Love and Money, Part 1 of 3: Conundrums

            As I have written before, marriage was created as a business transaction to expand influence, solve family conflicts, build empires and amass riches. Long before romantic love was a thing (see Joseph Campbell speak to its origins briefly here), marriage existed as more-or-less a political institution that mediated the merging of estates and granted permission for the creation of an additional resource, children. In fact, the word we use, ‘money,’ can be etymologically traced to Juno, the wife of Zeus. This speaks to the socio-politically lopsided and strangely interdependent nature of love and money. Juno, the wife is money (i.e. a material object, property, coin for trade or use). This article drops some interesting facts about the history of marriage and our long path to greater equality within that institution. Though I am grateful for the information it presents so concisely, I am not sure I believe we are way past inequality and gender roles as the author seems to suggest.

Regardless of whatever degree of equality we have achieved, I still notice a great deal of sensitivity in female (cis and trans) friends and clients when they feel they are being regarded as property or ‘sex objects.’ There is a corresponding sensitivity in men (yep, cis and trans) if they feel they are being used for their money and not valued for their authentic selves. So, I have started with this context to acknowledge that the history of love and money comes with quite a lot of baggage. Again, though I have spoken here of men and women, these same dynamics can show up in queer relationships, especially those entrenched in enacting gender roles or working with dynamics that have historically been gendered, such as breadwinner, or home-maker.

In this blog I will explore some of the common love and money troubles and tangles in relationships. In the next blog I will suggest specific communication strategies for money talks (here’s a refresher on some good communication basics). Finally, in a third blog I will approach topics around meaningfully sorting out money matters in break-ups and divorces. The history of women having been property and men having been a meal ticket figures saliently into almost all intersections of love and money, so I will try not to refer to it too often, as long as you can promise to keep it in mind and not underestimatehistory’s influence on your current situation. The intergenerational transmission of memories is such a thoroughly researched thing at this point, I found too many articles to know what to tag here. If you are curious just do a search. Suffice it to say, we all have ties to the past that live in us still and seek healing.


Love & Money Conundrum No.1: Different Socio-Economic Class Backgrounds. My partner and I are from fairly different economic backgrounds. I grew up poor with high school graduate parents. She was raised in an upper-middle class family in which both parents had doctoral degrees. This has been perhaps the most elusive-to-describe, and yet ever-present difference between us. Through this relationship and many conversations across socio-economic differences in groups, I have learned some of the primary ways class difference appears in relationships. Because we all relate differently to our foundations (some adhere, some rebel, most do both in complex ways), I am going to try to name the core feelings that seem to be imparted by different experiences of class privilege or lack thereof. When I give examples, just know there are lots of other ways those could look, but notice the core feelings motivating the expression, as these feelings are what we all must learn to attend to in ourselves. I will also be referring to “poor” and “wealthy” people. Yes, of course there are folks in the middle, but that is becoming a smaller segment of the populations all the time and I thing in feeling tone, most of us grew up either feeling like “haves” or “have-nots.” Yes, it’s more complex than that, but we only have so much space here, so I am making a deliberate over-simplification.

One major feeling difference is “too much” vs. “not enough.” It seems many of us “have-nots” were given messages in our up-bringing about not getting “too big for our britches” or thinking too much of ourselves. This messaging is meant to cripple our ambitions so we don’t get too far from the family or achieve enough to make them wonder if they should have achieved more. It’s easy to see how this messaging serves Capitalism and keeps lots of worker bees in line. This kind of ‘family-talk’ is one of the ways intergenerational patterns of behavior are passed down. When I treated myself to a private education (very taboo for a poor kid) and met lots more wealthy folks than I had ever known before, I was surprised to find their family-talk was the opposite of mine. Instead of being told they were too much, they could never be enough. They were taught to achieve, to excel, to take up space and win, faster and better was the rule. In addition to the obvious access to opportunity provided by wealth, I believe this foundational difference in child-rearing contributes significantly to the relative fixity of social-class even in supposed “free-market” societies.

