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Financial woes among couples can lead to more serious problems

If you suspect the bad economy has had a negative effect on your marriage, you're not alone. A survey by National Public Radio and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the high unemployment rate in the U.S. has put a strain on many families. More than a fifth of Americans who have been unemployed for at least a year say their relationships have worsened. Even more say their financial situation has hurt their partners' health and well-being.

But another study says that as unemployment rises, the divorce rate goes down. For every 1 percent increase in the unemployment rate, the divorce rate decreases by 1 percent.

So the economy has soured your marriage, and you can't afford to get divorced. Where do these troubles lead? According to one North Carolina sociologist, marital problems stemming from money troubles and the feeling of being trapped are often associated with an increased risk of domestic violence. Although there's no conclusive evidence to prove this connection, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one in four women nationwide say they've been physically hurt by their husbands or boyfriends.

History appears to support the domestic violence and divorce theories. During the Great Depression, the divorce rate went down and domestic violence went up. In the 1970s, when states began allowing no-fault divorces, domestic violence rates fell by 20 to 30 percent while divorce rates went up. The suicide rate of wives also went down, as did the rate at which wives murdered their husbands, suggesting that divorce acts as a type of safety valve.

One historian of marriage predicts that as the current economy improves, the divorce rate will go back up, just as it did when the Great Depression ended. In other words, don't murder your spouse. As soon as you can afford it, divorce is a much better option.

Source: National Public Radio, "Marriage Economy: 'I Couldn't Afford To Get Divorced,'" Shankar Vedantam, Dec. 20, 2011

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