Rite & Reason: Financial pressure is the biggest strain on marriage

Almost half of couples say the ability to buy a house is one of the main negative influences on relationships

Remember 1999? A lot can happen in 23 years. That is the average length of time couples in Ireland have lived together, whether married, in a civil partnership or cohabiting. The average couple has lived through economic boom and bust, a housing crises, a global pandemic and – more recently – war in Europe.

They will likely have had children, raised them together, and seen the next generation take its first, wobbly steps towards forming their own relationships and families.

As anyone who has lived as part of a couple for any length of time will know, it’s not all plain sailing. Far from it. Yet our individual wellbeing and happiness – and the successful launch of the next generation – is intimately connected to the stability of our marriage, relationship and family.

There is something of a ‘marriage backlog’ right now, with a surge of weddings this year due to the lifting of Covid restrictions

So what is new in 2022? According to a survey carried out earlier this year by Amárach Research for the Catholic marriage care service Accord, marriage is still the norm for most Irish couples: 75 per cent of those in the Amárach survey were married or in a civil partnership; most of the rest were cohabiting. If anything, there is something of a “marriage backlog” right now, with a surge of weddings this year due to the lifting of Covid restrictions.


The Central Statistics Office reports that the average age of people getting married in Ireland is one of the highest in Europe, at nearly 37 years of age. In contrast, other research by Amárach this year found that people in Ireland think that the “ideal age” for someone to get married is 29 (even those under 35 in the survey chose that age as their ideal) – so quite a gap.

Still, after 23 years (or even 2-3 years!) the wedding and the honeymoon can seem a distant memory. However, the good news is that the majority of Irish couples in our survey say their relationship with one another is good and that, on balance, they are quite happy with the state of their marriage or partnership.

Our findings indicate that the vast majority of couples report a high level of trust with one another (87 per cent), good communications (73 per cent) and a high degree of emotional and psychological closeness (69 per cent), along with other, positive, indicators of a flourishing marriage and relationship.

Significantly, over half of couples agree that “marriage is still important to the longevity of relationships”. Curiously, agreement on this is significantly higher among men than women.

Important differences

Perhaps not surprisingly, our research reveals other, important, differences between women and men when it comes to views on what makes a good relationship. Women who say their relationship is good identify “the level of trust”; “balancing relationship as couple with relationship with children”; and “the quality of communications”, as their top three priorities.

Men who say their relationship as a couple is good identify “the quality of communications”; “efforts to strengthen their relationship”; and “the level of physical closeness” as their top three identifiers. Furthermore, half of couples agree there is “a huge difference between what men and women want from a relationship/marriage”.

But, as noted earlier, it is not all plain sailing. Relationship satisfaction shows a wide variation by age. In fact, just as in the literature on happiness, it seems that satisfaction with your relationship is distributed in a “U-shape” by age: younger couples (aged under 35) are very happy together, this falls significantly among couples aged 35-54, and then rises sharply again among couples over 55.

Nearly seven in 10 people agree that ‘couples nowadays are not prepared to tolerate being unhappy’

What’s going on? In a word, money. Over eight in 10 couples say that “financial pressures” are the main negative influence on relationships nowadays, followed by the ability to buy a house (for almost half of couples). There are other pressures too – balancing work and family commitments, mental health issues, sharing childcare responsibilities, etc – but ultimately it is the cost and affordability of fulfilling their family needs and ambitions that looms largest.

Under pressure, relationships can, and often do, suffer. Nearly seven in 10 people agree that “couples nowadays are not prepared to tolerate being unhappy”. In such circumstances, they may need help from others. There appears to be less resistance to getting help and support than in the past.

Some 12 per cent of couples have received counselling support specifically for their relationship – and one in five are open to the idea. Women are more open than men, and younger people are more open than older people, suggesting a generational shift in attitudes.

If the average couple are still together and happy after all these years, can we take the future health of marriage and family life in Ireland for granted? Hardly. If anything, our research informs us that financial pressure has a very serious impact on couples and families.

As the ongoing geopolitical turbulence and rapid inflation hurts relationships and damages families, it is an imperative that Budget 2023 on September 27th provides support like never before.

Alison Flannery is research director at Amárach Research.