Megan on the Move: The price of relationship trust

I get asked for marital advice fairly regularly, which is hilarious.

The state of my marriage varies between bliss and disaster and a bad hair day can be the tipping point sometimes. But I guess that is the point, right?

We stay married. It hasn’t been easy, and sometimes it hasn’t even been good. Somehow, we always seem to navigate through the briars and end up in the clearing, though.

There are only a few things I think we do that are unique and that possibly help us keep it together even when we’d both like to fire each other and move to separate continents. One of those things — and this is the one I tell people first when they say they’re considering marriage — is so unsexy I am almost loathe to share it. But it’s pivotal, especially if this is a first marriage and/or you plan to have children together. Here it is, in all its Rob and Laura Petrie glory: share a bank account.

That’s right. Call me old fashioned, but I think one main secret to a long and stable marriage is sharing a bank account. What’s yours is mine, what’s mine is yours, and all that. Not only does this symbolically represent the fact that you’re merging lives but it also keeps everyone honest.

It’s about as glamorous as a pre-nup, I know. To tell your future spouse that you insist on financial transparency is not exactly the stuff of pillow talk. But marital dynamics are tricky, and this is one area that causes the most problems. Seriously, the No. 1 reason for divorce is conflict over money. Those conflicts arise no matter how much you make, so no one should rest on his or her fat paycheck laurels and believe their couplehood is exempt from this problem.

Fights about money are not, in my estimation, usually about money at all. I mean, a stressed family that is short on money might fight about it because they are living in fear or crisis, but usually it’s about something else. Fights about money are usually fights about trust, responsibility, values, parity or communication. It is my conclusion that sharing a bank account solves many of these problems.

“BUT I DON’T WANNA!” they’ll say, when I share this bit of advice. “THAT MAKES ME REALLY NERVOUS!” they’ll cry. My response: “If sharing your money makes you nervous, I’m thinking you don’t have the right partner.”

Do you not trust your partner to make sound financial decisions? Or do you not want your partner to know how and where you spend your money? Either way, we’re back to trust. And trust is easily one of those things we all acknowledge as a cornerstone of a good relationship.

If you don’t think your partner is going to be financially responsible, sharing or not sharing money in one account won’t solve your problem. And again, maybe it’s the wrong partner. Even two bank accounts that split rent won’t work if your partner doesn’t make that rent happen.

Before you get married, you should probably already know what the values are that inform your decisions and will shape your future. Do you value education? Do you value staying home with children? Do you value your career? Do you value beautiful furnishings or frequent vacations?

Figure it out and make a plan. And then share the financial responsibility of making those things happen.

Lastly, it’s about dignity and equality. One should not have to feel in the dark about the family finances. Also, I think it’s important that one person not be asking the other for money. If I make significantly less money than my partner, and I run out of cash before payday, my having to ask for a little change to get through the week positions me in a weaker place in the marriage. Male or female, no matter. The outstretched hand is a marriage killer.

Communication, as we always hear, is another cornerstone of a healthy marriage. Pool your resources, sit down together regularly and go over budgets; watch the bank account together, and talk about how much you have, where it needs to go, and what your financial goals are. If no one has anything to hide, and everyone plans to stay in the marriage, I can’t see why a checking account with two names should be a problem.

Of course, there are exceptions. But here I’m talking about the rule. The rule of, “Hey, we’re getting married, it’s about sharing. Everything.”

See? Unsexy. But then again, I think a healthy bank account and a healthy relationship are about two of the sexiest things I know of. Call me Laura Petrie.

— Megan Stuke is a wife and a mother of Johnny (5) and Lily (1). By day she works to help children and families at Ballard Community Services, and by night she writes, cooks, cleans (very little) and tries her best to be part of everything Lawrence has to offer.

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