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Your Relationship with Money

Have you ever considered that you and money are in a relationship?

I ask because many I talk to about Positive Money are focused on wanting more money, wishing it wasn't so stressful, or admitting that they could do better managing it. I also hear about issues that money causes in relationships.

I had similar thoughts about money until I realized (in my late 40s) that I it might be how I was thinking and feeling about money that was driving results. For example, I realized that I expected money to be there for me no matter what.

Yes. This was privileged thinking.

It was also a wake up call.

Four Ways We Relate With Money

You and Money

We each have a relationship with money that is as important as money itself.

  • It's drives our earning, spending, saving, and giving.

  • It defines who we are, what we have access to, and even our self-worth.

  • It's central to our ability to live a rich life.

Our relationship with money involves characteristics that define our human-to-human relationships. These characteristics range from abusive to loving and show up in subtle or obvious ways. They can have little to do with how much or how little money we have. Rather, they’re linked to early experiences with money, how we learned to cope in the world, and the set of values we’ve developed. Sadly, even the most wealthy are not immune to money problems. They often struggle with guilt, fear of failure, or faith that they're loved for reasons beyond their wealth.

Four Ways We Relate to Money

The following are four ways we relate to money.


Adversarial relationship with money

An adversarial relationship with money is one where you and money are at odds. You don’t work well as a team. More often than not, you resent it for the control it has over how you feel about yourself and others. You don’t like that it determines what you can or can’t do, and you feel helpless in changing that paradigm. On one hand, you’re aware of how important and necessary money is. On the other hand, you want to be free of the power it wields. You may even feel beat up by money. 

If your relationship with money is adversarial or antagonistic, you may have tried to change it, but your strategies haven’t worked. You tell yourself that you just need to be different, better, or work harder to be an equal player, but the bar seems to rise every time you try. You may get jealous of others with more money than you and feel worse about yourself or money as a result.   


Ambivalent relationship with money

An ambivalent relationship with money is one where you’re not sure how to make sense of it. The relationship is marked by uncertainty, driven by an unsatisfied desire for something that feels right. You respect money and want to feel in charge of it but don’t feel confident in how to manage it or clear on the role you want it to play in your life. 

Part of you appreciates all that money does and can do in your life while another part resists the energy and attention it demands. You probably want more of it in your life, given how you feel about it. You envy or judge others who have a better relationship with money. Your conflicted feelings about money keep you from achieving your dreams.

If your relationship with money is ambivalent, you may have learned growing up that money is stressful or negative in some way. You might feel out of your depth in managing it, so you avoid dealing with it. Stepping outside the accepted norms around money in your family or culture causes stress. 


Apathetic relationship with money

An apathetic or indifferent relationship with money is one of ignoring or not caring about money. Instead of mixed feelings about money, your feelings are blah. It doesn’t inspire you or interest you, and maybe it even annoys you. You wonder why it needs so much attention or doesn’t show up on its own. You have other things you would rather focus on. 

If you see yourself in this relationship with money, you probably avoid it because it makes you uncomfortable or you think others focus on it too much. If you were once in an adversarial or ambivalent relationship with money, this new apathetic relationship could be a result of not wanting to fall back into old patterns. It’s just easier to not deal with it.


Abundant relationship with money

An abundant or positive relationship with money is one driven by gratitude, generosity, and grace. You and money are good friends and have a healthy respect for one another. You take deliberate actions to take care of it. You’re intentional about how you want to be in the relationship, so you don’t take money for granted or have negative feelings toward it. If anything, you appreciate all it does for you and those around you and take actions that keep it flowing and growing, knowing that it needs to flow to be of benefit. 

If you have an abundant relationship with money, you may have learned to manage it earlier in life, so you feel comfortable with the natural ebbs and flows. You know where you stand with it and have a healthy understanding of what it can and can’t do in terms of making you happy. You know how to avoid it being stressful, and when you do feel stressed, you’re equipped to manage it.

Read more about how how we relate to money in Chapter 2 of The Positive Money Book - 7 Principles for Living a Rich Life.

Illustrations by Rose Jaffe


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