How your romantic attachment style affects your finances, well-being

February 25, 2020

Everyone approaches romantic relationships differently. On one end of the spectrum are people who crave closeness so much, they may come across as "clingy." On the other end are those who value their independence so deeply that they avoid getting too close to anyone else.

Those two extremes of romantic attachment orientation - known as attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance - can both have negative consequences for well-being due, at least in part, to financial reasons, a study led by the University of Arizona found.

The study, based on data collected from 635 college-educated young adults in romantic relationships, found that people with high attachment anxiety and people with high attachment avoidance both reported low life satisfaction and low relationship satisfaction. Those with attachment anxiety also reported low financial satisfaction.

In addition, the study found that those with high attachment anxiety and those with high attachment avoidance engaged in more irresponsible financial behaviors. They also perceived their partners' financial behaviors as being irresponsible.

"This study suggests that romantic attachment orientation can affect financial behaviors and perceptions of partners' financial behaviors," said University of Arizona researcher Xiaomin Li, lead author of the study, which is published in the Journal of Family and Economic Issues.

It's well-established in the scientific literature that finances play a significant role in well-being. Li's study highlights how attachment orientation can affect well-being via finances.

"People's own less responsible financial behaviors and their perceptions of their romantic partners' less responsible financial behaviors were associated with multiple life outcomes," said Li, a doctoral student in the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences in the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Some Try to Buy Love

A person's attachment orientation usually develops in early childhood and persists throughout a person's lifetime for all different types of relationships, including romantic ones, Li said. Attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance are both considered "insecure attachment orientations."

Li and her colleagues found that for study participants with attachment anxiety, the participants' own irresponsible financial behaviors were associated with low financial satisfaction and low life satisfaction. Participants' negative perceptions of their partners' behaviors were also associated with low financial satisfaction and low life satisfaction, as well as low relationship satisfaction.

For participants high in attachment avoidance, their negative perceptions of their partners' financial behaviors - but not their own irresponsible financial behaviors - were associated with low relationship satisfaction.

Li said those with high attachment anxiety and those with high attachment avoidance may engage in irresponsible financial behavior for different reasons.

"People who are high in attachment anxiety may use money to get attention from other people," she explained. For example, they might buy expensive gifts to try to win a partner's love.

On the other hand, those with attachment avoidance - who tend to be more dismissive of others and rely primarily on themselves - may engage in less responsible spending for their own gain.

"Some researchers have found that people with high attachment avoidance place a high value on materialism," Li said. Therefore, they may engage in compulsive buying or make expensive purchases as a way of showing that they are "better than others," she said.

There may also be different explanations for why anxious and avoidant study participants both perceived their partners' behaviors as irresponsible.

Those high in attachment avoidance simply may not value their partner very highly, Li said. On the other hand, those high in attachment anxiety might distrust their partners as the result of their own insecurity in the relationship.

Li hopes future studies will continue to explore how nonfinancial factors, such as attachment orientation, may affect financial behaviors and perceptions and, in turn, well-being.

Li's co-authors on the study were UArizona researchers Melissa Curran and Ashley LeBaron in the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences, Joyce Serido at the University of Minnesota and Soyeon Shim at the University of Wisconsin - Madison.

University of Arizona

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