Why you need to maintain financial independence after you get married

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I read two things recently that made me #headdesk. As a result, I had to write about why it is SO important to maintain financial independence after you get married.

The first thing I read? A “you should maybe get a pre-nup, but not really because that’s just planning to fail” comment over on a personal finance blog.

The second? “I don’t understand why you have not fully combined your finances with your husband… As a couple you need to be approaching everything with an ‘Us’ mindset instead of a ‘Him’ and ‘I’ mindset.” comment over on another personal finance blog.

I get it.

I do.

You’ve married this person. You’re going to be TOGETHER FOREVER <3 <3 <3. You are partners to the end right? You’ve got each other’s backs! Why not combine all your income and expenses? What’s mine is yours, right?

Wrong.

This is idiotic.

One in ten marriages end in divorce within five years. Somewhere between 30% and 60% of relationships involve infidelity at some point. The lovely person you marry at age 25 will look very different to the unknown person you find yourself hitched to at age 45.

People change. Your spouse? Will change. You need to make like a boy scout and be prepared.

Why you need to remain financially independent after you get married

Why you need to maintain financial independence after you get married:

Love is beautiful. It’s butterflies in your stomach, it’s vulnerability, it’s trust, it’s joy, it’s happy moments shared, it’s support in difficult times, it’s crying and laughing and looking into someone’s eyes and feeling completely safe and at peace.

It’s a wonderful and life-affirming emotion.

And your financial life should never be driven by emotion.

Protecting yourself financially is not planning to fail. It’s about assessing the risks and putting in place a mitigation measure.

You are not special and unique. Your love is just as prone to collapsing under pressure as every other romance. Your partner may develop a crippling addiction that means the best thing you can do for them is protect yourself and walk away. Secrets may fall out of their closet. Or maybe you just grow apart.

Look, you’ll probably be fine. Your partner and you will go through some hardships, but you’ll cope and grow closer. You’ll get bored and bitter, but you’ll talk about it and be heard and recover your spark.

But you might not.

And that’s okay.

High divorce rates are not a bad thing

There’s this crazy idea that a divorce means you’ve ‘failed’. That high divorce rates are a sign of crumbling decency and it’s bad for children and blah blah blah.

People think a marriage will always last as long as you work hard, stay honest, and communicate. These things do help! But sometimes you just get unlucky.

Divorce rates are low in countries where women are trapped in marriages due to religious or cultural reasons. Unhappy marriages are not a ‘success’. A civil and friendly divorce is much better than an unhappy, argumentative marriage filled with bitterness or violence.

Consider the following scenarios:

You really want children. Your partner thought they did, but then change their mind. They tell you they really don’t want children now. Do you:

  • Stay with them anyway and feel angry and miserable about your lost opportunity to be a parent?
  • Convince them to have a child and then watch in despair as they don’t connect with your child and find parenting impossible?
  • Agree that you’ll always love each other and split up so that you can fulfil your life’s ambition?

You go on your first holiday and discover you love travelling. You love the excitement of a new country, getting to meet people with a different cultural perspective, and all the exciting new foods to try. Your partner meanwhile has anxiety the whole time and insists on eating in McDonalds. Then an incredible opportunity to go and work in another country for six months comes along. This is your dream. Do you:

  • Turn it down so you can stay where you are with your homebody partner?
  • Convince your partner to move and let them spend six months in misery?
  • Agree to split up so you can both be happy?
  • (Alternative option, you do the long distance marriage thing. It’s hard, but can work out!)
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You meet a great person and have an instant spark. They overwhelm you with romantic gestures. You rush through a whirlwind of great dates, flowers, and passionate sex. You elope and move in together. Three months later you have an argument about housework and they slap you hard across the face. They apologise immediately and seem mortified. Do you:

  • Forgive them and stay because you’re in it for the long-haul?
  • Walk out, delete their number and refuse to give them a forwarding address?

(If you pick option 1, please check out Why Does He Do That)

Yes, these are worst case scenarios.

