It’s science: The key to a happy marriage isn’t more ‘stuff’

Sometimes when I’m looking at Instagram pics of other people’s lives, I’m envious. I see a smiling couple whipping up cookies in a social media snap and think, “If my husband and I had that new Kitchen Aid mixer—not to mention that kitchen—we would be smiling, too!” But new research suggests replacing my ancient mixer or my ugly countertops wouldn’t really boost our marital mood.

According to a study published in the Journal of Family and Economic Issues, stuff doesn’t make a marriage happy, and can actually detract from it.

Researchers at Brigham Young University surveyed 1,310 married people and found that materialism (measured by participants agreement with statements like “having money is very important to me,”) was negatively associated with marital satisfaction.


“As the pursuit of money and possessions are prioritized, it appears that other dimensions of life, such as relationships, are deemphasized,” says Jason Carroll, a professor of marriage and family studies at BYU.

According to Carroll, a focus on material goods can put stress on a marriage because “materialism can lead to poor money management and that leads to debt and strain,” but even if you can afford a ton of shopping, it can cause issues.

The study’s findings suggest that when people pursue happiness through the pursuit of material goods (a better car, a bigger house, those granite countertops everyone on HGTV has) they don’t have a lot of time to devote to the things that really make a partnership work (like communication, conflict resolution and intimacy).

It’s the balance of time, not so much the bank account, that leads to relationship strain. Ashley LeBaron, the study’s lead author, puts it like this: "Marriage dissatisfaction occurs because those who highly value money and possessions are likely to value their marriage less, and are thus likely to be less satisfied in their relationship.”

Materialism is part of modern life, the trick is finding balance. Everybody wants something (hello, countertops), but according to Carroll, the troubles start when a person isn’t aware of the degree of their own materialism (he says many of us aren’t).

"It is helpful for spouses to evaluate and openly discuss the time patterns in their lives and make sure they are devoting enough time to prioritize and strengthen their marriage relationship."

I guess time spent together in an ugly kitchen beats time alone in a new one.

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