Separate Accounts: It May Save Your Marriage

Sex and money -- two things couples fight about the most. For couples with joint accounts, the money arguments can get heated and even lead to a breakup.
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Sex and money -- two things couples fight about the most. For couples with joint accounts, the money arguments can get heated and even lead to a breakup.

When I see couples for counseling, money issues inevitably come up. One person is usually a saver, and one is a spender. Savers are sometimes viewed by a spender as being cheap or too frugal. Spenders are seen by savers as being reckless and frivolous. Opposites attract -- but they can also collide. If you and your spouse or partner are among the millions of couples with joint accounts (checking, savings, credit cards, loans), chances are that you have fought over your accounts more than a few times.

With joint accounts, your credit histories are mingled. In addition, your attitudes about money, are mingled as well. You may find that your spouse makes impulsive purchases on "big ticket" items without consulting you. You may find that your spouse "hoards" money and refuses to spend it on needed items. There are some things you just don't know a person until you have a joint account.

We grow up with ideas about money -- mainly from how we saw our parents deal with it. If you lived in a home where expenses were tight, you may tend to save money obsessively -- "just in case." If you lived in a home where you never saw your parents deal with money, or it wasn't talked about at all, you may be an excessive spender because you never really learned how to manage your money. Get those two people together, and you can get fireworks -- and not always of the good kind.

Talk together about what you learned about money when you were growing up. You'll both learn interesting insights as to your spouse's money habits. Keep in mind that money has no intrinsic moral value -- it isn't good or bad -- it just is. Once you are able to separate yourself from some possibly unhealthy patterns you've learned, you can take steps towards a healthier financial future together. And sometimes that means keeping separate accounts.

Answer the following questions to determine if separate accounts might help your marriage:
•Are you continually arguing about joint account expenses?
•Do you and/or your partner continually forget to record withdrawals from your joint account?
•Have you and/or your partner bounced checks?
•Do you or your partner have poor credit?
•Are you in a relationship that is not legally binding? (Marriage, common-law marriage and civil unions are legally binding relationships.)

The more questions you answered yes to, the more you should consider keeping separate accounts.

When I recommend keeping separate accounts, couples will say, "But won't keeping separate accounts make us like roommates instead of spouses? I thought we were supposed to share things." To the contrary -- keeping separate accounts doesn't decrease the intimacy in your relationship -- in fact, it increases it because you won't be fighting as much!

When couples decide to just keep separate accounts, they can decide who will pay what household expenses. Some couples decide to split household expenses right down the middle, and some pay household bills based on their proportion of income. This means that each spouse puts the same percentage of their income towards joint expenses. What works for one couple may not work for you -- find a happy medium where both you and your partner agree on how to split these joint costs.

As with many financial decisions, consult with a financial professional before switching to separate accounts. Talk with your financial professional about making the account available to the other spouse in case of an emergency. What you don't want is your spouse being denied access to your funds while you are incapacitated. Separate accounts can help keep the peace at home -- and can lead to more intimacy in your relationship.

Dr. Stephanie Sarkis is the author of four books on adult ADHD, including "ADD and Your Money: A Guide to Personal Finance for Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder."

Copyright 2012 Sarkis Media LLC