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Marriage, Family, Stress and Finances

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Marriage, Family, Stress and FinancesWe know from previous  articles posted on Mental Help Net that having large amounts of money cannot make people happy. Conversely, can an inadequate amount of money make people unhappy? Judging from a lecture delivered by Dr. Benjamin Karney, PhD, psychologist at UCLA, the answer is yes, especially when it comes to marriage or intimate relationships of all kinds. According to Dr. Karney, studies show that low income families have a higher rate of divorce as compared to those with middle income. High income families have the lowest rate of divorce as compared to the other two. The lesser the amount of money a family has the greater the stress they experience, making their marriage more vulnerable to conflict.

At this time of economic stress, with high unemployment and lack of available jobs, this is an especially relevant issue. More families than ever are experience ecomonic and interpersonal stress.

Dr. Karney explains many factors that causes increased disruption for low income couples. Chronic stress is one of them. He emphasizes that stress at work and at home causes great interpersonal difficulties leading to negative outcomes. For example, these families are more likely to divorce within ten years of marriage as compared to middle and high income families.

Low income families have fewer resources to devote to the family. The lack of resources are not only in the lack of money but in less time together to communicate, vacation and enjoy leisure time with one another.

The lack of money of money means that couples have to work longer hours at lower salaries. Longer hours often translates into more than one job resulting in at least one partner being away from home all of the time.

When there are children, there is the pressure of providing child care when parents are working. Illness creates the inevitable conflict between staying at home to care for sick children versus risking losing a needed job because of not being at work.

It must be made clear that middle and high income families are not immune from the problems faced by those with low income. While the divorce rate may be lower for those with higher incomes, it is still very high. These families are also plagued by the need to work longer hours, resulting in being away from home and facing how to provide child care. The lack of time to devote to marriage and family is as much a problem for these people as for those who are poor. The reasons may be different but stress is high and the negative outcomes are also high. Chronic stress is bad for all relationships.

Does this mean that all is hopeless for modern families. Not at all. Whether low or high income, there are ways to find time to devote to family life. It is also important for members of all families to remind one another that they have shared goals and values. There is a reason for the hard work. Perhaps it is a way to pave the way for the children to have a college education, regardless of income level. In other words, communication and a sense of shared responsibility can go a long ways to help families remain intact.

Then, there are the important but often rejected or neglected activities such as exercise, nutrition, sleep and over all stress reduction that help increase quality of life.

So, money does not make someone happy but the lack of money creates huge amounts of stress that people must find ways to cope with in order to remain healthy at home and at work.

I came from a low income family. Despite the lack of money, we always found time to go to the beach every summer, go for some entertainment and find time for one another. This does not mean that life was easy. It was not. But we coped and there was always a sense that, we of the younger generation, would change things for the better. We did.

Your comments are strongly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD