To share a bank account or not to share a bank account? It’s a question many couples struggle with. When do you merge your finances with theirs? And how do you trust that your partner will make good decisions with your money if you do merge your accounts?
Despite reasonable concerns, a new study from Sex Roles suggests that combining bank accounts may actually be the way to go. The study found that couples who manage their money together—rather than assigning money management duties to one specific partner—have more steady and satisfying relationships. “When both spouses are involved in financial processes, partners tend to be more empowered, and relationship quality and stability tend to be higher,” the study authors wrote.
In the study, researchers followed 500 cohabiting families (149 single-parent and 320 two-parent families) for about four years, the majority of whom were white and in their mid-40s. Most of the families had been together for more than 11 years. The researchers collected data from these families at yearly intervals, asking questions about their financial processes (who earned the money, who had access to the money, who managed the money, and how often they experienced financial conflicts), who held more power in the relationship, and the quality and stability of their relationship over time.
After several years, the data showed that couples who managed their finances together reported stronger relationships overall. Specifically, co-managing money, opening a joint bank account, and working toward less financial conflict together helped these successful couples feel more empowered, which led to higher quality relationships that were more stable.
The study authors also found that our perceptions matter a lot when it comes to who holds the financial power in a relationship. Women’s perceptions of financial power, specifically, seemed to determine the quality of a relationship more than men’s perceptions, lead study author Ashley LeBaron told mbg in an email.
“Healthy couple financial processes…increase each partner’s relational power—that is, the say and influence one feels like they have over their relationship,” LeBaron said. In other words, feeling like you have equal financial power and solid communication with your partner is the key to feeling steady and satisfied in your relationship.
Consider sitting down with your partner this week to talk straight about how you want to manage your money, together. Money coach Maureen Gilbert recommends having these money talks early in the relationship and to consider how your own money patterns might commingle with your partner’s habits. She also recommends setting up monetary spending limits together (for example, establishing how much is OK to spend without asking for permission) and establishing a joint list of your financial values. It’s all about getting—and staying—on the same financial page.