The Financial Decision That Saved Our Marriage

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couple doing finances
This writer learned the hard way that money and marriage don't always mix.

The first and only joint checking account I've had with my husband lasted approximately six months.

I've been married for a long time, nearly 30 years, but at the beginning I was quite young and not fully prepared for all the responsibility that came with marriage. Growing up, no one ever discussed money except to say that I should save every penny I had for a rainy day, and beyond. But when we got married, neither of us had much money. We were both just embarking on our careers. Shortly after the wedding we moved to a major city and pooled our finances into a joint checking account. My husband was new to this country (from France) and didn't have a bank account yet, so we just opened it together. I thought it would be the easiest thing to do. I was wrong.

Months later, during a routine trip to the bank, I burst into tears when I discovered that most of our money was gone. It turned out that while I was just trying to pay the rent, my wonderful, loving and still-new husband was spending a lot of money on his guys' nights out. I didn't ask him about closing the account. I just did it.

I confronted him afterward, but he didn't seem to care. It was hard for me. He was being totally irresponsible, and I felt like his mother. Plus, I was shocked and hurt, and felt betrayed even though the money was his too. It was a strange feeling I had never experienced before.  I felt like I had to be the 'grown-up' and take responsibility and make sure we had the funds to pay our necessities because he obviously wasn't going to.

Since that account closed, over 25 years ago, we have never opened another one together and probably never will.  Money is a funny thing, and discussing it with the people you love (and even the ones you don't) can cause stress, resentment and plenty of bad feelings. My husband has definitely learned from his financial mistakes over the years. We both have. I don't want another joint account mostly because I don't want to have to justify how I spend (or save) my own money. For the most part I make more, but I also pay for more (usually), and the rest of my share I want to have control over.

But even though we keep our money separate, we have learned to be equal partners in household expenses, vacations and insurance. When I have more money to share, I contribute more. When he has more money to share, he contributes more. In the end, it evens out.

One of the biggest lessons I've discovered over the years is that nothing takes the place of good communication and honesty. No matter how uncomfortable or anxiety-ridden those conversations may be, talking through your expectations and needs clearly and openly with your better half is important. And this applies no matter what your situation may be.

The "save all your money" advice I was given when I was younger was not particularly helpful for all the minefields I would pass through in life, so I had to make my own mistakes and learn from them. Now I never ask my husband's permission to spend my money. Ever. I work hard for it and if I feel like I can afford it (relative to all our other expenses) then I spend it. Is that what I would suggest to every couple? Probably not. But when you share your life with someone, it really is for better or worse, and accepting that you have the power to make it better by choosing what works for you can make all the difference.

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