Marriage is one of the oldest institutions of human civilization, and as such, it has spanned the globe and untold cultures for millennia. These days, in the United States, it can be easy to adopt a somewhat cynical stance regarding the institution of marriage, given that roughly half of all unions end in divorce, but data shows that spouses themselves aren’t necessarily solely to blame. Marriages are as susceptible to their context as the people within them, and one factor that seems to have an especially negative effect on a marriage is a weak economy.
For researchers from fields as diverse as health and human services, economics and sociology, the effect of a weak economy on marriages is downright discouraging. Studies conducted on marriage after the Great Recession of 2008 showed that almost 30 percent of American marriages were negatively affected, and while nearly as many claimed that the hardship of economically uncertain times had caused them to redouble their efforts within the marriage, other data supports the experience as a difficult one. From upticks in domestic violence to a deleterious effect on home ownership and birth rates, recessions can wreak havoc on a couple’s home life. Here is a closer examination of some of the primary ways a marriage can feel the pressure of an economic downturn.
The most obvious way a recession affects everyone — not just a married couple — is in the way it affects both real and perceived financial security. Even before someone loses a job or is threatened with an impending layoff, the stress created by the knowledge that you are living in a time where pink slips are abundant can create difficulties in your relationship. Stress increases irritability and anxiety and can lead to shorter tempers, sexual dysfunction and more. Once stress enters the picture and starts to do its work, the cycles and habit of bad relationships can last longer than the recession does. If you’re worried about the ways in which a weak economy might be creating stress in you and affecting your marriage in a negative way, find ways to take some financial pressure of yourself. See about refinancing your house, unload a car that still requires payments and get something you can buy outright, eat out less — wherever you can trim the fat, do. A marriage is much more important than losing out on temporary comforts or luxuries.
During economic uncertainty, home ownership drops, and while it may seem like not buying a house wouldn’t have to spell disaster, it does point out trouble in marriage. For many people, marriage is a place where shared goals and the desire to meet those goals reinforce the success and meaning of the partnership. When couples are unable to work toward common goals like home ownership, their sense of partnership, rising to meet challenges together and basic belief in the other’s importance as a life partner is called into question. If a weak economy is keeping you from buying a house, don’t despair. Put money away when you can, and hope for things to look up. They probably will — even if it takes a while.
Another way that marriages suffer during a weak economy is in the area of having children. Depressions and recessions bring about a noticeable drop in birth rates, and while that choice probably means a couple is trying to make a wise decision about the costs of raising a family, it can also undercut a couple’s goals of starting one, which can easily lead to dissatisfaction.
One of the most unfortunate ways that a weak economy affects a marriage is in the area of domestic violence. As unemployment rises, domestic violence rates rise as well, and the reasons are somewhat obvious. The stress caused by a lack of gainful employment leads to depression, substance abuse, days at home with few outlets and a handful of other woes that can afflict the unemployed on such a regular basis that it creates an environment rife with tension. Tense environments are much more likely to erupt into violence than calm ones. If your home life is experiencing an overwhelming amount of tension and strife, get help.
Marriage can be a stronghold in hard times, but only if the marriage itself is strong, and even then, some marriages won’t be able to overcome a difficult context. As the recent data from the recession of 2007 and 2008 shows, if your marriage isn’t on solid footing, a weak economy may be your undoing.
About the Author: Perry Billows is a contributing writer with a doctorate in human services. He works as a marriage counselor in an underserved community.