At some point in a serious relationship, love and finances can no longer be segregated. As it turns out, our relationship style can tell us a lot about our money-managing skills.
Psychological and neuroscience research cited by The Wall Street Journal has made a direct link between how people manage their romantic relationships and how they approach money and finances. If a person is indulgent, controlling, reckless or obsessive in their relationship, chances are they have the same approach to finances.
While most people know that money cannot buy true love — or happiness, for that matter — they may be less aware of the extent to which money and love are tangled in their subconscious. Attachment theory might explain why this is the case.
Attachment theory states that individuals lie somewhere on a spectrum of interpersonal attachment, from secure to insecure. Most people tilt toward the insecure style. When it comes to relationships, this is usually reflected through behaviours ranging from anxious to avoidant.
If you fall in the anxious category, you are more likely to use money to splurge on expensive gifts, buy pricey clothes or give way more than you receive. Anxious people use money to feel loved and appreciated. They often become impulsive investors who follow the herd as opposed to making cold, calculated decisions.
Avoidant individuals, on the other hand, are much better at saving money. They’re also far less likely to spend on other people unless there are strings attached. Researchers say this could be because avoidant types view money as power—and don’t want anyone exerting that power over them.
Because money and love activate the same reward and pain centres in the brain, their entanglement can have a serious impact on relationships—both good and bad. A lack of financial compatibility is routinely cited as one of the biggest reasons why people get divorced. This is true for younger and older couples alike. Research from TD Ameritrade found that 41% of divorced Gen Xers say they ended their marriage over disagreements about money. For divorced Baby Boomers, that figure is 29%.
The extent to which we can adjust our interpersonal attachment, and therefore our relationship with money, is subject to debate. After all, these traits were developed over many years, beginning with childhood. If money could talk to you, it would sound “like an influential childhood attachment figure like a parent, grandparent, neighbor, best friend or mentor,” says Kate Murphy in her Wall Street Journal article.
“This pivotal person in your life may have been withholding or extravagant with their affection and their money—again, they tend to be intertwined—thereby affecting how you feel, think and behave in relation to others and your finances.”
Psychologists say there are ways we can reprogram our behaviours to choose different paths when it comes to money and relationships. But it begins by having an honest conversation about our insecurities. On the money side, the process of automating one’s financial decisions can help tremendously in forming new behaviours. Automatic pay cheque deductions for investment accounts and apps that divert more of your money towards savings can lead to positive outcomes, especially for the anxious type.
Understanding one’s attachment style is important, especially around Valentine’s Day. Anxious and avoidant types often attract each other, which makes it even more important to talk about why they behave the way they do. Without clear communication and efforts to bridge the gap, not being financially aligned could cost you in the long run.
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