Willpower, Buffalo Wings, and Your Retirement Fund

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album
Reviewed by Martie Gillen, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

It’s lunch time at the office, and you and a coworker are going out to grab a quick bite together. You have a habit of eating healthy, so you suggest the new salad and soup place up the road. But he’s got a craving for buffalo wings and fries, so you go along with it to make him happy (and anyway…wings do sound pretty good). Sound familiar at all?

Self-Control Matters in Marriages

This situation may seem like it’s about nutrition, and it sort of is. But in fact, this same type of scenario–someone with low self-control negatively influencing someone with higher self-control–can play out in all kinds of ways, including in marriages. What’s more, the dynamic can be really bad news for couples’ financial and physical health.

Most of us are aware that on the whole, people tend to either be high or low in self-control. That is, they’re good or bad at things like saving money, spending within their means, and eating a healthy diet. Indeed, research confirms that married couples where both members are high in self-control tend to be more prepared for retirement, eat less fast food, and so on. When both members are low in self-control, the results are just the opposite.

The Low-Control Spouse Holds the Cards

But what happens when—as it often the case—one spouse is high in self-control, while the other is low in it? We might expect that the spouses with more willpower would have a “good influence” over their partners, steering their loved ones away from unwise choices.

But a series of small studies published in The Journal of Consumer Research suggests that the low self-control spouse may be the one with all the influence. In fact, researchers found that “mixed” self-control couples look identical to couples where both members had low self-control when it came to things like saving money and eating healthy. Why would this be?

High Self Control = Desire to Keep the Peace

Ironically, it may be because high self-control people also have good “control” over themselves when it comes to maintaining peace in their relationships! (Meanwhile, low self-control people aren’t that great at this kind of compromise.) They often tend to put harmony with their spouse ahead of goals like good nutrition and financial security. But while this could be good for a couple in the short term, it might cause issues in the long run. After all, financial problems are one of the most common reasons couples divorce.

Awareness Can Help

Based on these findings, these experts suggest that couples practice self-awareness regarding their own level of self-control (or lack thereof). If you know that one of you has more self-control than the other, it might be a good idea to give that person more decision-making power regarding finances, spending, and family exercise and nutrition. Furthermore, people with low self-control can work more on learning to compromise and give in, while those with high self-control might need to learn to stand their ground a bit more often.

Now…where are we going to lunch?

(Photo credit: Buffalo Wings by Michael Saechang. CC BY 2.0. Cropped.)

Further Reading:

Money and Marriage: Saving for Future Use–from UF-IFAS

Five Steps to Seasonal Savings–from UF-IFAS


Dzhogleva, H., & Lamberton, C. P. (2014). Should Birds of a Feather Flock Together? Understanding Self-Control Decisions
in Dyads. Journal of Consumer Research, 41. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/676599


Posted: October 28, 2014

Category: Health & Nutrition, Money Matters, Work & Life
Tags: Budgeting, Family Resource Management, Fitness And Exercise, Health And Wellness, Personal And Family Finances

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