2 Ways Retail Therapy Can Improve Your Relationship

4 min read
Joshua Rawson Harris / Unsplash

Source: Joshua Rawson Harris / Unsplash

“Retail therapy” has transcended its frivolous connotations to become a culturally acknowledged method of coping with the pressures of modern life. Buying things you may or may not need attempts to fill a void, bring comfort, or simply lift spirits during challenging times. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology found that people often turn to shopping as a way to deal with sadness, mostly because the act of shopping provides a sense of personal control in situations where individuals might otherwise feel powerless.

When it comes to how couples spend, a 2018 study, also from the Journal of Consumer Psychology, has some eye-opening insights. The study looked at how the very nature of couples’ bank accounts—whether joint or separate—affects their purchasing choices. It discovered that couples spending from joint bank accounts leaned more towards utilitarian or practical products, while those using individual accounts were more likely to indulge in hedonic or pleasure-oriented purchases. The reason? An underlying need to justify shared expenses to one’s partner.

So, while shopping can offer individuals a sense of empowerment during emotional lows, the financial dynamics between couples add another layer to this therapeutic activity. Recognizing the motivations behind purchases and understanding the need to justify expenses can open avenues for meaningful discussions.

With that in mind, here are two ways retail therapy can be harnessed to bring couples closer together.

1. Retail Therapy Is a Bonding Experience

At first glance, it might be easy to brush off a partner’s penchant for shopping following life’s setbacks as frivolous or imprudent. Witnessing your significant other reaching for their wallet at the slightest sign of stress can indeed be frustrating. But, as with most things in relationships, understanding is key. Diving deeper into why they feel the need to shop can reveal a lot about their coping mechanisms, past experiences, and even deep-seated insecurities.

Before drawing hasty conclusions or voicing concerns, consider making shopping a shared experience. Instead of leaving your partner to wander the mall alone, join them. Transform these retail outings into enjoyable, relationship-enhancing dates. Walk through the aisles hand in hand, discuss product choices, and share your own shopping habits. This is not only a fun way to spend time together, but it also provides a deeper insight into how each of you approaches decisions, especially when under emotional duress.

Gradually, by being present during these shopping jaunts, you can subtly introduce healthier coping mechanisms. Perhaps you start by suggesting a limit on spending or encouraging thoughtful consideration before making a purchase. Over time, you might redirect these shopping trips to other activities—a walk in the park, a coffee date, or even just window shopping without the intent to buy.

The objective isn’t to eliminate retail therapy but to help your partner find a balanced and healthier way to process emotions. Remember, the way an individual approaches shopping can tell you a lot about their personality, values, and past experiences. By embracing retail therapy as a bonding experience, not only do you get to understand your partner better, but you also create a supportive environment that encourages growth and emotional intimacy.

2. Retail Therapy Is a Gateway to Trust and Transparency

Financial compatibility is as vital as emotional compatibility in a lasting relationship. The dynamics of how partners spend, especially in moments of distress, can serve as a window into their values, priorities, and overall financial behavior. The 2018 study underscores an important nuance: how shared or separate bank accounts influence purchasing decisions. This interplay of emotions and finances provides an excellent opportunity for couples to strengthen trust and transparency.

Engaging in retail therapy together can be a candid way of discussing individual financial habits. By observing and discussing why and how certain purchases are made, couples can better understand each other’s financial inclinations. Do they splurge on luxury or stick to essentials? How do they justify certain expenditures?

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These observations can lead to constructive conversations on budgeting, saving, and even future financial goals. By navigating these discussions, couples can build a strong foundation of mutual trust. The key is open dialogue, understanding each other’s spending habits, and ensuring that both partners feel secure in their financial decisions together.


By leveraging the therapeutic aspects of shopping and integrating financial conversations into everyday life, couples can deepen their bond and build trust. After all, understanding each other, both emotionally and financially, forms the bedrock of a lasting and fulfilling relationship.

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