Are We Becoming Desensitized to Adultery?
When it comes to problems that threaten the stability of a marriage, infidelity may be losing ground to other seemingly less serious complaints. A new study from the United Kingdom found that only about one-third of U.K. citizens see infidelity as a serious relationship threat.
The study, published by the U.K. Office for National Statistics, asked British citizens about a variety of problems that might put a relationship under strain. In addition to infidelity, the survey asked about financial conflicts, long work hours, disputes over housework and unsatisfying sex lives.
Financial Conflict, Long Work Hours More Devastating
The results revealed that extramarital affairs were third on the list of problems that might end a marriage. Financial stress, including arguments about money, was the problem most likely to strain the relationship, with 60 percent of respondents saying that financial worries would put their relationships in danger. In addition, 40 percent of respondents said that long work hours and difficulty balancing work and home life endanger their relationships.
Infidelity was named a potential problem by 36 percent of the respondents in the study. Furthermore, an unsatisfactory sex life was named as a potentially relationship-ending problem by about one in 10 respondents. Disputes over household chores was the problem that most respondents thought was the least likely to put a marriage in danger.
This is not the first study to reveal that financial worries are a huge relationship hurdle for modern married couples. A 2012 study from researchers at Kansas State University and Texas Tech University found that arguments over money early on in a relationship strongly predict which marriages will end in divorce.
Financial Conflict May Reveal Philosophical Differences
So why are financial worries so much more likely to threaten a relationship than infidelity? Some experts suggest that arguments about money are really arguments about much more serious and fundamental issues. In other words, a person’s attitude about money says a lot about his or her values and general philosophy of life, often shaped by childhood and other strong formative experiences. Frequent conflict over money may reveal the fact that two people have different fundamental beliefs, which can be extremely difficult to overcome.
In contrast, conflict over infidelity is rarely about the fact that one person thinks infidelity is perfectly acceptable while the other partner disagrees. Usually, even the party who strayed believes that cheating is wrong, and saving the relationship is simply a matter of understanding a temporary lapse and convincing the wronged partner that it won’t happen again. Of course, this is not always possible, but it may be easier in many cases than bridging the sort of philosophical differences that financial conflict can reveal.
“Financial conflict” also covers a wide range of situations. It can include arguments over how to spend money among couples who basically have enough, but it can also include financial conflicts among those facing serious money worries. In these cases, the true cause of relationship difficulties may be the financial stress rather than the conflicts themselves. A 2011 study from the University of Missouri found that married couples receiving government assistance were more likely to divorce than other couples. Economic troubles are a source of tremendous stress, so this result is hardly surprising.