for this
“I think it’s hard for everyone to accept blame, but socialization may be responsible. In our society, we are still socialized to expect men to be the breadwinners, and so economic problems are more often placed on the shoulders of the male partner even when both partners contribute significant sums of income to the family household. Because of that socialization, I think the female partner’s blame might prove to be more strongly associated with relationship dissatisfaction because it ‘symbolizes,’ for both members of the couple, a view that the male partner has failed in his fundamental role shoring up the family.”

The big picture
“Research consistently shows that partners who do their best to give one another the benefit of the doubt when facing relationship hurdles, and who try to avoid adopting negative views of one another, are the couples that are most satisfied. To the extent that the economic downturn — and the coverage it has received in the media — helps to alert couples to factors in their financial troubles that are not their partner’s fault, it can help couples to weather economic stress by maintaining a positive view of the partner and a collaborative approach to their problems: ‘It’s you and me against the world’s financial banks!’”

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