Money and love. Such powerful subjects on their own; combined, they can be explosive. So, when it comes to love, money and relationships, aren’t couples who pool their finances just asking for trouble?
There are plenty of couples who insist that keeping their finances separate is a key to their happy relationship. Some of the benefits, they say, are:
- Each spouse gets some privacy and independence.
- There’s less reason for conflict.
- No one’s looking over your shoulder at your spending.
Most couples pool their money
All of that makes sense to me, so I was surprised to learn that most married couples in the United States do pool their finances. Still, that doesn’t mean that it makes them happier, does it?
“What has research turned up on the subject?” I wondered. I was in for another surprise: Research seems generally to show that pooling money in marriage makes a relationship more likely to last. Of course every relationship and circumstance is different, and there are good reasons why not every couple should pool their finances.
But, by and large, the jury seems to be in: Sharing is a good thing. Here’s what researchers and impassioned advocates have to say about pooling money in a marriage:
1. Separate money is linked to more breakups
For married couples, at least, “results show a strong association between moving money out of joint accounts, and consistently keeping money separate, and couple breakup,” say the authors of Money, Honey if You Want to Get Along With Me: Money Management and Union Dissolution in Marriage and Cohabitation, a 2010 report examining research about money sharing in marriage. The study was funded by the nonprofit National Center for Family & Marriage Research.
Most American couples pool their funds, the report says. And yet, in some subgroups the opposite is true. Separate money is the rule among:
- African-American couples.
- People who have remarried.
- Unmarried couples living together.
2. Sharing control is a good thing
Another study funded by the same research center finds that sharing power, among other things, is good for marriage. And, as everyone knows, money is power. Here’s what Married Couples’ Communication and Resource Management Behaviors: Implications for Relationship Well-Being, says:
Overall, respondents tended to report more positive relationship adjustment when they and their partner pooled their money together, shared control of their money, engaged in more frequent financial management and positive communication behavior, and engaged in less frequent demand/withdraw behavior.
3. But you have to share equally
Pooling money can cause problems if you’re not sharing equally, writes Maryalene LaPonsie, in 7 Money Mistakes That Can Mess Up Your Marriage:
[P]lease, whatever you do, don’t divide your spending money as a percentage of your respective incomes. I’d wager that nothing chips away at the foundation of a marriage quite like placing a value on your spouse based upon what they earn.
4. Money fights happen regardless
Slate writer Jessica Grose polled 6,000 readers to learn about couples’ approaches to money and relationships. She found only “negligible differences in the amount of fighting among couples who pooled all their money, some of their money, and none of their money.”
5. Sharing forces you to commit
And committing “can itself create more love,” says Bloomberg writer Megan McArdle:
The harder it is to disentangle yourself, the harder you will work to enjoy what you have. The act of trusting everything to another person is the act of looking for all the reasons that they are trustworthy — accentuating the positive.
6. Separate money undermines the financial benefits of marriage
Before romantic love became a big reason for marriage, people married for practical reasons like physical security, financial stability, more prosperity for rearing children and the financial benefits of shared labor and shared overhead. The practical stuff may not be everything today, but it still counts for a lot.
If you de-couple money from marriage you eliminate much of the financial value of marriage, says writer James E. McWhinney at Investopedia.