The Meaning of Money

By Amy Stewart, LMFT

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Confused as to why you keep fighting about one partner’s Dark Matter habit on a biweekly basis?  You’re likely not really fighting about caffeine and might be battling over your independence to make purchasing decisions and the significance of treating yourself vs. your partner’s perception of unwillingness to delay gratification and disregard for future financial security. That’s a lot for a cup of coffee to hold. 

Whether folks are preparing for new kiddos, working to control their own spending or finding ways to combine accounts that feel equitable, finances are a topic that has been coming up A LOT lately. And these discussions are very rarely easy because they encompass so much more than dollar signs.

Money is literally and figuratively symbolic. Literally- we exchange a concrete/digital object for goods and services. Figuratively- money is a metaphor for many things individually, relationally and societally. Amongst many other layers, it can function as a representation of security, empowerment, trust and independence in a couple, which might be huge issues that are often played out in these discussions without even realizing it. 

Before you find yourselves embroiled in your next battle over spending, consider what’s below the surface, the meaning you and your partner make of money. Often it falls into the broad categories of: social status, security, pleasure and our perception of power dynamics in the relationship, with plenty of overlap. 

Consider questions like: 

  • Status: Is it important that others perceive you as financially successful or to have items that reflect wealth? 

  • Security: Is having an emergency fund and money set aside for the future more important than spending now? 

  • Pleasure: How important is treating yourself to your favorite things or financially indulging in activities you enjoy? 

  • Power: How does the idea of combining accounts feel? How freely would you spend knowing your partner could see your purchases?

In what areas are your meanings similar and where do they differ? Knowing where each of you are coming from can help create empathy, identify where strengths lie and inform how to create compromise that feels equitable for you both.