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Why Money Makes Us Emotional

Woman sits next to her bed in a dark room crying with her hand on the side of her face.

How do you react to conversations about money? Do you run and hide from this difficult topic? In today's blog, Dr. Chris Grace reveals that arguments about money are often fueled by deeper feelings, and shares how to have conversations about money that are healthy, insightful, and bring you closer together!

The Disney Pixar movie Inside Out illustrated how human beings are designed to experience a full range of emotions, from joy and surprise, to fear, anger, and disgust. The movie accurately portrayed that we are each born with certain emotional reactions and tendencies, and our early life experiences (e.g., with family) shape these tendencies. Some of us like adventure, and perhaps feel enjoyment when spending money. Others may be less comfortable with change and feel protective and concerned with over-spending. One significant threat to our intimacy with others results from the hidden feelings and emotions we have been born with or have learned about things like money. Certain events like spending or not saving enough can make us feel threatened or out of control, triggering fear or anxiety. We may freeze up and become quiet, run and hide, or lash out in anger.

Arguments or disagreements about money (or the laundry or being late, etc.) are often fueled by hidden, deeper feelings and issues, such as feeling unloved, powerless, or betrayed. Sadly, we often do not realize the deeper issues that are in play, instead pointlessly arguing about who is more conscientious or more wasteful or more on-time, and never getting at the “real” issue. Gaining insight into each other’s feelings, values and emotional reactions and tendencies is important for relationship intimacy. A key to intimacy and good decisions is feeling connected and united, using our insights into each other to experience empathy and compassion for one another.

We Must Take Care to Communicate Well

In-sync couples establish and maintain good communication patterns, correct bad habits, and learn how to better hear, understand, and communicate with each other. They recognize that there are events (the “what” we argue about), and there are “issues” (the hidden or deeper feelings.) Couples who communicate well learn to identify the hidden issues and hurt feelings, and express themselves to each other to be better heard and understood.

According to a large survey of married couples, healthy communication is one of the most telling differences between those who are happy and those who are not. Couples that communicate well—they are satisfied with how they talk to each other—are generally happy. Unhappy couples show signs of poor communication: They often refuse to discuss issues/problems, make comments that put each other down, have difficulty asking each other for what they want, do not understand how each feels, and wish their partner were more willing to share feelings. 

Couples with healthy habits and patterns tend to create space to calm down and reflect on the emotions and deeper feelings going on in each other. They soften hurtful responses, making their relationships emotionally and physically safe, with a common goal to care about the other’s feelings, and working to see things from their perspective. They help the other person to feel understood and cared for, and apologize and seek forgiveness for causing any hurt or pain.

There is much wisdom found in Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13

How fun would it be to experience such contentment, and to have conversations about money that are healthy, insightful, and bring you closer together! To help with your conversations and create greater intimacy, here is a fun questionnaire about money and what it means to each of us. The items were put together by the PREPARE/ENRICH Program ( and can lead to some fun date night conversations. 

Look over the items below, and each of you shares whether you agree or disagree with them, and how you experience any issues they may bring up for you.

1. I look up to people who have been very financially successful.

2. In making a major purchase, I consider what others will think of my choice.

3. Having high-quality things reflects well on me.

4. It is important for me to maintain a lifestyle similar to or better than that of my peers.

5. Having some money in savings is very important to me.

6. I would rather have the extra money in the bank than some new purchase.

7. I prefer safe investing with a moderate return versus high-risk investing with potentially high returns.

8. I feel more secure when I know we have enough money for our bills.

9. I really enjoy shopping and buying new things.

10. People who have more money have more fun.

11. I really enjoy spending money on myself and on others.

12. Money can't buy happiness, but it sure helps.

13. He or she who controls the purse strings calls the shots.

14. I would be uncomfortable putting all my money into a joint account.

15. One of the important benefits of money is the ability to influence others.

16. I think we each should control the money we earn.