I decided to take on this controversial topic this week so I can also contribute to the vast body of opinion on this subject. Not only does this question get asked time and time again in several marriage seminars and singles events, it is also one of the most asked question during pre and post-marital counselling.
There are several school of thoughts to this question. There is the “Religious” School of thought that advocates that since “Two has become One” there ought not to be any reason to keep separate accounts. There is the “Traditional” School of thought that basically advocates that the right hand must not know what the left hand is doing. In which case, the husband of the bride must never put himself in the position to disclose to his wife the extent of his earnings or assets. Then there is the “Ideological” School of thought that advocates a contributory scheme in which case a percentage of contribution is pre-determined by both partners on income/expenditure subjects. If you stay long in this school, you probably think you are in a business school and not in a marriage school.
I have found out that whilst there are people who are pre-dominantly entrenched in any one of these schools, the vast majority of people actually just move from one to another. That is, when it is convenient they are in the Religious school, and when not. they will suddenly become proponents of the traditional school. This happens because people are relatively influenced by several factors in their life-time. Things such as religious convictions, increased/decreased income levels, societal status all play a role in determining which school of thought an individual belongs to at any certain time. Anyway, whichever group you belong to, chances are that you would believe in anyone of these three.
- That Couples MUST Keep Joint Accounts
- That Couples MUST NOT keep Joint Accounts
- That Couple MAY keep a Joint Account only for contributory purposes as per agreed percentages
Not long after I got married, an elderly colleague at work called me aside and gave me some rather interesting marital counsel. One had to do with maintaining discipline and respect on my home and the other had to do with managing finances. One day, I hope to talk about his advice on how to maintain discipline. Trust me, it is worth hearing. However, on the subject of managing my finances, he told me straight up – Never disclose your income and all your assets to your wife because when you do, she will never believe that you have told her all. In fact the likelihood is that she will believe what you have told her represents only 50% of what you actually earn. And because she believes you are withholding something back, she will generate expenses that will equal to 100% of what you have told her. In conclusion, he advised that if pressed I should only disclosed only 20% of what I earn so that at the worst case scenario, I still have 80% to play around with. True Story!
Now I came from a religious background, my foundation and that of my wife’s is that of strong Christian values and my inclination strongly gravitated to the – You must keep Joint Accounts School of Thought. However, to hear this from someone who was not only decades ahead of me in marriage but also someone I highly respected was very confusing. On the other hand, this kind of conversations also goes on in multiple homes between mothers and their daughters before marriage. I have heard women tell me that their mum told them in emphatic terms never to allow the man know whatever it is she is earning and never to believe whatever the man tells her he is earning. The idea being for her to protect herself and her children and not necessarily to protect her husband. Believe it or not, these two perspective are highly held views within our society. And here was I believing that marriage was all about trust and openness. Naivety? Not really. If we somehow agree that the fundamental and foundational pre-requisite of marriage is TRUST then we should also be able to agree that any factor that questions that trust has the potential to damage the relationship. (Hold that thought).
While writing my book “Honey, is it in the budget?” I researched specifically the impact of finances on the health and longevity of marriage. I must explain that I went into this research with a pre-set mindset that the major and most defining cause of divorce in marriage is infidelity and domestic abuse. How wrong I was. The major cause of divorce is actually “Communication” and the number one communication issue is – Finances. Sonya Britt, a Kansas State University researcher in a study, titled “Examining the Relationship Between Financial Issues and Divorce” published in 2012 found out that couples who argued about money early in their relationships — regardless of their income, debt or net worth — were at a greater risk for divorce. I like the way she puts it. She says “Arguments about money [are] 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. It may be that fights about money are actually fights about deeper issues in the relationship — power, trust, etc. We all have deeply held beliefs about the best way to use money (e.g., use money for status, use money for security, etc.) Often these beliefs come from the family in which we grew up…” Sounds Familiar? So it seems obvious to me that you can draw a direct connecting line between the issues of the management of couples finances, Trust and the health and longevity of Marriages.
So back to the question – Should Couples keep Joint Accounts? This is what I think.
I don’t think the issue is about keeping joint accounts neither do I think there is a right or wrong answer, I think the issue is about Trust in Marriage. I think the fundamental question should be – Do we Trust each other? If the answer to this question by both parties is Yes! then it doesn’t matter the preferred mode the couples chose in managing their finances whether it be via Joint accounts or separate accounts. It is instructive that a lot of the existing viewpoints stem from personal experiences of instances of breach of trust or knowledge of abuse of trust by someone you know. However, am of the opinion that these instances in statistical terms are exceptions which do not rise to the level of becoming the rule.
Secondly, I am of the view that instead of being fixated over Joint accounts, we really ought to be talking about “Joint Ledgers” in which case both parties keep their individual accounts separate but family accounting is done using a single ledger according to pre-planned income/expenditure patterns. In this case, it really doesn’t matter whether monies are kept in one account or not, what matters is that there is “Full Disclosure” of all financial transactions and proper accountability is maintained for family finances. If you can practice “Full Disclosures” with your Doctors and Lawyers who by the way you do not sleep with, then it shouldn’t be a problem to maintain “Full Disclosure” with a person you have sworn an oath to be joined to till death do you part.
Ultimately, what I believe we should be pushing and advocating is that people should go back to the original intention of marriage. Marriage is about two people forsaking all others to be joined together as one. The fundamental pre-requisite of which is Trust. You really should not be marrying someone you can’t trust with your money, body and life. It’s that simple. A man is not just a sperm donor and a last name donor, he really should be a partner with you in achieving whatever goals you have jointly planned. A woman is not just a means to birth/care for children, fulfill your sexual desires and manage domestic needs, she is also an equal partner in all things in the marriage big and small.