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Love and friendship are worth their weight in gold

One major reason for the break-up of marriages today is that couples don’t spend enough time together – often because one partner is all but married to their job. A frequently used defence in such situations is that they are working long hours for the financial benefit of the family.


Yet a new study, published in the Journal of Socio-Economics, suggests that getting married is worth the equivalent of an extra £50,000 in your pay packet (and that’s after the cost of the wedding), while seeing friends and family every day is worth an £85,000 salary rise.


The study also found that the downs can be just as dramatic as the ups. A painful divorce can bring misery equivalent to going £139,000 into debt.


“An increase in the level of social involvements is often worth many tens of thousands of pounds a year extra in terms of life satisfaction,” says Dr Nattavudh Powdthaveee from the University of London‘s Institute of Education, which carried out the research. “Actual changes in income, on the other hand, buy very little happiness. One potential explanation is that social activities tend to require our attention while they are being experienced, so that the joy derived from them lasts longer in our memory.”


Whether or not you’re inclined to take this study with a pinch of salt, what it confirms to me is that in our increasingly materialistic society, a lot of people put far too much emphasis on filling the family coffers to the detriment of family life. Even some of my clients can’t fail to see the irony of working long and hard to earn more money for their family only to see that very same family crumble before their eyes precisely because they’ve been working so hard and long to earn more money.


It is as possible to enjoy marriage and family life on a low income as it is if you’re earning mega bucks. It’s the relationships that have value, not a bulging bank balance. While many people understand this on an intellectual level, they find it hard to put into practice – getting swept up in the rat-race and the urge to surpass, rather than merely keep up with, the Joneses.


They may imagine that if they work all hours God sends for a certain number of years, they can sit back and enjoy the fruits of their labours with their loved ones in later life. But time waits for no man and it’s far from uncommon for the workaholic to wake up one morning to find his or her spouse has had enough and is leaving.


The working life is short but love, if nurtured, is long, so my advice to those who believe money is the path to a happy marriage is to think carefully about whether their quest for a materially better life is worth the risk of losing what is really of value – a close-knit family unit built on love, friendship, shared interests and time spent together – and which costs nothing at all.



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