How do money messages affect relationships?

In truth, money — or the lack thereof — does not, in itself, cause conflict. Rather, conflict arises due to the underlying values money tends to represent.

by Todd S. Smith — 

Many of us value our relationships, romantic and otherwise, above all else. We share laughter and love, while supporting each other through challenging times. But how do we mingle our finances and our relationships, if at all? Conversations about money often seem disparate from the connectedness and intimacy we share with each other.

Are relationships and money talk really paradoxical? Considering how many studies list financial issues as a leading precursor to relationship conflict, the obvious answer may be yes. Is this because relationships and money are akin to the proverbial oil and water, or is something else at work here?

In truth, money — or the lack thereof — does not, in itself, cause conflict. Rather, conflict arises due to the underlying values money tends to represent. Money is simply a form of energy that embodies our emotions, feelings, values and priorities. How we use this energy becomes representative of who we are and what we value most, as indicated by our money messages.

The way we earn, spend, save, invest and gift money transmits messages to ourselves and others, whether or not we are aware of it. As a result, conflict frequently arises — not because of lack of money, but because we misunderstand the messages our money behavior sends to ourselves and others.

Think about it. What does it say to yourself and your loved ones, for example, if you are excessively thrifty and tend to hoard your hard-earned money? Perhaps such behavior indicates someone who is cheap. Some might say it shows a person who cares more about money than about the people in their life. Meanwhile, this behavior may transmit the message to yourself that you question your ability to earn more in the future, or that money is a scarce commodity. Are these really the messages that thrifty people intend to espouse?

In such a case, thriftiness may also be construed as healthy financial conservatism, but beware of the potential subconscious messages you transmit with your money behavior. Despite our own best intentions, misguided and disconnected money messages often demonstrate values, beliefs and priorities that differ dramatically from our loved ones’ — and it is this incongruity that frequently leads to conflict.

Ultimately, improperly conveyed money messages jeopardize our self-esteem; threaten our ability to effectively connect with and serve our partners; and affect our ability to have a healthy, synergistic place in our communities. How can we avoid falling into this trap of money miscommunication?

First, understand your money behavior. Take a money personality test to determine how you behave with money. Are you a spendthrift, hoarder, risk-taker, etc.? Only by knowing how and why you tend to behave with money can you truly understand the kinds of money messages you transmit to yourself, your loved ones and the community.

Second, determine if your money behavior truly expresses the deeper you. Does the way you earn, save, invest and gift money demonstrate your core values, priorities and morals? Or does your money behavior contradict them? How do your money messages affect your partner and other relationships? Does your behavior with money instill intimacy and connectedness, or is money a taboo topic that creates a chasm? Do you use money to enrich yourself and your relationships? Why or why not?

Third, determine ways to change your money behavior so that it appropriately expresses your feelings. Harness the energy of money to support who you really want to be and what you want your relationships to be. Do you interact with and use money as a tool to enrich your soul, or is it a commodity you simply hope to accumulate and/or spend?

Fourth, learn to talk about money comfortably. Money often is a very personal, quasi-taboo topic, more so than religion, politics and even sex. If money is so personal, why do we tend to depersonalize it by treating it as a commodity, rather than a tool to support and enrich our souls or increase our connectedness with each other? Personalize money by talking about it. Learn to understand what money means to you, your partner and others in your life. Talk about money regularly and consistently, from a centered place, as it ties into your values, priorities and life goals. Discuss the ways your money behaviors may or may not be consistent with these underlying emotions.

Fifth, turn off the noise. We are constantly inundated with financial rhetoric from the outside world that can easily derail us and our relationship from acting deliberately or in our best interest. The many fear-based money messages permeating our culture encourage us to use money for the wrong reasons. Hearing that we must save as much as possible, above all else, translates into our saving out of fear. Being urged to buy a house now because the market is getting too expensive translates into the fear that we will miss out, or the sense that a certain type of house is necessary to prove our success. Many of the external messages may make sense, but be aware of making financial decisions based more on emotion, namely fear, rather than in the context of nourishing yourself and your relationships. Emotional decisions made from fear, or because everyone else is doing it, rarely accomplish either.

Tuning into the way we interact with money and remaining cognizant of the money messages we send out enhances the intimacy, strength and longevity of our relationships. Sure, there will inevitably be conflict — but seeing and using money as energy to nourish ourselves and others, rather than as a commodity, will make our cherished relationships much more rewarding.


Todd Smith, a Certified Financial Planner™, is a financial author, speaker and coach who helps working adults navigate the complex financial landscape to achieve greater economic success and prosperity., 602-485-3896 or

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 25, Number 6, December 2006/January 2007.

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