According to The Hamilton Project, authored by Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney, marriage is more likely to be sustained among wealthier Americans versus those in low-income households. To which I add my scientific input, which is, simply put, "Duh!"
There are usually two sources of arguments in relationships: Children and finances. Money can't buy love -- the Fab Four were right about that -- but if you have a certain amount, it can mean more comfort and fewer disputes. In order to survive without, there has to be a certain amount of agreement, acceptance, understanding and sacrifice. It's hard enough when everything is normal. My marriage was the portrait of what happens when the economy goes wrong and despair takes over.
While we were dating and engaged, my ex and I were as financially stable as two recent college graduates could be. But a month before we tied the knot I lost my job. Things seemed to go okay long enough for us to get married and put the house together. But when I had a tricky time finding work after a while, I realized that there was a major disconnect between us regarding money.
Growing up, my family had financial success when my sister and I were older. When we were little, we were far from well off. The things that most kids were able to afford to have -- piano lessons, fancy toys, family vacations -- were not things we had. My mother worked as a teacher and my dad struggled to find a job. We weren't hungry, but my parents had tremendous financial issues, which included almost losing our house.
Cut to my ex's life, which is more common for my generation than my story. My ex wanted for nothing. His dad was a financial professional and his mother worked part-time from home, spending most of her time carting around her boys from private school to tutoring and all sorts of lessons and sports practices. His family took trips and lived comfortably, not to mention footed the bill for his entire college career and living expenses.
Financial problems struck over and over in our marriage: A firing for him, a layoff for me, going through our savings to supplement our unemployment checks. I was concerned, but more accepting that it happens; with the economy being the way it was, it was inevitable. We didn't have kids and our living expenses were low, so we were fortunate. After all, we were a young couple; we had time to recoup the loss.
All my ex could see was disaster. We would never be able to afford a house, have children, take trips or do what we wanted because we needed X amount of time to save money. Our lives were ruined and it was somehow my fault, even when I was the breadwinner and he was unemployed at home over the course of several years. I would adapt, doing things like not shopping for groceries while he was around so I wouldn't get an interrogation about how much I spent, but it was inevitable. His anger was out of control. We seemed to be working against each other, not with each other.
Despair is easy to drift to when times get hard, particularly when there is a lack of money. Most of the time we keep trudging along and making the most of it. But if it gets too out of control, it can infect the other things around it. With some tender loving care, usually those things can be healed and we become stronger, but sometimes there is no chance at repair.
Six months before the marriage ended, we finally got on stable financial footing, but the damage had been done. Every bond has been washed away and any good feelings were sacrificed. I barely knew how to talk to him anymore without a fight; he was still so angry, and even though we had money now, it was clear the fury wasn't going away. The difference was that I could afford to leave -- barely.
Do you need money to keep a marriage alive? I'm not working with a strong sample of the population, but I look at my friends whose marriages have lasted for a while and most of them are either well off or their parents are pitching in. We don't know what a marriage is like until it is seen behind closed doors, but the fact that they have not filed for divorce yet is a sign that something is working or no one wants to leave and risk what comes with splitting up. There are no guarantees, but longevity seems more likely when there's one less worry.
But then I think of one married couple I'm particularly close to -- I was even in the wedding party. They're young and far from wealthy, but they know where they're going and understand the respect, nurturing and love it takes in order to have a life together. There are no guarantees in life, but I am hopeful for them; they start with a good base and are working their way up as a unit.
Marriage is about working together, including in financial issues. It's easier to remain separate and look out for yourselves, and much harder to come together and work on the issues as a partnership. To be fair, I may be broke and looking for work now, but I'm much happier being single and poor than with someone who would berate me for not being good enough financially.