These days, having separate accounts is more often associated with the convenience of getting married after both parties are established professionally and may crave some degree of independence. For some, it means a hybrid model with shared and individual accounts. For others, it is a complete separation of economics.
None of these mindsets are wrong, but a recent study showed that couples who knock together are more likely to experience relationship satisfaction and are less likely to break up, especially when it comes to those with fewer financial resources.
One theory for why was that couples “who merged their bank accounts used more pronouns like” we “and fewer pronouns like” I. ” higher rates of marital satisfaction, partly due to interdependence, in other words, the transition from “my money and your money” to “our money” can form the basis of becoming a team.
It is an interesting study and there are different ways to question and interpret the results. After all, it is difficult to determine causality. (What if social pressure was what made couples combine all their wealth? What if another factor was what made couples stay together?)
I would argue that strong communication skills can be developed just as much, if not more, when partners have separated finances. Having at least one separate bank account from your spouse does not preclude the need to be a team around finances. In fact, maintaining a degree of autonomy in a marriage can promote a healthy environment for both partners and support long-term relationship satisfaction.
My husband and I refer to 90% of our money (income, savings and investments) as “our money.” I even changed my language after marriage to refer to the student loans he had as “our student loans” while we worked to pay them off together. (We had many conversations before engagement and then before marriage about how we would handle money after saying “I do.” At first, my husband was reluctant to accept the idea that I should help pay off his student loan after marriage). But in my mind, no matter if the income went to pay them off, these loans would affect our overall financial situation as a couple, making it our problem to solve.)
The 10% of our money that goes into separate accounts does not undo all the work we have done to build a life together. It actually helps reduce mentally retarded nitpicking. We still want to spend money in ways that the other person may not quite get, so it helps every month to have discretionary spending money deposited into our individual checking accounts.
Having a single separate account per. person can create dangerous territory for some couples depending on how these accounts are funded. Regardless of who earns what, the monthly estimated consumption money should be the same per. person. Income-based proratio can create a sense of entitlement and separation. For example, I currently earn my husband more than my husband, but we both have the same amount each month and that is based on what makes sense for our overall household budget and other financial goals.
It is important that you put the financial needs of your partnership before financing individual accounts to promote unity. Otherwise, it is easy to become territorial and justified.
On the flip side, it’s challenging to be 100% separated. It works for some couples, especially those who may have been married before or have children from other relationships. But overall, having separate financial households under one roof requires a different kind of trust, a lot of communication and good management. If consumption is completely in silo, it can be breeding ground for conflict if one person starts earning and spending significantly more.
There is another simple reason why I would argue for keeping some money separate: Finance is one of the ways addicts can try to control their victims and prevent them from leaving. Financial dependence, with or without abuse, is a common reason why many people – but more often women – stay in marriages they would rather end. While secret accounts are often considered financial infidelity, your security takes precedence. Should you find yourself in a situation that you need to leave, then it is perfectly acceptable to have an account that you do not disclose.
In a healthy, non-abusive relationship, you should openly discuss your desire for an account in your name. Explain family history or personal experiences that make you feel the need to be separated. It is not a reflection on your current partner, but rather what is best for your well-being.
It’s easier to talk about money if everything is completely streamlined on common accounts that both parties can easily access. Having any level of separation requires more communication, especially if each person is responsible for different bills. Of course, following up on what was paid or what investments were funded can be tedious. So should you find that you are constantly arguing about finances, common bank is perhaps the method for you.
The bottom line is that you need to communicate to find a strategy that works for you. And once you do, keep at it.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial staff or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Erin Lowry is the author of “Broke Millennial”, “Broke Millennial Takes On Investing” and “Broke Millennial Talks Money: Stories, Scripts and Advice to Navigate Awkward Financial Conversations.”
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