I’m not trying to convince you that you will definitely split up. You married this person for a reason, and they are probably generous, faithful and loving.

The divorce rate is dropping (in part because less people are getting married!) and chances are good that you will be together forever.

However, I am telling you that people change — often in unpredictable ways. The muscular football player who loves wings that you married at 23? Might be a blue-haired anarchist lesbian at 36. And maybe you’ll still love them, and you’ll still be together (awesome!). Or maybe you’ll say “I’m sorry, I like my romantic partners bearded and manly” and you split up (also awesome, well done for knowing what matters to you).

In your early twenties you are still figuring out what matters to you. Your ambitions and your vision for your life will change over the next few decades.

If you’re lucky, your partner will evolve and change in a compatible way, and your marriage will trundle happily along.

But sometimes you’ll hit something insurmountable, and you’ll face a choice. Stay or leave. And sometimes leaving will make more sense.

And this is why you need to maintain financial independence after you get married.

You will find it a lot easier to leave if you have some financial independence. This doesn’t mean you need your own job, necessarily – being a stay-at-home parent is a viable option. But it does mean you should have some control over your own money. It means you should have a separate savings account. And it means you should have both names on any major assets.

It doesn’t mean you need an exit strategy. But it does mean you should have the ability to put together an exit strategy should you later need one. You need to maintain financial independence after you get married.

A warning story.

Sandra was married for 25 years. She did not maintain financial independence after she got married. She had three children with her husband, Craig. Together they worked through many setbacks, including redundancy.

Craig had depression, but for the most part they got through the bad spells.

Then, one day, the depression got worse and Craig increased the amount he drank. He tried to stop, but couldn’t. The alcohol made the depression worse, and he became emotional, violent and unstable. After 25 years of mostly happy marriage Sandra was prepared to put up with a lot — but after he threatened the children, Sandra knew they couldn’t recover.

But she couldn’t leave. The house was in his name so she couldn’t sell it. She had little income of her own, and he had burned through all their joint savings by this point.

The story has a sort of happy ending. She ended up moving in with her mother.

Do not let this be you. Maintain financial independence after you get married.

Ensuring your own financial stability is not about ‘planning to fail’. It doesn’t mean you don’t trust your partner. Instead, you need to take responsibility for yourself. You are in a partnership, true. But partnerships are not an ‘all or nothing’ thing.

Mitigating risk is the sign of a sensible, forward-thinking and logical person. And who else would you want to be in a partnership with?

Agree? Disagree? Have you maintained financial independence after you got married? Or did you combine everything? Drop a comment below!

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10 comments

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  • This is smart! I am no where near to being married..but this is one thing I always worried about. I am a very independent person and I work hard for everything I have and of course the money I have. I witnessed my parents go through a lot of hard times and money issues because my father had a spending problem. Even now to this day, I always tell myself I never want to be in the situation that they were in and watching them struggle. When they divorced it was a disaster for both of them money wise. So I completely agree that no matter what even if your married to be financially independent! You can’t always depend on someone else.

    • Agreed. You can love someone, and they can be a good person, but that doesn’t mean you line up on your financial views.

      I think it’s good you’ve learned from the situation your parents found themselves in.

  • This is REALLY smart. And makes me thinking… I’m not married yet, but we plan on getting married in the next few years. We need to keep your post and thoughts in mind. Thank’s so much for sharing. xx

  • Hmm, when I got married I was still quite deep in the Christian mindset about what marriage was. Divorce is unacceptable, monogamy is the only option, and finances are completely shared. Having had joint bank accounts for eleven years, I think it would be very painful and fraught to untangle ourselves. I could see this being excellent advice to someone going into a marriage, but I’m not sure it’s good advice for me.

    Sharing finances has its advantages. When I earned way more than him, he wouldn’t have been able to foot his half of the bills, let alone reciprocate gifts, or enjoy his hobbies. I think a big difference in income would have driven a wedge between us.

    But then, I’m told I’m a very old fashioned kind of wife!!