This difference in core orientation to the world and one’s self can lead to a preponderance of issues when they meet in relationship. Very different ideas about success, risk-taking, self-care and value of one’s labor stem from these very different roots. Let’s say we have a couple who meet at UC Berkeley in grad school. Jamie struggled to get there and feels guilty for breaking taboo and leaving family behind. Rae actually was supposed to go to Harvard, but didn’t get in, and so went somewhat in disgrace to Cal. They fall in love and get through school and get out and married. Jamie is trying to get their career together and can’t understand why Rae wants to plan for kids already when they are still renting. Jamie thinks Rae is crazy to believe she can start a private practice just out of grad school. Jamie is working three part-time gigs and doing free-internships. Rae feels bad for Jamie and doesn’t understand why they are working so hard. Rae is sick of Jamie balking whenever she mentions a vacation plan, having kids or starting her practice. Rae can’t stand how Jamie is limiting their future with their worry.

This couple is working with two different realities. Rae has serious pressure to achieve imbedded in her make-up. She needs to have the kids and buy the house and get the perfect life on-track quickly to make up for that glaring Harvard failure. Yes this is a hell of a stereotype and many families have broken this shit down and oriented differently. And yet, these deeply embedded motivators operate daily in so many of us, conscious or unconscious.

            Another core difference can be found in orientation toward acquisition or, at the base of it hunger vs. gratification. My experience and observations argue that if you have many experiences in childhood of burning to have something that you know you just cannot have, you end-up with a very different relationship toward want and acquisition than someone who had or could have had most of what they wanted. I would also argue that if actual hunger for food and starvation/malnutrition are a part of the equation, this is much more severely felt. This is also a part of why Jamie is going to be less likely to take risks. Both for fear of losing basic needs, and also, simply because wanting anything is anxiety provoking. When many memories of wanting things come along with attached memories of longing and disappointment, followed by powerlessness and despair, just the act of wanting gets harder and harder. Conversely, Rae can’t understand what it even feels like to worry about basic needs. Having lived life with a safety net means Rae feels great about taking risks and wanting has been like a fun game for most of her life. Because she has experienced large-scale disappointment (no Harvard degree) there is hope she can find empathy for Jamie’s fear of risk. Yet, the difference is vast.

            How can this couple be helped? First and foremost, they have to accept these differences and try to stay non-defensive and curious about how their differences and their associated complexes come up. Rae will need to be spacious and compassionate as Jamie explores their wounds, grief and inhibitions about money. It would be best if they had the help of a couple’s therapist, and maybe if Jamie had their own therapist so Rae wasn’t the only one helping them confront all these difficult disparities. Jamie will eventually need to come to understand that they can easily put their fears onto Rae (and any future children) and learn to let go of some of their worry.

It might be helpful if this couple kept their money separate for a time, so that Jamie can feel in control of their own basic needs, while not inhibiting Rae’s potential success and belief in her self. Sometimes people need to fail in life, this is so well-known as to inhabit the land of cliché. If Rae needs to fail a few times in the eyes of her parents to develop her own ideas about success and self-worth, that’s cool. Jamie’s basic feeling of safety and the ability to provide for themselves should not be compromised in the process, nor should Rae’s sense of agency and process of development. Both can and should support each other to examine their assumptions about limitation and possibility, while respecting decisions that each makes. This partnership can help both Jamie and Rae achieve more realistic pictures of themselves and their potentials. This is loves rich potential – to make strength out of differences and expand the horizons of both partners. Therefore, I want to be clear that when I say it’s important to respect decisions, it would never be my desire to endorse skipping lots of open communication. By exploring these issues in depth both Jamie and Rae can heal intergenerational wounds and break damaging cycles. That’s probably one of the (unconscious) reasons they got together. But they have lots of tender spots and big feelings they will have to get through to allow love’s expansive potential. Please see the next blog for some ideas on how to prepare for and have open communication about money and all that it triggers for us.

