A Psychologist Helps You Resolve the Money Versus Compatibility Dilemma When Choosing A Life Partner

Here's how to balance the material and immaterial in your romantic aspirations.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | May 12, 2023

We often think about money as a dirty complication that maligns the purity of love. In the same breath, love is often looked at as a naive, blinding condition that has no business featuring in grown-up conversations about finances.

The fact remains, however, that both of these things are here to stay and thus need to coexist peacefully.

If you find yourself tip-toeing around a money conversation in your relationship or are in the middle of a dilemma that is forcing you to choose between these two life-sustaining forces, here are three science-backed wisdoms that can help you.

#1. Play the long game

When facing a choice between a long-term partner who has the ability to benefit you (in a material way) and a partner who is willing to benefit you (through generosity, cooperation, trustworthiness, etc.), recent research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General suggests that you favor the latter.

At the end of the day, a romantic relationship isn't a job opening that one can ace their way into.

Another study explains that warmth, as opposed to competence, is a much rarer quality and is therefore of higher long-term value.

This isn't to say that your potential partner's financial situation shouldn't be a consideration – and wanting to know someone's bank balance does not make you shallow.

However, you may not want to put wealth and status at the very top of your priority list as it can occlude the really important stuff – i.e., the person's character.

"When one is overcome with the temptation to chase affiliations with those who are rich and famous, one might be wise to consider the long-term consequences," explains researcher Nathan Dhaliwal of the University of British Columbia. "It can really pay to build connections with those who have shown a keen interest in being trustworthy and loyal."

#2. Love is the real investment

Focusing on how the money or power your partner possesses can help you reach your goals slowly robs them of their personhood, according to a study published in The British Journal of Social Psychology. The researchers refer to this pernicious thought pattern as an 'instrumental perspective.'

Such a perspective can slowly objectify your partner, turning them into a means to an end for you.

This does not mean that your partner enabling your dreams through their money makes your relationship impure. In fact, joining hands with your partner financially to achieve a goal can be a smart and ultimately rewarding decision.

However, you have to keep your relationship from becoming entirely about 'utility.' In other words, if the foundation of your relationship is based on social and/or economic climbing, there might be little hope for it turning into love. Utility-based relationships are likely to be short-lived, as one person can only be useful to another for a while. It is only a matter of time before someone more useful comes along and changes the game.

#3. Happiness pays dividends

Would you rather live an affluent life with someone you have lukewarm feelings for or a difficult life with someone who brings out the best in you? A study published in Personality and Individual Differences suggests that this question is wrongly posed, as it operates on the implicit (and popular) assumption that money leads to happiness. What the study found was a strong correlation between positive emotions and wealth creation.

Choosing a rich partner you may not be compatible with might lead to lower relationship satisfaction, a poorer quality of life, and frequent negative emotions. Choosing a partner you enjoy spending time with and even admire can fill your life with joy and a sense of purpose.

It might be wise, then, to be in a relationship where both partners are, first and foremost, happy with each other and elicit positive emotions for one another. These positive emotions can propel you to generate wealth together, as a unit.