Financial Equality in relationships is the idea that the best way to manage money in a relationship is to split expenses 50-50 or to have equal financial contribution to the relationship.
In this blog and in the original podcast episode – As Financial Coaches and a happy couple of over 10 years – we share our experience and teach you how to deal with financial equality in your relationship in a healthy way. Because a happy marriage requires learning how to manage your money together.
Catch up on recent episodes of the radmoney finance podcast
This episode was inspired by a common trend , and a recent article about a couple who was brave enough to talk about it.
The story in the article was about a woman, a school teacher, who is married to a doctor. Due to their different professions, they bring in two dramatically different incomes. Regardless, the wife wanted to financially contribute on an equal level to her husband. Of course because of the difference in professions, she struggled. She found it difficult to enjoy that they live a higher quality of life due to her husband’s income and not hers.
This story is not an outlier. It’s not a random issue that only one person or couple is navigating. When we work with couples, this concept comes up in varying degrees.
Let’s first look at why financial equality seems like a great idea for so many couples.
Why Do People Care About Financial Equality?
A lot of people focus on Financial Equality because they want to do what is fair. They believe that they need to pull their own weight and split bills down the middle. While this may be practical and make perfect sense for living with a roommate, it doesn’t work as well in relationships.
In fact, When you’re married, focusing on financial equality can do more harm to your relationship than good.
Financial Equality Feels Fair
While financial equality feels like the fair, compassionate, thoughtful approach to managing money in your marriage. This approach actually causes your relationship to suffer. While splitting things 50/50 might appear fair in a spreadsheet, this approach is not fair to the relationship. This is because of how transactional so many of your interactions become with your loved one.
Rather than simply doing things as long as you can afford them together, it becomes about what you can afford separately. This of course can cause a lot of friction when you have dramatically different incomes – resentment, jealousy and dissatisfaction with the relationship.
For example, one person may feel as though they are unable to enjoy the lifestyle they can afford, simply because their spouse makes less than they do. On the other hand, one partner feels resentment that their spouse can afford to do things that they cannot.
If you’ve ever experienced these feelings before, you are not alone. The solution to financial equality in a relationship requires building trust and effective communication. Because when we dig deeper into the issue of financial equality in a relationship – it becomes apparent that much of these beliefs are truly based in fear.
Financial Equality Feels Safe
Splitting expenses down the middle and putting an emphasis on equal financial contribution is a form of self preservation. Many of us have heard the horror stories of people, maybe even our own parents, going through difficult divorces or being financially abused. All of these things make it difficult to trust someone with our money! So we put emphasis on our independence even within the marriage.
This lack of trust, or unknowing how to build trust around money management, makes it appear safer and easier to keep things separate just in case something goes wrong. And while this is the correct approach while dating – once you are legally married it’s time to reassess.
It should also be noted that depending on local community property laws and common law marriage – you and your assets may not be as protected as you think. In most states, keeping separate bank accounts does not provide protection in the case of divorce. So it is important to understand these things when making financial decisions and when there is a lack of trust in your relationship.
How Financial Equality Hurts Relationships
Wanting to contribute to family finances is not problematic. Where it can be hurtful to your relationship is when there is too much emphasis on financial contribution. This invites negative emotions surrounding the topic of money into the relationship. While also causing harm to your partner.
When couples put too much emphasis on the financial contributions of each other, the relationship suffers. As we mentioned before, this causes damage to your relationship and creates a lot of bitterness and hurt. When reducing your spouse to their financial contribution, it can cause them to question the other ways in which they are valued. When we put too much of an emphasis on any single contribution to the relationship and your shared life, it’s a breeding ground for bitterness, resentment, and even causes a lack of trust.
Any time you make money more important than your spouse or put it above the relationship, it causes serious problems. Not only that, but couples that focus heavily on equal financial contributions also tend to have other negative money habits that hurt the relationship.
To manage money effectively as a married couple it is important to focus on the big picture and to value everything that your spouse brings to the equation. Finances and having an income that you can both live off of is important. But money is not everything.
What if I Can’t Trust My Partner With Money?
If you can’t trust your partner with money, that is a red flag and should not be ignored. While trust can be built and relationships can be improved, the lack of trust is something that needs to be addressed and taken seriously.
First – start with yourself and examine your point of reference. Is your lack of trust in your spouse due to their actions? Or is it based on past experiences you have had? We strongly suggest you examine this deeply and consider working with a professional coach or clinical psychologist to work through these challenges.
If you find that you are unable to trust your spouse with money due to their irresponsibility, that also needs to be addressed. Many people struggle with impulsive spending or even addition. But they can seek help and improve, the most important thing is determining if they want to change. Is your spouse aware of their actions and do they want to improve? If they are unwilling to seek help, and to be more responsible with money that is a red flag.
If you are able and willing to do the work you can build trust around finances in your marriage. It can take time, but it can save your relationship!
What Matters More than Financial Equality in a Relationship
Financial Equality in your relationship sounds fair and safe. It makes a lot of sense on paper. All of that is great if all you want is for your relationship to survive. But if you want your relationship to thrive you need to focus on what matters more.
Don’t reduce your spouse down to a paycheck and only focus on your finances. Look at the big picture. If your needs are provided for, you can save and invest in your future, have some fun and give to others – you’re doing great! It doesn’t matter who brings in more money. The most important thing when managing money as a couple is being able to feel like you can trust one another.
What Matters More than Financial Equality in a Relationship?
While society encourages us to be independent, two independent people don’t have the best relationships. The healthy alternative is an interdependent relationship. This kind of relationship means learning to work together, to rely on one another and be reliable.
Part of being in an interdependent relationship is sharing, not taking. Again, a big reason why people think financial equality in a relationship is a good idea is because of the emphasis is on the individual. They want their freedom. But in the pursuit of freedom they become restrained.
We are taught that we should protect ourselves and divide – what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours. But a healthier interdependent way of viewing this is “what’s yours is ours what’s mine is ours!” Sharing our resources and working together is the only way to build wealth!
But before building wealth, you have to build trust. This takes time and work, but it is the best investment of time and effort you will make. Especially building trust with your spouse’s financial decision making.
As you build a life together there you will make 100’s if not 1,000’s of financial decisions. You need to trust your spouse’s ability to make sound decisions for the both of you. So learn to communicate and build trust around finances. If you don’t, resentment and problems will grow.
Which brings us to our final point and that is the equal involvement of both partners. We are huge advocates for the importance of working together and both being at the table to discuss financial matters. From monthly budgets to bigger decisions like investments and life insurance. As a couple you each have your own thoughts, questions, concerns and ideas. These should be heard and discussed as you make decisions together to build the life you both dream about.
This blog is based on an episode of the radmoney podcast on the same topic. Catch up on recent episodes of the radmoney finance podcast and make sure you never miss an episode by subscribing on Spotify – Apple or wherever you listen to podcasts!