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M is for Marriage — Or Is It Money?

Typewriter letter MMoney is a sensitive topic for most of us — in dating and in marriage. Who isn’t at least a little bit weird about money, anyway? The topic seems filled with ambiguity lately, and a wealth (ahem) of possible answers.

How Do You View Money?

Early in our lives, we gain lasting ideas about money, mostly from our parents or parent figures. My own parents felt fortunate to have begun their New York City public school teaching careers during the Great Depression in the 1930’s, when people who’d lost everything and were jumping out of high office building windows or selling apples on the street.

Fast forward to recent times, with shifts in the economy that have caused so many recent college graduates to be unable to find a job that pays enough for them to move out from their parent’s home.

Most people earn enough to save at least a little, should they choose to. Some are mostly spenders and others are savers. My folks saved enough to buy a house in a middle-class neighborhood when my sister and I were young. Although I was well provided for, I picked up, unconsciously, these unspoken messages:

  • Talking about money is not okay.
  • Asking for money is certainly not okay.
  • It’s fine to accept money when it’s freely offered.  
  • A gift of money means the giver loves me.
  • Saving is good.
  • It’s best to buy only what you can pay for in full now.
  • Make sure you can support yourself in case your husband leaves.

How people deal with money in a relationship can bring about strong feelings. We may feel more loved, less loved, or unloved, depending on whether a man spends money on us freely or withholds it.

Money as Love

“He (or she) doesn’t love me” or “doesn’t appreciate me” is a feeling that can arise when a spouse or relationship partner seems to be acting less than generously. Money issues are widely cited as the cause of most divorces, but often how spouses deal with money reflects how they are feeling about each other and their relationship.

Money as Power

Some people use money as a way to try to control a relationship partner; some use it as a way to avoid being controlled by one. An insecure man might spend more on a date than he can afford, hoping she’ll feel obliged to go out with him again.

Allison insists on paying for herself on a date because she doesn’t want to feel controlled. Sheila’s rule is that her first dates are just for coffee because she’d feel guilty if a man spent a lot on dinner and she didn’t want to go out with him again.  

I feel concerned about women who are looking for a man mainly for financial support, because they’re setting themselves up for a power imbalance. A sign taking off on the Golden Rule states: “Remember the Golden Rule: Whoever Has the Gold Makes the Rules.”

A power imbalance can develop when the husband is the breadwinner and the wife is unable to support herself financially.

I advise women who seek full partnership in their relationship: First make yourself financially self-sufficient.  Those who know they can take care of themselves economically are in a good position for creating a collaborative relationship of two equal adult partners — which is the best kind.

Money as Security: Savers and Spenders

People who view money as a source of security want to be ready for the future. They’ll save for a vacation, a down payment on a home, or retirement. They want a cushion to fall back on in case of a job loss or other unanticipated costly event.

Opposite on the spectrum from savers are people like George, 38, whom savers might view as careless about money. He operated a successful business and lived in a nice apartment he rented in a prime San Francisco location. He ate his daily breakfast croissant and latte at a nearby café, where he didn’t have to order because the servers knew it was always the same for him. He ate lunch, and often dinner, at a restaurants.  

In case you’re not yet convinced that George is basically a “spender,” think about his comment, “I’d like to treat my parents to a week’s vacation in Hawaii, but I don’t have the money.”

If George were a saver, he probably would have owned his home by then, where he’d eat breakfast there and usually prepare his own lunch. He might eat dinner out once or twice a week, with or without a date. He’d remain debt-free by paying off his credit card balance each month. And he would have been able to send his folks to Hawaii in style.

Identifying Your Money Attitude

Answering the questions below can help you to identify your thoughts and feelings about money, and from where they came. There is no right or wrong in how we view money, but as we gain self-understanding about how we relate to it, we are more likely to be able to handle situations involving money more smoothly and respectfully in dating situations and in marriage.

  1. What kinds of conversations, if any, were permitted about money in your family?
  2. What rule(s) about money existed in your family when you were growing up?
  3. Which of the above rules influence how you deal with money now, and how?
  4. Are you more of a saver or a spender?
M is for Marriage — Or Is It Money?

Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW

Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW, author of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted (New World Library, 2014, audiobook, 2020), has a private psychotherapy practice in San Rafael, California. She offers and workshops for couples and singles, and continuing education classes for therapists at NASW conferences and online. She has taught also at the UCSF School of Medicine, UC Berkeley Extension, and Alliant International University. A former executive director of a family service agency, she earlier held senior level positions in child welfare, alcoholism treatment, and psychiatry.

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APA Reference
Berger, M. (2018). M is for Marriage — Or Is It Money?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 10 Jul 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.