Navigating finances is one of the more common pain points in any relationship — money is stressful and forever linked to power (who has and does not have it) and therefore is never going to be a simple issue to hash out between fundamentally different parties. For women, especially, who have historically been the disenfranchised party in a relationship (generations of not being able to own property/having what’s yours transferred to your spouse), a financially independent lifeline can be the difference between being trapped in a dangerous, violent or toxic situation and having the freedom to truly decide what is healthy and good for you and your family.
So when a poster in the famed Am I The Asshole (/AITA) subreddit expressed being angry that his wife of four years had a separate savings account that was hers independently (autodeposited from each of her paychecks), it raised a red flag.
“It opened up four years ago, and she’s been auto depositing 10 percent of her income every year. She’s saying it’s a completely healthy thing to do especially for women. She says that she wants to be secured if something happened to me or if I started abusing her,” the poster wrote. “I find that extremely illogical and that it’s pretty bad that she’s been lying this whole time. She’s been hiding $25k dollars from me. I put my money into our joint account, since we both agreed to merge our finances. She’s now saying that I can also put 10 percent of my income every year into my own account.”
— Am I the Asshole? (@AITA_reddit) August 17, 2020
I’ll say it loud and clear right here: There is absolutely nothing wrong with having control over your own individual finances and it is a totally healthy thing to have. As a culture, normalizing a degree of financial independence and making it clear that your needs/potential future needs as an individual do not evaporate when you get married is an important step to making partnerships more equitable. Plus, if you know anything about financial abuse — which research finds occurs in 99 percent of domestic violence cases — you know that building your financial situation in a way that ensures your partner has less financial power to handle expenses without you (or to ultimately leave you, should the need arise) is textbook example of this abusive behavior.
Considering the poster’s wife said very plainly that he was totally entitled to have his own similar fund and he still remained Big Mad about her very rational motivations for having this precaution, his reaction almost seems to back up her choice. This conflict is not about the $25k being a necessity for the family to survive or thrive — it’s about control.
Is it wrong to have separate money and accounts from your spouse?
Absolutely not. When we commit to a partnership and a shared life with someone, we obviously aren’t planning to be in a situation that we need to eject-button out of. But, these situations can and do happen — and, if you don’t have the family/community resources to help you (a situation many survivors and victims of domestic abuse are in), allocating some of the resources you’re pulling in (your own paycheck) can be a lifeline for you and your family.
“Financial abuse is behavior that seeks to control a person’s ability to acquire, use, or maintain economic resources, and threatens their self-sufficiency and financial autonomy,” according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) financial abuse fact sheet. “Though financial abuse occurs in 99% of domestic violence cases, a 2014 study showed that 78% of Americans did not recognize financial abuse as a form of domestic violence.”
In the short- and long-term, financial abuse is a leading cause in survivors returning to an abusive partner since “ruined credit scores, sporadic employment histories, and legal issues caused by the abuse make it extremely difficult to gain independence, safety, and long-term security.”
These kind of emergency funds/accounts have been called “Run money” or a “F-ck-off fund.” They don’t necessarily need to exclusively be in case you need to leave partner (though that is definitely a part of the narrative for many people), but instead it is just money put aside with the set knowledge that sometimes life goes off rails and that you want to be in the position to keep you and your family out of situations that will harm you (whether that’s at home or at work or anywhere else that you’d need a bit of extra cash to extract yourself.
“Financial abuse, while less commonly understood, is one of the most powerful methods of keeping a survivor trapped in an abusive relationship and deeply diminishes the victim’s ability to stay safe after leaving an abusive partner,” according to the NNEDV website. “Surveys of survivors reflect that concerns over their ability to provide financially for themselves and their children was one of the top reason for staying in or returning to an abusive partner. As with all forms of abuse, financial abuse occurs across all socio-economic, educational, and racial and ethnic groups.”
Now, of course, there’s a blanket disclaimer that you can really only do this to the best of your ability because, again, life goes off rails and kids need braces and cars get T-boned, life is a recurring financial nightmare, etc. — and accumulating savings and wealth is something that’s easier for the already wealthy. But, if you have the resources and the ability to make sure that both you and your partner are able to stand alone financially, worst case scenario, it can only help you stand stronger together.
If you or someone you love is in a situation where they’re experiencing financial, physical or emotional abuse from an intimate partner, there is hope. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).