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Does Merging Finances Lead to Marital Bliss or Disaster?

Here's how a joint spending account truly impacts the quality of your marriage.

Key points

  • Long-term romantic partners are often given conflicting advice about how to manage their finances.
  • New research shows that merging finances might help protect relationship satisfaction over time.
  • Ongoing financial discussions can help keep partners on the same page, working toward the same goals.
Mikhail Nilov / Pexels
Mikhail Nilov / Pexels

A new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research investigates how merging finances in a joint bank account affects the quality of relationships for engaged or newlywed couples. The study reveals that couples who merge their finances enjoy a protective effect that safeguards against the decline in relationship quality over time.

“We were motivated by the conflicting advice that’s often given to newlyweds,” explains Jenny Olson of Indiana University, the lead author of the study. “While some sources recommend merging, others insist that partners maintain separate financial lives. So, what’s a couple to do?”

The researchers conducted a two-year, six-wave longitudinal experiment where participants (engaged or newlywed couples) were divided into three groups: merging finances, keeping separate accounts, or no intervention (control group). Here’s what they found:

  • Couples who kept separate accounts or had no intervention experienced the usual decline in relationship quality over time.
  • Couples who merged their finances were shielded from the decline. This was mainly due to improved financial harmony among couples with joint accounts, resulting in less conflict and higher satisfaction with money management by both partners.

The study offers three potential reasons why the merging of finances leads to positive relationship outcomes.

  1. Joint accounts can prompt partners to consider how they justify purchases to each other, leading to reduced conflict and improved financial well-being.
  2. The transparency created by opening a joint account can allow partners to better understand each other’s priorities and align their financial goals.
  3. Merging money into a joint account can promote a sense of togetherness and eliminate the dynamic of "your money" versus "my money."

Merging finances, however, is not free from challenges.

“Merging finances may present challenges, such as the perceived loss of autonomy,” clarifies Olson. “Open communication is key.”

Highlighting the value of open communication, the authors give the following recommendations:

  • Couples should have open conversations to strike a balance between togetherness and autonomy. Strategies such as maintaining joint accounts with separate credit cards or setting spending thresholds come in handy.
  • Those who are engaged or are newlywed are likely uncertain about merging their finances. They must have ongoing conversations to weigh the pros and cons of different bank account structures, as well as adapt to new needs and challenges as they arise.
  • Regular, dedicated “financial date nights” are essential. These planned conversations provide partners with the opportunity to prepare for and prevent any feelings of being caught off guard.
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