    • I don’t think maintaining financial independence is the same thing as not sharing finances at all…

      P and I have a joint bank account for household/life, and we both pay into it. We’ve always done that. For visa reasons, there have been periods when P. couldn’t work, and thus had no income. We also have a ‘shared’ savings account for upcoming travel/big purchases etc. Obviously when you are married you should have shared financial goals and responsibilities.

      But we also both have separate savings accounts. If we ever bought a house, I would want both of our names on the mortgage. It’s about… if something went wrong, do you have enough financial independence to support yourself? Divorce is stressful enough without adding ‘can I buy food’ to the list of worries.

      • Hmm, in that case I’m not sure what you mean by financial independence then?

        I earn enough money to keep myself alive. But I have no money in my name only. Would you call that financially independent or not?

        • Financial independence is made up of income, savings, assets and investments (pension).

          Your income is enough to support you: that makes you more independent.
          Your income is not enough to support you: that makes you more dependent.
          You have your own savings you can access in an emergency: that makes you more independent.
          Your savings could be transferred into your husband’s bank account and you could be locked out: that makes you more dependent.
          You have your own pension scheme that you’ll get regardless of your marriage: that makes you more independent.
          You haven’t worked so are relying on your husband’s pension in your old age: that makes you more dependent.

          It’s not a switch that you flick to go from dependent to independent, as with all these things it’s on a spectrum. The key is to figure out what level of risk/dependency you are comfortable with and go from there.

  • I am currently engaged with no set date yet. I’m currently 27 and he’s 26. Honestly, I am very afraid of combining our financial accounts. Here’s why I try to be very frugal with my money and use my money wisely. I’m not saying he doesn’t, I think his priorities are in the proper order for the most part. But anything he has left over after taking care of the important stuff, he spends it on various things. Things that I don’t find value in or could think of other more efficient ways we could have used that money such as put it toward debt, or toward our emergency fund. I’ve tried to make suggestions about better options, but I don’t think he gave it much thought.

    I understand we all want our independence and I try not to tell him what to do with his money, but we are supposed to be a team. Our goals line up, we both want to be debt free, but he only thinks about it every once in awhile. He doesn’t contribute regularly like I hoped he would. I remind him all the time we could get out of debt quicker if both of us are on board. I understand this is all stuff we need to discuss as a couple. When the time is right, I will discuss it with him. This worries me. It’s one of the few reasons why I’ve delayed getting married. I love him so much, but I’m having doubts already. I know it would be wise to get out now while it’s not as difficult, I just haven’t made that leap yet.

    This was very good advice for me and my situation. I would very much like to keep finances separate or at least as they are. We can see what each other has and transfer money to each other’s accounts as necessary, but we don’t put all our money together in one big account. This not only allows us independence, but we also aren’t spending each other’s money on accident. I pay all my bills with my income and he pays his with his income. I would much rather have him come to me and ask for money rather than spend it without me knowing about it. I have more control if I’m involved than if I don’t know about it.

    • Hi Kristy,

      Thanks for your comment and congratulations on your engagement. It sounds like you’re very thoughtful about your finances, and that puts you light years ahead of many couples.

      You can’t go into a marriage expecting people to change, so it’s likely that your fiancé will never line up exactly with you in terms of saving/spending goals. That’s okay! I think you have the right idea with keeping your finances separate – you can divide the bills however you see fit (maybe 50/50 or maybe along the lines of a percentage of your income). Then you can work on your savings. Equally, let him be himself – he might spend money on things you think are frivolous, but it’s his money so let it go…

      Just don’t end up in a situation where you keep having to bail him out. He can’t see you as his safety net. If he spends more than he has, he’ll have to work through that himself.

      If you’re planning to have children, you might need to think through your goals around saving for education or splitting child care costs. You’ll also want to have a good think about how it might look if you lose a lot of your income or he loses a lot of his income (e.g. sickness, retraining, being a stay at home parent etc.) and have a plan for that.

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