I was their banker, and they were my clients.
On this day, the married couple sat across from my desk. I had just told them the unfortunate news that their home loan application had been denied. They had too many debts outstanding.
As I read through the debts on their credit report, I came across a credit card.
“That’s not ours,” remarked the wife. “Is it fraud?”
As I immediately began recommending what steps they should take regarding this card, I could see something that the wife could not. Sitting next to her, the husband’s face had become noticeably red. Sweat began to bead on his forehead.
He abruptly interrupted the conversation, urging his wife not to worry about the card. Confused with his comment, she adamantly disagreed. When she turned to look at him, she saw what I had seen. In that moment, she knew something was wrong. He had hidden something from her.
Shocked, she turned to me, calmly apologized, and left my office. Her husband, with head down and tears forming, followed.
I wish I knew how their story ended, but I don’t.
Statistics relating to the damaging effects of financial stress on marriages are unfortunately consistent. It remains one of the top reasons given by former married couples for their divorce. Research has shown that arguments about money early in a marriage are the leading predictor of future divorce.
In a 2015 study performed by SunTrust Bank, 35% of married couples that were experiencing marital stress attributed money as the reason for their stress. With all of the unnerving data on financial stress and marriage, one would think that couples would dive into the development of financial unity from their marriage’s onset.
But this is not the case.
In the same SunTrust study, 20% of the respondents said they had spent $500 or more without their spouse knowing. Thirty-six percent said they did not consult their spouse about large purchases. Six percent reported having accounts that were hidden from their spouse.
My clients at the bank that day were one, if not all, of those statistics.
No Longer Two but One
Starting in Genesis, God sets the expectation that when a man and a woman commit to one another through marriage, they are no longer two but one (Genesis 2:24). These formally separate entities are now joined into one new entity.
The depth of this oneness is described in 1 Corinthians, where Paul writes, “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1 Corinthians 7:4). A man’s and a woman’s rights over their own body are lost in the unity of marriage. And if we are to lose rights to our own body in marriage, what other rights do we lose?
All of them.
Nothing is owned without the other’s ownership. Nothing is known without the other’s knowledge. Nothing is hidden. Everything that was “mine” and everything that was “yours” becomes “ours.”
This is marriage as it should be. But what happens when “mine” and “yours” finds its way into a couple’s finances?
One Flesh Bank Account?
First, let’s consider a few practical ramifications. When couples decide to maintain or create separate accounts, especially accounts the other spouse is unable to access, the complexity and challenge of managing their finances well is increased. There are more accounts, and the expenses that take place within those accounts, to track. Giving generously, saving wisely, and living appropriately are more difficult to accomplish.
Communication between the couple must increase because the likelihood of making a financial mistake increases. Of course, a desire for increased communication is not what typically drives couples to maintain separate accounts.
Now let’s go a little deeper. Joint accounts (able to be accessed by both spouses) communicate something to your spouse. To start, they communicate “our money” and “our expenses.” It doesn’t matter who makes less or more; it is “our money.”
Joint accounts communicate transparency and trust. They also communicate commitment. Contrastingly, separate accounts can communicate a desire to remain free of accountability and responsibility to one another.
Should Spouses Have Separate Accounts?
Oneness. According to the Bible, this is what a marriage should look like. Marriage is an all-in deal.
What does this mean for a married couple’s finances? Oneness. Does this mean that it is wrong for married couples to have separate accounts? I will avoid being legalistic here. But believers should wrestle with the question and consider whether or not it is best for their marriage. There are practical and potential relational consequences that can arise from “my money” and “your money.”
Statistics reveal that a couple’s finances can wreak havoc on a marriage. The numbers should put us all on high alert. My clients’ story can become any of our stories. Consider what your accounts are communicating. If they are not communicating “our money,” let’s lay down our rights so that two can become one in everything, even in our finances.