by Kerry Hart
Sharing finances with your partner is not just determined by marriage. More frequently, couples are cohabiting, and the rules of household finances are becoming blurry. Many couples move in together before getting married and even if they are married, merging bank accounts is not always an option. So what are the options?
A conversation before combining households will be necessary. Determining who will pay for what, and how the household finances will work once the couple lives together can help avoid the inevitable money arguments that occur in almost any relationship. Below are three common situations involving cohabitation and suggested solutions to help ease the financial transition.
The Sharing Approach
The sharing approach involves each person keeping their bank account, and the bills are split evenly. This is the easy way, and if it is plausible for you, try this first. Keep in mind that sometimes a monkey wrench is thrown into this plan. For example, if one partner makes more money and has a higher standard of living than the other, they need to be sensitive to their partner’s capabilities. If one partner needs to live in a house, and the other partner can only afford an apartment, some hard choices have to be made. The partner who makes more money may have to pony up more dough in order to get the living situation they want, or they are going to have to get used to apartment living. The important piece here is to be sensitive to your partner and their needs. If you are the partner who is making more money, you will need to be sure you are not demanding more than your partner can provide. Furthermore, you will want to be careful not to use the information you have received about their financial situation in a vindictive or negative manner.
When Kids are Involved
If the couple that lives together shares a child, they will need to discuss who can afford what if an equal split is not possible. This is the same as the apartment scenario; the partner who makes more money will need to decide if they want to hold on to that money, or if they want their kid to go to summer camp. As a family therapist, I would suggest doing whatever would be best for your child’s development, and simply getting over who makes more money than whom. If the child that lives in the home is biologically only one of the adults’ child, then that adult needs to take on the financial responsibility for that child. A discussion should take place about the splitting of the bills. It is generally bad form for one adult to try to pay less rent than the other due to a non-biological child living in the home. The child cannot pay rent themselves and should not be expected to contribute. By making the choice to live with someone who has a child, you are also making a choice to live with his or her child. That said, while the adult who is not the biological parent may want to contribute to improve this child’s lifestyle, they should not be expected to pay for summer camp, clothing or other items for the child unless they so choose.
“Have a conversation about finances before you take the leap to combine households.”
Some relationships do not involve partners who make equal incomes. Sometimes, in these cases, one partner may offer to pay for all household expenses. Understand this will affect the power dynamic within the relationship. The partner that makes more money may eventually feel entitled to certain freedoms and benefits than the other partner. If the partners in question work out a way to even out this dynamic, there will need to be a discussion of the details before the arrangement is put into place. Perhaps one partner will handle household chores and childcare as opposed to looking for a paying job. The employed partner will need to understand that while this is not officially paid work, the partner handling the work within the home is indeed working toward the betterment of the family. If the unemployed partner is not interested in working within the home, they may need to make some allowances for the partner who is supporting the couple. The power dynamic will be in their favor, and that is something both members of the couple will need to be comfortable with before moving forward.
Whichever method you choose, be sure to treat your partner with respect. Not all relationships look the same, and you will need to pick a method that works best for your partnership and your family. Have a conversation about finances before you take the leap to combine households. You will want to have a good idea of what your budget is prior to entering this conversation. With some open communication, all the right information, and a willingness to compromise, you should be able to merge your households seamlessly.
Kerry Hart, LLMFT is a family therapist located within Grand Rapids Natural Health. She specializes in the treatment of children, teens, couples and families.