Secret to everlasting love — is combining finances, study concludes

ITHACA, N.Y. — Couples with joint bank accounts tend to stay together, according to a new relationship study with a financial twist by Cornell University researchers. It turns out combining finances with your significant other may be the secret ingredient to long-lasting love.

Study authors report the consolidation of finances displays a connection to improved relationship satisfaction, harmony, and commitment in serious relationships and marriages. The research indicates this is especially true for low-income couples.

These findings have their roots in a major element of social psychology, interdependence theory, which focuses on how each individual person’s outcomes in a given situation depend on the decisions and actions of others. Within the context of this research, study authors worked under the assumption that in order to properly understand the quality of a relationship, they had to account for a variety of unique situations for each interaction while simultaneously keeping in mind each individual’s needs, thoughts, and motives.

“We expected pooled finances to increase one’s level of dependence on their partner,” says lead study author Emily Garbinsky, associate professor of marketing and management communication at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, in a university release. “As well as align the couple’s (financial) interests and goals, things that interdependence theory tells us are associated with high levels of relationship quality.”

More relationship benefits in Western culture

The investigation quickly revealed that couples with pooled finances exhibited stronger connections and more positive, safe, and stable interactions. These couples often used “shared language” to describe their relationships, including words like “we,” “us,” and “our” on publicly available online financial forums. People in strong relationships rarely used the pronoun “I.” However, they frequently used “affiliation words” such as “agree,” “connect,” “friend,” “kindness,” “listen,” and “peace.”

Additionally, a set of broad survey data collected in Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom showed a stronger association between combined finances and relationship satisfaction in the U.S. and U.K. in comparison to Japan. This suggests cultural differences may be at play.

“We suspect that the difference in strength is due to the fact that the U.S. and U.K. are individualistic cultures, while Japan is a collectivist culture,” Dr. Garbinsky explains. “Individualistic cultures tend to focus on the self and an ‘I’ identity, while collectivist cultures focus on group membership and a ‘we’ identity. Because members of collectivist cultures, such as Japan, are already accustomed to focusing on significant others, their relationship may not benefit as strongly from the boost in interdependence as when couples from the U.S. and U.K. pool their finances together.”

“It is our hope that by identifying who is likely to benefit most from pooling finances, and why,” Dr. Garbinsky concludes, “research in this area can help couples both decide how to organize their finances to maximize relationship quality and ultimately improve their well-being.”

The findings appear in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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