Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Placing Blame for Family Money Problems

“If you had a better job, we wouldn’t have to live from paycheck to paycheck.”

“If you would stick to the budget, we wouldn’t have so much credit-card debt.”

“The politicians are killing the economy.”

There’s a price to pay for who you blame for family money problems. That price is the relationship. Who or what you blame can produce relationship distress. A recent survey of 632 cohabiting couples (95% were married) revealed that satisfaction with their relationship depended on where they put the burden of responsibility for family money problems during the last few years of the national financial crisis.

In couples where women blamed money problems on their partner’s debts, spending, or income, both they and their partner reported lower relationship satisfaction, unless the women also blamed the national economy. Women were twice as likely to blame their partner than were men. A similar but less marked finding also applied to men. In other words, even when individuals did blame their partner, the negative affect on the relationship was lessened if they also blamed forces outside the relationship.
The study did not emphasize the effect of blaming oneself, perhaps because this was a rare event. As I explain in my book, Blame Game, How to Win It, when things go wrong, most people find it much easier to blame someone else or some environmental situation than to accept responsibility for their own contribution to the problem.
This study was prompted by well-established research of others that had shown that poorly functioning couples tend to blame one another for other kinds of family problems. Couples living in positive relationships protect their positive views of each other by placing the blame outside the relationship.
I have to wonder what the role of blame has been in this modern era of high divorce rates. Are we less likely to take personal responsibility for family problems than we were a couple of generations back when divorce rates were much lower?
Any marriage counselor will tell you that happiness in marriage depends on nurturing, not undermining, the relationship. Blaming a partner for a problem, whether it involves money or something else, leads to maladaptive interpersonal behavior. On the other hand, viewing a partner more charitably, leads to more constructive relationship behaviors.
The national financial crisis will likely get worse until voters demand that  politicians stop running up the federal debt to the unsustainable breaking point. So, what to do? Blame yourself for not working harder or spending less. Blame your President and Congress for screwing up the economy. And nurture your family relationship.

Diamond, L. M., and Hicks, A. M. (2011).”It’s the economy, honey!” Couples’ blame attributions during the 2007-2009 economic crisis. Personal Relationships. DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-6811.2011.01380.x

See also my blog on learning and memory at http://thankyoubrain.blogspot.com

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