What Happens to Your Relationship When Your Financial Success Dictates Your Self-Worth?

4 min read

New research shows that people who place financial success on their sense of value, experience more conflict within their relationships.

When you begin ‘making it’ in your career—and your bank balance starts reflecting how good you are at your job, and how much people are willing to pay you to practice your expertise on their behalf—the feelings of validation and recognition are intense. It can be overwhelming to look back at your trajectory, consider how far you’ve come, and look forward to what’s coming next in your career—and not just in terms of opportunities, but in terms of money, too.

According to new research, if your self-conception is grounded primarily in how much money you have to your name, you’re more likely to have a less satisfying relationship when you meet that someone special.

You have only so much attention to give

The study, led by psychologist Deborah E. Ward and published this year in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, shows that people who look to their bank balance for their sense of value, experience more financial conflict within their relationships, which of course lowers their relationship satisfaction in turn. In fact, this effect holds true regardless of household income, material values, and economic hardships. Ward coined a term for this way of thinking: financially contingent self-worth.

Ward et al. propose that, because attention is finite, expending more of it on your finances means you inevitably spend less of it on your partner. Moreover, when the researchers had participants fill out a weekly diary for six weeks, they found that fluctuations in an individual’s financially contingent self-worth were tied to changes in relationship outcomes. In other words, at any given moment even within the same relationship, the importance a person attributed to their bank balance in informing their sense of self-worth shifted concomitantly with the number and severity of not only financial disagreements with their partner, but also of their feelings of being less supported emotionally.

As Ward explained:

It’s not that liking, valuing, or wanting money and financial success is bad. But when someone views financial success as a core component of what makes them a good or worthwhile person, they’re opened up to vulnerabilities, such as feeling pressure to achieve some level of financial success which may inadvertently disrupt their relationship.

To demonstrate their findings further, Ward et al. also asked participants to either read a news article espousing the benefits of financial success or one asserting that financial success has little bearing on quality of life. Those who read the former reported a higher level of financially contingent self-worth. They were also more likely to select hostile responses to hypothetical financial scenarios involving their partner, such as saying they’d argue with them over budget concerns, as well as more likely to believe they’d feel less satisfied with their relationship and less supported by their partner in said scenarios.

Financial success is important—but don’t overestimate its primacy

Ward and her colleagues conclude that the extent to which your self-esteem is tied to your financial success is uniquely related to the degree of financial conflict in your relationship—regardless of your objective financial situation. They also acknowledge that it’s far from easy to change what we base our sense of inherent value on. That being said, Ward does note that, while “The process of how we come to base our self-worth in certain domains is not well understood”, there is “data suggesting people are more likely to base their self-worth on financial success when they believe there are benefits to having financial success”. In other words, precisely what you base your self-worth on may evolve over time through new and formative experiences, in which you come to perceive other domains of life as being of ultimately greater value than money.

Ward concludes rather eloquently that:

Instead of focusing on changing what we base our self-worth on, we should focus on connecting our activities to goals that transcend ourselves, connect us to other people, and allow us to contribute to society. We should ideally decouple our actions from the goal to improve our own sense of self-worth.

This resonates with our ethos at Maclynn (formerly Vida). As an elite, multi-award-winning dating agency with a global network boasting some of the world’s most impressive singletons, we’ve witnessed first-hand that money truly isn’t everything. Our members are highly successful, but they still hold in common the goal of meeting someone whose goals—and indeed values—transcend the number on their bank balance. Sound familiar? Get in touch today, and one of our expert matchmakers will help you meet someone successful, yes—but more vitally, someone ready to walk the same path as you, and experience all that life brings in a loving romantic relationship.

female, Maclynn team

About the Author

Rachel Vida MacLynn

Founder & CEO

In 2011, Rachel took a leap of faith. Following a series of serendipitous events, she founded Vida (now known as Maclynn) in London and never looked back. Rachel is a Chartered Member and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society and holds a Master’s degree in Occupational Psychology. Her own values around integrity, delivering the highest standards, inclusion, and self-empowerment are at the core of Maclynn’s unique matchmaking model. Described by clients as calm, compassionate, warm and wise, she continues to be fully immersed in the business, working with a select number of VIP clients. In recent years, Rachel’s personal life has focused on raising her two young sons with her partner, Jamie. Rachel has also achieved her personal goals of running the New York Marathon and reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro.

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