When it comes to the subject of money and finances, people are often far more comfortable talking about their sex lives than about their financial lives. Talking about how to deal with money in your relationship can feel awkward, unnecessary, and like something you would rather avoid. Unfortunately, disagreeing about money is one of the primary reasons for discord in relationships.
As a Therapist Who Works With Couples, This is What I Think About…And You Should Think About This, Too
When I work with couples, or, for that matter, with anyone who is in committed relationship, I am always wondering about how money is being handled. How did the couple come up with whatever system they are using? Is money kept separate or is everything combined? Something in the middle? What does this say, if anything, about how the members of the couple view the relationship? Is the current situation working for everyone involved? Why or why not?
Combining Funds Is Not For Everyone
Before we consider this issue further, it is important to recognize that there may be many excellent reasons for finances to remain separate. For example, there may be business reasons, children from a prior relationships, debt, or concerns about credit scores. Each situation is unique and you may want to consult with an attorney or tax accountant for advice. This article assumes that there are no legal or accounting reasons to choose a particular approach to handling money.
If each person keeps his or her finances separate, does this say something about the commitment to the relationship? Does it imply a lack of trust in the other person or that the relationship will last over the long haul? Will it provide a convenient exit strategy that could make ending the relationship easier? On a day-to-day basis, how does having separate finances make things easier or harder? How would you handle finances if one person lost his or her job or became ill? If you currently have children or decide to have children, how would you handle who pays for what expenses as they relate to your children? How did you decide this?
Some Ideas for Sharing Money
Separate funds can also bring up numerous logistical challenges. A couple could decide that each person contributes a percentage of his or her income to a joint account; or perhaps the percentages vary depending on the income level(s). Sometimes, each person contributes a set dollar amount each month. Maybe payment of expenses is alternated, or one partner pays the bills while the other partner pays the rent. Often, the partner earning more money may pay more of the expenses. Navigating these questions requires honesty and solid communication skills.
What about couples that have decided to combine their finances? For some people, this can seem like an easier road, however, it can bring up numerous concerns. Combining finances can be a way to try to keep a relationship glued together by creating a financial bond in the absence of an emotional bond. Joint finances can also bring up difficult questions: what if I don’t like the ways my partner spends money? What if s/he spends too much money? Do I need to ask my partner before I buy anything? What are the limits in terms of how much money I can spend without consulting with my partner? Will it feel comfortable to combine our finances if I make more/less than my partner? If I make more/less than my partner, am I keeping a mental accounting about how much I contribute or how much s/he contributes to our household? What feelings does this bring up? How will you handle money that you had before the partnership? What happens if the relationship ends?
The list of issues that can arise when we talk about money is endless. In my next article about money, I will talk more about these issues and consider some ways to talk about money with your partner.