Money may not be the root of all evil — but it's the clincher in a great many relationships gone haywire. Research shows that arguing about money is by far the top predictor of divorce. "It's not children, sex, in-laws, or anything else. It's money — for both men and women," says Sonya Britt, an assistant professor at Kansas State University who conducted a study of 4,500 couples about the interplay between financial arguments and relationship satisfaction.
We all have deeply ingrained beliefs about how money should be spent, when it's appropriate to splurge, and how much we should have stowed away in savings. And it can be difficult to the point of deal-breaking to try and mesh our own attitudes about money with another person's financial beliefs, which very well may differ drastically from our own. That's why a large number of financial advisers urge couples to remain financially independent.
Read on for our roundup of the top reasons why it pays to keep money matters separate in your relationship. (See also: 6 Ways Regular Budget Meetings Might Save Your Marriage)
1. You'll Avoid a Power Imbalance
Merging finances means there's no more "yours" and "mine" in the money department. The divisions blur and it all goes into the same piggy bank. But what if your partner earns much more than you, and now you're suddenly living a lifestyle you can afford only with your partner's assist? What if the opposite is true, and you're subsidizing your partner's income with your own earnings? When your relationship is healthy and sparkling, you might not be bothered by either of these scenarios. But what about in the wake of a blowout fight?
Or let's say you're the breadwinner in the relationship and you subsidize a good chunk of your partner's lifestyle because he or she isn't earning enough to keep up. Then, suddenly, you lose your job and your partner's income isn't enough to pick up the slack. Would you feel resentful? How would you cope with that? This is the kind of financial imbalance that has a tendency to instigate the fights that ultimately tear couples apart. Luckily, you can avoid them by keeping your financials separate from your sweetie's.
2. We're More Accustomed to Financial Independence Than Ever
Young adults are delaying marriage longer than ever before. The average age of people at their first marriage in the U.S. today is about 27, which means many people rack up six or more years of complete financial independence before saying their vows. The money habits we develop during our years as single adults become so deeply ingrained in us that it's difficult to shift them in an attempt to mesh with the financial habits of our partner.
And, unfortunately, finding common ground on financial matters is not necessarily something that gets better with practice. When asked how much they will need to save to maintain their current lifestyle in retirement, for example, nearly half of all couples are in disagreement about the amount needed. This level of disagreement is highest, however, among those who are closest to retirement.
3. It Promotes Healthy Spending Habits
Financially independent couples tend to practice better discipline when it comes to paying off their own debts. And that makes for a healthy relationship. When one partner starts to feel like their partner's pockets are deep enough to offset the burden of their own financial risks, they sometimes become irresponsible in their spending and saving habits. And that can create the kind of friction that could start a fiery argument later on down the road.
4. It Balances the Burden of Money Stress
When one partner becomes the sole organizer of a couple's fiscal matters, he or she runs the risk of becoming overwhelmed by the responsibility — and that can throw an entire relationship off balance. But when both partners take charge of their separate finances and contribute to mutual expenses fairly, any money stress that arises is shared, making it much more manageable to find relief as a team.
5. A Breakup Won't Mean Financial Chaos
When you maintain financial independence, you avoid the risk of your personal financial situation falling apart just because your relationship did. Paying your fair share in a relationship also makes for a cleaner emotional break if you one day decide to split. When one partner consistently treats the other to dinners and vacations, or pays the majority of the bills, resentment is bound to brew during a breakup. The partner who paid more might even feel entitled to reimbursement.