'Till Finances Do We Part (or Merge)

10 years ago

Managing joint finances can be a challenge for all couples gay and straight alike. Unfortunately there is no how-to manual on managing a couple's finances and running a home. Perhaps one never got written because in the old days a man and woman would marry, the man would have a career and bring home all the money, and the woman would raise the kids. No worries about joint finances because there was just one income stream and one person in charge of the money, the man. Thankfully we've come a LONG way from there. Even in traditional marriages more than half of the time both individuals are working outside the home. According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics:

The proportion that were dual-worker couples (both husband and wife employed) rose from 51.3 to 51.8 percent.

I have to believe that number would actually be much higher if it could account for the number of women not working in a snapshot of time but who plan on returning to their careers after a short or long period of being a full time Mom.

Add to this statistic the number of gay and lesbian couples and unmarried heterosexual couples and you get a darn lot of people out there navigating the joint finances maze.

As I see it, there are only three ways to handle finances in a relationship:

1) Totally Separate
2) Fully merged
3) A combination

A while ago I wrote about how my partner and I chose to handle joint finances and our decision not to merge. Though I must say we have just recently gone from the totally separate approach to more of a combo approach.

Nora Dunn explores this very question in "Separate Bank Accounts: Till Death (Or Banking) Do We Part". Are separate bank accounts a recipe for relationship disaster?

It is my personal belief that separate bank accounts can be a good thing for relationships - as long as it is accompanied by proper and full communication.

Managing your own bank account (even if you are part of a "till death do us part" duo) is empowering, and a life skill that nobody should be deprived of. It brings personal accountability, budgeting, and a sense of financial pride to the owner of the account, no matter what the balance is. Even slowly digging your way out of debt is something to be proud of if you can say you did it on your own.

The bottom line in my experience and Nora affirms my thinking is that communication is the key to making any of the different approaches work.

First of all, I can't stress enough that communication about finances is the key to a happy relationship. The number one thing couples fight about is money, and I believe many relationships can be saved (or avoided) with proper communication about finances.

It's funny - people are more comfortable sitting around the dinner table and talking about their sex lives before they're comfortable talking about money. Why is this? Is it a dirty or shameful thing? Do our personal money matters hold some secret key to our identities?

Unfortunately communication as it relates to money is often the one thing missing, especially at the outset of a relationship. I know over 16 years ago when my partner and I met we didn't talk about money at all. I was just out of college and thrilled to have my own paycheck. I kept expenses low and had the good fortune of having had a family that worked tirelessly to pay for my education and give me a debt free start. So to me, I felt uber-rich with my $28,000 a year salary. We didn't talk about money, I just spent it. I was in love and wanted to spoil and pamper the one I loved and enjoy the "good life" now that I was no longer in school.

In "Talk The Finance Talk Before Walking The Commitment Walk" minister and financial expert Taffy Wagner talks about this very thing:

It may not seem like it’s as much fun as selecting honeymoon destinations and tasting cakes, but coming together on financial issues before you come together as husband and wife is crucial to mapping your future. You have to know how and be willing to deal with the bottom line, both literally and figuratively. All couples will eventually face some kind of financial challenge or life-altering decision regarding money. No one is immune, no matter how healthy their bank accounts are.

The reality is sooner or later the money thing comes up and you need to deal with it. If your communication and relationship foundation is not strong it can be the death knell for your relationship. In fact, consider this from "The Most Common Reason for Divorce: Marriage":

Money is a big factor when it comes to divorce. The article discussed how even though money is a big factor; it is not money itself that is the problem. Money represents many things (power, control, freedom) and those things, in conjunction with incompatibility, are what lead to divorce.

I couldn't agree more. Money is just a piece of paper. Money is an exchange of energy. However, it is what we make money mean and what we make our surplus or lack of money mean about ourselves that becomes the powerful emotional driver that fuels so many of our choices. It becomes personal. These beliefs can blow up in our face when we least expect it and if it happens in the context of a relationship, the results can be messy at best, the end of the line at worst.

What can you do starting today to get the lines of money communication open in your relationship?

Paula Gregorowicz, owner of The Paula G. Company, works with women who feel angry & frustrated with having to compromise who they are in order to get what they want. To learn how to start getting more comfortable in your own skin in your life and business, download the Free 12 part eCourse at her blog http://www.coaching4lesbians.com.

To get the latest word on personal finances from an LGBT perspective and Paula's practical coach approach to the topic check out Queercents http://www.queercents.com.

Are you a small or solo business owner who wants to be comfortable in their own skin online via a website that is a true reflection of who you are and what your business is about? Paula's signature down to earth and "plain English" approach to website design and consulting can help. Visit http://www.paulagwebdesign.com to download the free successful website planner.

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