By some predictions, the COVID19 pandemic will cause the worst financial crisis in the US since the Great Depression.
Already across the United States many are experiencing pay cuts and job losses, and for couples this may mean a lot of pressure on romantic relationships.
Whilst financial struggles are never easy, research from the University of Arizona has found that some couples are better prepared to cope with financial stress than others.
“We found that sometimes couple relationships can thrive because of, not just in spite of, financial stressors,” Ashley LeBaron, a doctoral student in the University of Arizona Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and researcher of the study told Theravive.
“Stressors are by nature very difficult and can definitely take a toll on us personally as well as on our relationships, but I think it's very inspiring that on an individual, couple, and family level, we can thrive not just in spite of stressors but because of them. Our study is one of several that has found research-based evidence for this idea.”
In 2018, LeBaron undertook research centred on married couples experiencing financial stress due to the 2008 recession. She found that some couples in the study reported that their relationship was strengthened due to the financial trouble they went through as a couple.
Many of the couples in the 2018 study were white, middle or upper-class married couples. But LeBaron wanted to see if the same could be said for people in different circumstances: unmarried, low income couples expecting their first child. Most of the couples were black and all of them had been through at least one to three financial stressors in the previous year. Stressors included not being able to pay rent or mortgage, having utilities shut off, or being evicted.
She found that like in the 2018 study, the couples who came out stronger from financial hardship were those who took the time to practice relationship maintenance behaviours.
LeBaron argues this is an important way to keep relationships strong.
“During times of financial strain, it's all too easy for our time, attention, and effort to be focused on finances and just getting by. Sometimes this is all we can do. But for the sake of our relationships, it's so important to intentionally also make time, attention, and effort for each other and the relationship. It's the little things, compounded over time, that can make the biggest difference,” she told Theravive.
“We call these things relationship maintenance behaviors because, just like the maintenance required to keep a car running smoothly, relationships don't run great on their own--they require selfless effort. Look for small ways to show your partner you love and respect them, and go just a bit out of your way to do things for them and prioritize them. These small, selfless actions are especially hard to do during times of stress, but that's when it's most important to do them.”
LeBaron also discovered that couples who received financial help from family or friends had higher levels of commitment to each other. As well as this, there were some important factors to having a strong relationship that were unique to low-income unmarried couples.
“We identified two things that help all couples who experience financial stressors: doing daily relationship maintenance behaviors (actions which show love, respect, and affection for partner) and receiving financial support from family or friends. We also found other things that help lower-income, unmarried couples specifically: having health insurance, having children with only one partner, reducing the number of financial stressors experienced, having a support network, and having a positive outlook on your relationship.”
LeBaron argues that financial stressors can happen to anyone at any time. Rather than allow financial stressors to weaken a relationship, she says couples will grow stronger in their relationship if they use financial stress as a catalyst to make positive changes.
Elizabeth Pratt is a medical journalist and producer. Her work has appeared on Healthline, The Huffington Post, Fox News, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The Sydney Morning Herald, News.com.au, Escape, The Cusp and Skyscanner. You can read more of her articles here. Or learn more about Elizabeth and contact her via her LinkedIn and Twitter profiles.