Separate Money = Sane Marriage

Susan Gregory Thomas

I’m told that sharing a checking account with one’s spouse is practical. I’ll never know—I can’t do it.

All relationships have landmines; mine involve money. When I was 13, my father—whom I adored—had an affair with, and married, a woman with four children. A wealthy man, he financed them all, but never paid my mother child support regularly.

My dad and his new family moved into a mansion with a pool in a leafy suburb five states away. My mother, brother, and I squeezed into a crummy apartment.

Whenever I visited, my father was either distant or hostile. Despairing, I had to remain gracious—anything to keep the checks coming.

Later, Dad reneged on sending me to college, as stipulated in the divorce agreement; but he covered his stepchildren’s tuitions. Raging, I worked two full-time jobs, sent myself to Temple University, and saved enough to sue him.

I won and transferred to Columbia University. I grinned through reams of written and verbal assaults. Keep the checks coming. At graduation, I was free.

But I would never mix money with relationships again. For me, the two are intertwined with abandonment, dependence, power, and anger. By keeping my finances separate from my husband’s, I can make my own mistakes and decisions—and keep my marriage free of landmines.

Frankly, I think most couples should keep their money apart. Look at this infographic! What a sad portrait of many couples’ basic incompatibility around money: 58% disagree over wants versus needs; 43% say they didn’t discuss money before marriage; 46% say they’ve lied to their partner.  

In fact, I’ve found that our separate system keeps us both honest—and it keeps my husband accountable. He likes knowing that, even though I earn more, there are fixed expenses he provides. I like knowing I can trust that.

 Susan Gregory Thomas lives in Philadelphia, and is the author of “In Spite of Everything,” a memoir.