We’re going to push beyond the basics a little bit: we didn’t merge finances or buy a house together until we were married, primarily because the difficulty of vacating those decisions would have been too great. But after we married, we had to decide between maintaining separate finances, keeping yours-mines-ours accounts, or merging our assets completely. Here’s how we thought about it.
When two become united in marriage, thus join themselves wholly. By law, by religions, and by tradition, they mutually gain rights to assets and earn a space at the table as decision-makers. But when you were raised to retain a personal safety net, how does this joining of beings relate to individual ideas of independence and security?
I came up with relationship trauma from my formative years. To this day, these experiences (and bearing witness to these events) heavily influence the way I think about money and provide roots for the cynicism with which I approach other people. As a result, I thoroughly believe that every individual should have their own, independent of anyone else on their decisions.
Getting married to someone who isn’t othered has, however, forced me to better understand, question and adjust some of the underlying assumptions and fears in these assertions. There were a few underlying concepts that came up.
On being whole. Contemplating the question of whether to join finances (and really, the contemplation of marriage) forced me to evaluate individual wholeness. What did it mean to be whole? Beyond that, I identified gaps and invested the effort to work on those gaps and build my own wellbeing.
On boundaries and sacrifice. The concept of depending on or wholly trusting another person– on giving them the power to control aspects of my life I traditionally viewed as a safety net from suffering– also required my reflection on my own willingness for healthy selflessness and identify healthy boundaries for transparency. Vulnerability has always been a struggle– we’re conditioned for it to be in our treatment as stronghold communities. Now, I needed to evaluate and undo it in order to have a healthy marriage.
On role expectations and communication. We rarely talked about wealth coming up, and when we spoke about money, it was in terms of filling gaps. We leaned on one another, treated each individual as an appendage of the united being, and expected 100% dependability within the family unit. My husband, on the other hand, did not. Together, he and I had to reestablish expectations and norms for discussing the tough stuff, including goal-setting and prioritization. We understood and communicated differently, and within that, had individual goals. As an early task, we had to identify and prioritize each of our individual goals and needs, then come together to reprioritize, developing a united vision for all that was to come.
On abuse, malintent, and divorce. I am still learning to segregate the witnessed and experienced abuses of my past. Opting not to conflate those traumas with my present and future is an ongoing, conscious effort. Bae is doing the same. Together, we’ve sat down to rediscover and redefine abuse, malintent and, ultimately, divorce within our own terms as something that is not inevitable, or necessarily as traumatizing as the way we each individually viewed it.
Why is all of this relevant to joint accounts? Well, they were our underlying considerations in determining whether to join our assets, even in marriage. There are some awesome benefits to joining accounts, including a united vision and pursuit of goals, a clear understanding of fiscal status within the household, and forced communication around wealth and debt, goals and priorities, and the feelings around all of those things. In deciding whether to fully merge finances, Bae and I had to do the work on ourselves individually, discovering the cause for the underlying trepidation, and then address how deeply rooted those fears were. For the conflicting concepts of individual emergency money, we retained that, mostly because the value was persistent and consistent across all realms, and the trauma fundamental to our thoughts on securing real and relevant goals for preventing disaster.
What do you think? Is it just not that deep?