More Australians are today choosing to keep their finances completely separate from their partner, but without clear guidelines, problems are likely to arise, couple counsellors warn.
New research by ME Bank shows that one in five Australians are completely financially independent from their spouse – a decision that is much more common among women.
While couples may want to remain independent, Australian Association of Relationship Counsellors president Guy Vicars says spouses with a mix of joint and individual finances build trust and generally fight less.
“You have an element where you’re sharing and relying on each other and building trust,” Mr Vicars says.
ME Bank executive Rebecca James says women are today more interested in maintaining their financial independence, while younger couples want a level of personal freedom.
“Women in particular are more eager than in previous generations to protect their financial independence,” Ms James says.
“More women are buying property in their own names, or they stand to inherit money and they or their parents don’t want that to be shared.”
Guarding your independence
Australians are increasingly settling down later in life when they have already financially established themselves, making money an important discussion, says Psychology Melbourne practitioner, Claire Hetzel.
“Finances are a key area of potential conflict. Particularly now where we have young couples who are both professional and come into a relationship with a sense of having independent incomes,” Ms Hetzel says.
Mr Vicars says it can be easier to keep finances separate, but only if couples continue to communicate.
“Obviously with couples getting together later in life, or they’re getting remarried, there’s lots of good reasons to keep finances separate. It can be too hard to combine them,” Mr Vicars says.
“Women are out in the workforce and earning more income and are more financially literate than 30 years ago. Their roles in the relationship are vastly different.”
“While sharing finances is important for building trust in a relationship, there’s nothing wrong with keeping some things separate, as long as communication is kept open.”
Ms Hetzel says if couples to choose to keep things separate, they should have guidelines in case a financial situation changes.
“I’ve seen it function well so long as there are very clear guidelines about who contributes to what and there is understanding that things will change if retrenchment happens or health issues arise.”
Sharing money builds trust
The ME Bank study found 22 per cent of couples used a mix of joint and individual bank accounts, something both Ms Hetzel and Mr Vicars recommended for building trust while maintaining independence.
Ms Hetzel says a mix of joint and solo accounts establishes an important balance of ‘me’, ‘you’ and ‘us’ in a relationship.
“What I tend to find is that conflict is less when people do independent bank accounts and have a joint bank account.”
“What happens is you’ve still got the ‘me’ – ‘I can still manage my funds or percentage of my funds’, the you – ‘you still manage a percentage of yours funds’ – and the ‘us’ funds which may be joint holidays, planning for the future or a house.”
Mr Vicars says a relationship can become strained if couples remain completely independent.
“If I was seeing a couple and they were getting together, I would probably be advising them to see how much they might keep financially separate, and have some finances combined,” Mr Vicars says.
“It’s an important part of building trust and developing a relationship to have something they’re doing together on a financial basis.”
“It’s really hard to keep things totally separate without problems arising. A relationship can get very strained if there’s no crossover at all.”