How Our Relationship With Money Influences Intimacy
Talking about money with honesty and vulnerability strengthens relationships.
Posted May 31, 2019 | Reviewed by Davia Sills
How we share our financial resources is a highly influential but often avoided part of couples' lives. I've found it is rare that couples talk about their finances—much less how to combine them—throughout their dating process. Perhaps the fact that rents, mortgages, and the cost of living are skyrocketing provides an unforeseen opportunity for people to be more forthcoming and honest about financial resources in intimate relationships.
In this blog, I share the voices of two people who want to build an equal relationship. After some uncomfortable and challenging discussions, they agree that they are each committed to sharing their monetary resources and responsibilities with each other. After some initial fits and starts, they now feel that combing and sharing their financial resources is one of the strongest connections that they experience with each other.
Chloe and Samantha
“We have been married for three years and are committed to each other in many ways. Overall, we have been together for more than six years, and I feel lucky to have Samantha as a wife,” says Chloe with confidence. Chloe is in her mid-30s, identifies as queer, and is half Caucasian, half Costa Rican. “When I met Samantha six years ago, she was just starting her own interior design business and also working a full-time job. I quickly fell in love with her, and much of that was because of her go-for-it attitude. I was impressed by her ambition and risk-taking, how gung-ho she was in building her own business. She was beautiful, creative, and passionate about what she was doing.
“I feel blessed to have Chloe as my partner,” says Samantha. Samantha is in her mid-30s and identifies as queer and Jewish. “Chloe is in the music industry, and I am in interior design, so we have a lot of artistic interests in common. We both enjoy going to art events—like visiting galleries, going to concerts. We never run out of things to do together. She stimulates me intellectually, and I appreciate her passion for music. I think she is beautiful, smart, and solid. I think of Chloe as my soul mate.”
Fear regarding money and talking about money
“I realized that I had a very different perspective regarding sharing financial resources and spending it than Chloe,” says Samantha. “We started arguing a lot at the beginning of 2017 as my business took a downward spiral. Two of my clients got behind in payment, and I needed to take additional work. I didn’t know how to keep paying my own employees or contractors. I was completely freaked out and felt guilty at the thought of having a deficit in my business. Initially, I didn’t know how to talk about my money issues with Chloe. I felt fear, shame, and guilt about not knowing how—or if—my business was going to recover. But, worse, I was afraid of Chloe judging me.”
“There were numerous disagreements and arguments about money and at times I felt really raw and frustrated,” says Chloe. “But after every discussion we had about money, something good came out of it. We discovered all these different values that we both have about things we’d never talked about. In these conversations, we learned to accept and appreciate each other’s similar and different perspective on money. I realized that our difference in handling and relating to money was not a detriment—in fact, it feels more complimentary. Addressing money issues is helping me to be a better partner for Samantha. She risked discussing her business and money concerns, and it, unexpectedly, gave me an opportunity to learn about my relationship with money.”
Judith Stern Peck, the author of Money and Meaning, states that couples and families can spend years avoiding the topic of money—simply not talking about it. Peck points out that couples and families relate to money with a complex set of value systems. And when it comes to talking about money, it is not uncommon for shame, fear, and guilt to rear their heads. The result is that couples often get lost in conflict and so lose sight of what they are attempting to communicate regarding money. In this way, couples have a hard time accessing, communicating, and sharing the deep insecurities about finances.
From Voicelessness to Open Dialogue
“It’s important for me to have an equal partnership with Chloe.” Says Samantha. She saw her father being the sole breadwinner and making all the major financial decisions for her family growing up. Her mother took a passive position in the decision-making arena. Samantha recalls that all money talk was done covertly, if at all.
Just like Samantha, an equal partnership is something Chloe wants. Chloe grew up in a home where both of her parents contributed financially to the household. Her parents, as far as she could tell, seem to have made decisions together (i.e., agreeing to a renovation of their home, vacation expenses, etc.). But, still, they rarely talked about money in front of their children. “I want to create a relationship where we both feel empowered. Talking about money was unprecedented. I never had a relationship before Samantha where I dared to talk about money. I, too, felt lots of fear about it. But, over time, I learned to communicate with Samantha about it.”
Sharing financial resources means collaboration, equal partnership, and intimacy
“I realized that I really did not know how to collaboratively manage money,” says Chloe, “and making money-related decisions with a partner can still feel very awkward at times. But doing this feels very liberating and empowering.”
Samantha says that she spent much of her life putting great emphasis on saving and being thrifty. “I can say that I am good at watching my expenses,” she says. “But I also learned that I can be overly self-critical about fluctuations in my business. In contrast, Chloe is great at looking at our finance from a macro-level. She thinks that all businesses have ups and downs and, when it slows down, I can put spare time into areas of my business that get overlooked when I am busy.”
“Talking about money issues—how to spend it, how to earn it, how to save it, and how to invest it—has changed our relationship,” says Chloe. “It’s funny,” responds Samantha. "We schedule regular meetings to talk about money, and sometimes that feels as intimate as anything else we do."