The adage “Money can’t buy me love” has a lot of truth to it—at least to a point.

A well-known 2010 study out of Princeton University found that beyond a certain income threshold—$75,000 per year, apparently—a person doesn’t report more happiness, no matter how high their income goes.

But even if money can’t buy you love and happiness, it sure can have a negative impact on your life. For example, disagreements over money and financial strain are a common cause of marital conflict and divorce.

And according to recent research, it seems that even the love of money and material things can impact the quality of your marriage, too.

Study Finds Link Between Materialism and Marriage Dissatisfaction

A recent study out of Brigham Young University has connected materialism to the devaluation of marriage.

BYU researchers interviewed more than 1,300 married people and asked them questions to measure their level of materialism (e.g., how much they valued “having money and lots of things”).

Individuals were also asked about their perception of marriage importance, marital satisfaction, and how stable they’d rate their relationship. 

After analyzing their responses, the researchers discovered that the more materialistic a person was, the more likely they were to be dissatisfied in their marriage.

Conversely, people who reported that money was not important to them scored up to 15 percent higher on marriage stability and satisfaction.

Perhaps surprisingly, the BYU researchers found that even if both spouses were similarly materialistic, their relationship quality was still lower than couples who had only one “Material Girl” or “Material Boy” in the mix. 

This study doesn’t prove that being more materialistic causes marriage dissatisfaction. But the correlation makes intuitive sense. As the researchers hypothesized, placing an excessively high value and focus on “stuff” can compete for and ultimately crowd out other priorities like quality time, communication, intimacy, and conflict resolution with a relationship. 

In other words, we only have so much emotional and mental energy to use at any given time. So, if we allocate too much of that energy to our “stuff” instead of our spouse, our marriage can suffer as a result. 

Signs of Materialism and How to Combat Them

This research—and other research connecting materialism and income to wellness—doesn’t imply that money is itself bad or unimportant, and the takeaway shouldn’t be that you have to choose between having material things and having a healthy marriage.

Rather, it seems that how people value things and money is as much if not more influential on their relationship than their actual financial status. 

It’s worth mentioning, too, that materialism has been connected with issues such as depression and anxiety. So beyond boosting your relationship, curbing your materialistic side and taking a self-inventory about your money perceptions can improve your own well-being, too.

So, how can you tell if a love of “stuff” is negatively impacting your mindset, and possibly your marriage? Here are some signs of materialism to look out for:

  • Self-absorption, even to the exclusion of others.
  • The desire for immediate gratification.
  • The strong belief that the “things” you have are indicative of your success, as well as the desire to obtain more in order to come off as more successful (“keeping in with the Joneses”).
  • The desire for more possessions becomes more important than other goals.

The good news is that stubborn materialistic streaks can be changed. For example, positive psychology research on children has shown that focusing on gratitude, such as by keeping a daily gratitude journal, may help decrease materialism and promote generosity.

You may also consider limiting your social media and television consumption, limiting your “recreational” or online shopping, decluttering, and getting clear about your intrinsic values (e.g., personal development or community involvement). 

If you think you might have a problem with online shopping and the like and its impact on your marriage, you should contact a professional for help.