Love and money are sensitive topics by themselves. Put them together and a therapist has a lot of material on the table. So let’s begin with the most general of questions: in a committed, long-term monogamous relationship, should you and your partner combine your money?
My answer is a resounding YES. Give me a reason you and your partner don’t completely pool your money and I will show you a relationship issue waiting to be solved.
Many couples today have shared households prior to getting married (including some who don’t marry at all.) So even before considering pooling their money together, most couples have tackled some important issues about money. How will we split the rent? What about the food I buy but you eat? I earn less money than you, so should I contribute the same amount to our vacation? For many couples, there is a natural point in their relationship to discuss combined money. Marriage, moving in together, a large purchase such as a home or car, or a shared responsibility like a pet are all good times. You and your loved one are taking steps in a committed, long-term monogamous relationship.
It’s not only logistics that are difficult when thinking about combining money, though. There are a lot of emotional reasons behind couples who are tempted to keep money separate, and it’s these emotions that I like to address in therapy. For example,I hear arguments like these:
- I just want my own spending money each month so that he doesn’t judge the way I shop.
- He came into the relationship with a lot of debt and when we pay that off we will combine money.
- My mom didn’t work and she always felt like she had to ask permission for money from my dad and I don’t want to have to do that.
- We can agree to make the big purchases together but for all the rest it is simpler to do our own thing.
I won’t go through each of these point by point, but all of these concerns share one thing in common: they are not really about money. They are about feelings about each other and ourselves: judgment from a partner, or resentment, or fear. Insecurity, guilt, lack of compromise. They are the things we talk about in couples counseling anyway — trust, independence and confidence in decision-making.
I believe that every person deserves to feel empowered and capable of living within a budget created with a shared future in mind, and this includes having discretionary income. Separating money does not necessarily accomplish this. In fact, it avoids the discussion and potential to resolve the secrecy and division.
This doesn’t mean that all relationship issues behind money arrangements NEED to be solved! Plenty of couples are perfectly happy with their situation and there is no need to change something that is working. But, for example, you cannot put a price tag on raising kids or commuting hours every day to work; these are important things partners do that don’t grow the bank account. And when you begin to quantify time, effort, and value on each partner’s contributions in a nickel-and-diming way, it becomes a chore. When you are in a committed relationship with someone else you are taking all parts of them — not just their good days and charming habits, but their poker games and pedicures too. A couple is building a shared life together and that should incorporate different values of material items and difficult choices about allocation of time and money.
Couples who find a way to address their concerns and hopes behind taking on a partner’s debt, or spending habits, or family inheritance are a step ahead.
Let us know if we can help you with money squabbles — big or small. Contact us!