Relationship currency

love-trustRelationships are all about energy exchange. It is a partnership, and as relationships form, we bank on certain things happening or not happening as part of the deal. To understand relationships that you’re in or want to create, it helps to think of the currency used and received in this energy exchange.

Currency is like money, but it comes in different forms or categories. For example, one form might be the currency of trust. Sex and affection might be another. Beauty, wealth, status, loyalty, brilliance, sensitivity, astrology, etc. could be others.


Let’s first look at the currency of trust. When you enter into a relationship, you consciously or unconsciously consider the value of trust you can place in your partner. This consideration continues throughout the relationship.

How much do you trust this person? Would they take advantage of you if they could? Would you trust them in an emergency when you were incapacitated and they were managing your care? Do you believe the sickness promise of “in sickness and in health?” Do you trust this person with your possessions, your finances, your food, your love? Do you trust this person with your feelings, your personal history, your desires and aspirations? How many of your secrets would you trust this person to keep confidential? Do you trust his or her advice?

Trust is pretty fundamental to life and relationships. You want to be able to trust a mate. At times it could mean survival itself. Great trust in someone would mean having a high-valued currency. If that person is not so trustworthy, it would mean pennies on the dollar in worth in the trust department.


Especially high in our youth and beauty culture is the currency for physical attractiveness for both genders. Those who have it know the power (and the burdens) that it brings. While much of it comes naturally via genes, much of it also means keeping up with current styles, flaunting it in certain conforming ways, and putting up with the unwanted attention it attracts.

As with any currency, the value of yours is based on what the other person thinks. Some people value physical attractiveness very highly, others not so much. In relationships I had with exotic beauties, I experienced the time, energy, money, and angst that went into maintaining that beauty. It became less valuable to me. I especially disliked it when women would seem to blame me — as in all men are created equal — for all the pressure they felt to keep up with their beauty regimen and male expectations. I became much more focused on mental and emotional beauty, with high marks for humor and sensitivity.

So currency reflects not only what you feel about it, how much you value it, but what other people thinks it’s worth. Physical beauty, for example, is a moving target. Maybe you look great in July, but by November it’s old hat for the beholder. The reverse could happen, too. You become more attractive over time.


Another popular form of currency, especially in new relationships, is affection. This usually embraces sex. Nature designed this one, but society plays a huge role as it sells conformity to stereotypes. Often the decision to spend the rest of your life with someone contains a sexual component — an implicit agreement that lovebirds will always do what lovebirds do.

The value of your sex and affection currency depends highly on what the other person wants from it. Are you on the same page and wanting something similar, or is there a huge difference in how each person views and values them? It often requires good communication skills to pin the tail on this donkey.

Sex in a relationships sometimes peters out creating a sexless marriage or platonic, roommates-like relationship. It could be because other currencies have been negatively affected. Maybe the trust currency took a huge dive after an affair or some other crisis or blow-up, and not tonight honey became more frequent. Then came separate bedrooms.


Years ago the classic currency between husband and wife was that husband was the income provider and wife kept the home and raised the children. The value of the currency was based on how skilled they were in the designated roles and responsibilities.

Ward Cleaver provided income for the family doing God knows what and June Cleaver kept the house running smoothly. Dr. Alex Stone was a pediatrician and his TV wife Donna Reed kept the house and family running smoothly.

Those roles have changed to the point where we often share them now. We look at our partner, whichever gender, and ask if he or she is a good income provider or if he or she handy is around the house.


We have have many forms of currency to offer, but we usually don’t want the same things, especially in the long-term. When relationships form without studying this, shocks often occur. Assumptions prove to be inaccurate. Deficiencies in the fair exchange reveal themselves.

Yes she may be great in bed, but can she make a decent blueberry pancake? Yes, he is a hot lover, but is he responsible with the family checkbook?

Relationships often form where Person A eagerly seeks one form of currency, like everlasting sexual bliss, yet is blasé about other forms of currency Person B offers. Person B might be upset that Person A never appreciates those other skills and gifts. Person A is simply not in the market for that skill. It holds little value.

For example, I like good food and appreciate skilled cooking, but even so I am nowhere near gourmet in my appreciation. If my mate was a Martha Stewart clone, she might be upset that I enjoy simple meals or don’t go all ecstatic with her extra efforts. Maybe her zeal for cooking meant she expected me to have the same sensitive tongue and appreciation for nuanced cuisine. Maybe she was perpetually too busy cooking to share other fun activities.

Another example: Some people are very stylish. They want their environment just so. They get picky, even disoriented if their environment is disorganized. I pay vastly more attention to my inner world. I crave intriguing mind food. My currency on the external is not as high as for the internal.

Some people base their relationship choices on one or two major priorities on their currency desires list. They may not consider the rest of the picture, often until it is too late.


To complicate matters, life is a moving target. We change our needs and desires over time and as circumstances dictate. We go through cycles in life with differing needs and desires.

In younger years and relationships, travel and adventure may be more important than who takes out the garbage. A person’s televiewing and music listening habits may be of little concern. A spiritual connection may not be as important as the accumulation of wealth or the pursuit of sensual pleasures.

Often, unforeseen circumstances rupture smooth sailing, and change happens. An illness, job loss, pregnancy, natural disaster, extended family challenge, or other event throws everything off kilter. The new circumstances shift our priorities, and our currencies change dramatically.


What currency do you value? What are your priorities? There can be many different kinds.

A good way to determine it is to think about somebody who either is or was intimate with you (does not have to be romantic intimacy.) As you think about that person, make a list of the things that you like about that person. Also make a list of the things you dislike about that person.

Doing this will lead you to identifying your currency. Currency is both what you offer and want to receive. Some things you offer to someone are things you hold high in value. The same is true for things you like to receive. Sometimes you and your intimate will have similar currency values. Sometimes you won’t.

There is no right or wrong attached to currency. It is just an indication of what you value. Thinking about currency creates a great method of working through the relationship issues that inevitably come up.

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