If you act this way in your relationships, you may be broke soon

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All’s fair in love and war, but how about personal finance? You’re unlikely to find any single driving force that motivates people more than love or money. Perhaps, then, it shouldn’t be all that surprising that the University of Arizona researchers have found some fascinating correlations between how an individual acts in their love life and their subsequent financial habits.

When it comes to romance, there are typically two distinct extreme personality types: the clinger (Wedding Crashers, anyone?) and the loner. Clingers tend to form strong bonds with a love interest very quickly, and often become despondent if that affection isn’t constantly reciprocated. Loners, on the other hand, are far more selective with their affection, and many avoid close relationships like a bad cold. 

The research team at UA investigated the effect of these two distinct romantic attachment styles, attachment anxiety (clinger) and attachment avoidance (loner), on one’s personal finances and came to a number of interesting conclusions. Paramount among their findings was the revelation that people on both ends of the relationship behavior spectrum tend to be more irresponsible with their money.

In all, 635 college-educated young adults currently in a romantic relationship took part in this research. 

First off, besides finance, the study clearly found that both of these extremes on the relationship attachment spectrum often lead to a less than stellar life outlook. Both loners and clingers overwhelmingly reported low levels of overall life satisfaction and low relationship satisfaction.

Now, let’s get down to dollars and cents. The researchers found that people exhibiting attachment anxiety consistently reported low financial satisfaction. Even more noteworthy, both those with high levels of attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance reported making especially irresponsible financial decisions. Both personality types also said they usually perceive their partner’s financial decisions to be irresponsible, even when in many cases, those purchases probably aren’t all that bad.

That last finding is particularly insightful. It seems that not only do our relationship personas affect how we spend our own money, but they also influence how we view our partner’s spending habits.

“This study suggests that romantic attachment orientation can affect financial behaviors and perceptions of partners’ financial behaviors,” says lead study author and University of Arizona researcher Xiaomin Li in a press release.

At the risk of going Freudian for a moment, many researchers hold the belief that one’s relationship attachment style is constructed during infancy and childhood in large part thanks to how our parents treat us. Once those early tendencies are established, they usually stick with us as we mature into adulthood and hit the dating scene. Mom & dad always make a good scapegoat, don’t they?

Just in case you were wondering, both attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance aren’t considered very healthy, and are classified as “insecure attachment orientations.”

Among the study’s other findings, researchers noted that people with high attachment anxiety tend to blame themselves and their own decisions for their poor financial situation. Conversely, those who tend to avoid attachment usually blame their “low life satisfaction” on their significant other, even when they themselves typically make questionable purchases.

Of course, Li was quick to clarify that while both types of people are irresponsible with money, each group is probably going on spending sprees for very different reasons.

“People who are high in attachment anxiety may use money to get attention from other people,” she explains. 

Meanwhile, individuals with attachment avoidance are much more likely to spend money on themselves. 

“Some researchers have found that people with high attachment avoidance place a high value on materialism,” Li adds. For these people, buying expensive goods for themselves may be a way to show they are “better than others.”

As far as why both groups usually disapprove of their partner’s spending habits, the answer is again, likely very different for each. Loners look for traits or actions to hold against their partner, while clingers are naturally inclined to believe their partner isn’t being honest with them about money.

While these findings are certainly thought provoking, at the end of the day we should all remember that no one is perfect. Just because someone you’re interested in is a bit distant, or perhaps too eager, that doesn’t mean they’re not worth getting to know. We all have our flaws, and that’s what makes it that much more special when we find a relationship that works. Until then, though, it’s probably not a good idea to open up a joint checking account with someone who fits either description.

The full study can be found here, published in the Journal of Family and Economic Issues.