Love & Money Conundrum No.2: Financial Support/Division of Labor. This is perhaps the most fertile ground for all of the feels I mentioned earlier that arise around historically gendered love/money patterns and roles. If one partner earns significantly more money than the other(s), is significantly more capable of working, or is mostly in charge of household labor prepare to enter a twilight zone of conundrums around self-worth and fairness. First, let’s name another significant social construct that plays a role here - the senselessly over-prioritized values of “success,” “productivity,” and, “hard work” in our Late Capitalist society. We have all been societally programmed to believe that success looks like achievements of high-status and big-money. We are also taught that success comes from productivity, trained that productivity is equal to one’s value, and that most often productivity looks like hard work and long hours. This is all bullshit, of course. We all know people with high status and big money aren’t that much happier than those with their basic needs met. Hopefully most of us know that wealth is more often inherited than self-made. It is also true that being busy all the time is killing our creativity. Still the old fallacies about success, hard work and productivity persist (even in folks reading this at their job, hehe) in lots of our psyches and encroach upon most of the conversations we have in our relationships about money. It is very important to be aware of the implications of our gender roles on these dynamics of power and worth. Dependence of any kind creates vulnerability. In a world which so favors those with wealth and status, financial dependence and choices against pursuing a career are anathema. This is a tender position and if one is unable to earn their own living because of a disability or mental health issue, this is not a choice. It is vital to maintain awareness of privilege and hold compassion for those who find themselves in a financially dependent position. However, the person who works and supports financially can easily begin to feel trapped and responsible for another human. This can end up in misery of the relationship ending would be healthier for both parties, but and exit strategy seems impossible.

There are no quick fixes for couples in the deep dark places this conundrum can go to. It is incredibly important that folks in relationships with real power imbalances in terms of earning do not isolate. You will need community support to stay connected with your value as individuals and to lean on as resources if separation is on the table. You will likely escape some of the worst things this cliché has to offer if you can have witnesses to your processes and folks to keep you from getting into ruts of routine. Communication needs to be wide-open so resentments have no time to fester on either side. If the primary earner hates their work or has an innate tendency toward workaholism, resentments will build in them quickly. It will be very important for the primary earner to be self-aware about their own relationship with work and self-worth so that they can avoid projecting their frustrations, failures and disappointments onto their partner.

I have stuck to pretty easy tropes for a lot of this piece. I want to present now a slice of the complexity that most of us live in. I won’t present any answers, but rather I invite you to consider all you have read thus far, and simply appreciate what we are all up against in the spaces where love and money overlap. It is my hope this will invite you also into compassion for yourself and all of your partners and friends.

Let’s imagine Joon grew up very wealthy but his father lost all of his money when Joon was 15, forcing Joon to work harder than ever before to get to the education he was taught was not only essential for success, but also his birthright. Joon gets a job during college at a café, where he meets Mya, a trans girl artist from a very poor back ground. Joon and Mya fall in love, get married, blah, blah. Then in their 30’s Mya’s art explodes and she is wealthy beyond her wildest dreams. All of a sudden, Joon needs to quit his job to stay home with their two kids, while Mya alternately flies all over the world and locks herself in her studio. What if Mya’s poverty mindset causes her to both over-consume on luxuries and sabotage success, causing a reliving of Joon’s experience of devastating loss? What is Joon feels emasculated and begins having an affair with the maid? What if Mya re-creates through wealth the abandonment her parents were forced by poverty to enact upon her? These and dozens of other hardships are possible. But, of course there remains their capacity to build each other up, to support each other with difficult conversations that can lead them both to better self-understanding. But it will not be easy.

By Alice Phipps- 


Completing a Master’s degree in Transpersonal Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies, Alice has learned to combine modern insights in attachment, mindfulness, trauma, gender and sexuality with an auto-didactically accumulated knowledge of Jungian psychology, and a wide variety of mystical and spiritual traditions. They currently practice as an MFT Trainee at the Integral Counseling Center and "fierce" content writer at The SF Marriage and Couples Center