Money. No matter how you slice it, is a highly charged topic that can trigger all kinds of emotions. It may feel odd to think about having an “emotional relationship” with money. Money or finances feels so “practical.” On the other hand, looking at money and how it shows up for you can be extremely revealing to understand your feelings, behaviors, and the impact it has on your relationships.

We have emotional relationships with many things – with work, with our significant others, children, pets, with sports teams, music, places or social issues we support. Why not money? How we feel about things tends to define how we interact with them. Our feelings project our values onto others, and in doing so affects how we relate to them as individuals.

Common ways we think about money.

We are all familiar with some of the most common ways in which we think about money. Some people are very careful, unwilling to spend money on anything unless it’s absolutely necessary (money under the pillow concept). Some people love to spend money even when it might be a good idea to slow down a little and save. Many are somewhere in the middle, spending and treating themselves at times, and saving at others.

How does this happen?

How do people develop these different relationships with money? As with most questions on the subject of emotions, the answer can often be traced back to how we were raised and our history with money throughout our lives. How did it show up for us as children, with our parents or caregivers? How did it reveal itself over time as we grew up and became adults? What experiences did we have that may have impacted our emotional relationship with money? We tend to develop our ideas around money from the people with whom we grew up, usually our parents or caregivers, and from experiences that have impacted us along the way.

The impact of how we were raised with money can cause us to model those same behaviors or do the exact opposite. If someone’s parents were very careful with money or lived during the Great Depression, they might do the same thing. Or, because they want to provide their own children with material items and opportunities they had never had, they may overindulge or spend more then they should.

…But these are the most obvious.

On a deeper level, as individuals we all have our own emotional relationship with money, yet often are wholly unaware of this and of our ability to abuse this within our relationships. We project meaning onto money, loading it with feelings around security, control, power, co-dependence and independence.

I have worked with couples where conflict can arise if one partner values their independence highly and projects this through their need for financial freedom, whereas the other wants to integrate resources and feels more secure when finances are co-mingled or even co-dependent. Some people need to feel in control of every single transaction whereas their partner may be completely disinterested in this level of detail. This can ignite intense frustration within the relationship.

Similarly, relational significance can come into play where we act out our roles reflecting a parent-child relationship, with one role being the parent or provider, and the other being the one whom is provided for. The role of provider can have significant emotional implications for care giving and vice-versa, thus feeding into our sense of emotional security.

Unresolved past issues relating to money can also impact current relationships. For example, for those who have had abusive relationships with their parents around money, or past traumatic relationships with a narcissist where money was used for control and power, these experiences can muddy even the healthiest of new relationships.

If hidden debt is an issue within a relationship or if one partner is simply hiding finances and purchases from the other, these can often have the same impact on a relationship as an affair – keeping secrets, betrayal of trust, despair and abandonment.

How can you fix this?

This is where having an understanding of your emotional relationship with money can be particularly helpful. When you think of it in these terms, you can approach the subject as you would any other relationship issue – through making an effort to empathize with each other’s feelings.

By talking honestly about how you feel about money, what money means to you, what money evokes within you (fear, anxiety,control, distrust or even reignites past trauma), and taking the time to examine together where these feelings might originate, you can gain a genuine understanding of one another’s perspective. From there, you begin to move towards making decisions that take both of these perspectives into account and approach the practical sides of this discussion – how to budget together, which items to prioritize, joint account or separate, and so on – in a healthier manner.

Individual therapy is a good way to begin your inner conversation about money and help you gain a deeper insight into your behaviors. Then, if you enter couples counseling, you can begin to better understand each other’s perspectives and how to communicate with each other about money

For more information, stay tuned for my next post on how to talk about money and learn communication tips to try with your partner. Or, contact me now to begin exploring your emotional relationship with money and addressing money challenges within yourself or with your partner.

Until the next Opening the Doors post.

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