Money management in the couple, a reflection of the perception of a romantic relationship

Money generally remains, in the collective ideal, decor-related from the subject of love. But as the poet Charles Baudelaire pointed out:

“Unfortunately, it is quite true that without leisure and money, love can only be an orgy of the common people or the fulfillment of a marital duty. »

The financial management of the couple emerges as a sensitive topic, probably because it is an aspect that is directly linked to the intimacy of the relationship. According to sociologist Janine Mossuz-Lavau, in France “money is even more taboo than sexuality”.

In our work, we wanted to address this black box of spouse decision-making by identifying the influencing factors that explain how couples function in terms of financial governance. The theme is far from anecdotal, insofar as conflicts related to money often arise in relationships, which can lead to separations and divorces.

Freedom, equality or brotherhood

The financial management of the couple actually influences various daily decisions regarding money such as savings, investments and running expenses. From the first meeting between a couple, rules begin to be established between the partners that will lay the first stones in the building of the relationship: is the bill divided or paid by one of them? Thereafter, the routines laid down from the first cohabitation characterize the couple’s way of managing money, which takes place over time.

An important aspect concerns the choice of the way of organizing bank accounts. According to INSEE, only about 3 out of 5 couples choose only joint account management and thus accept that all cash flows are shared within the household. Among the many couples who reject this way of operating together in the form of money, about half use separate accounts, and the other half choose a mixed mode that combines individual accounts with a common account. But what makes couples favor one organization over another?

In an ongoing study, we show that the way couples organize their bank accounts and their expenses is a reflection of their perception of a romantic relationship. The motivation of individuals regarding their choice of money management can be translated, in accordance with the motto of the French Republic, with the triptych “freedom, equality, brotherhood”.

Couples who choose a joint account are most often in a logic of merger ideal and refuse to adopt an accounting logic in their relationship with their partner. Thus, one of the interviewees explained:

“When we got together, we decided to think everything and share everything and not start counting every single penny. For me, loving each other means sharing everything, including money! »

Couples who choose individual accounts generally seek to maintain their financial independence, to offer themselves some independent decision-making, and to limit the difficulties in the event of future separation. On this last topic, one respondent stated:

“My personal account allows me to think about myself, to make purchases that I like and that my partner does not necessarily like. And then finally, not to argue for a yes or a no to the smallest thing. , I want. “

The bank account management method used therefore reflects the values ​​that characterize each pair. Individual narratives are often associated with notions of independence and freedom, while shared narratives are linked to the search for solidarity and sharing that echoes brotherhood. Finally, the pursuit of equality leads to a proportionate distribution of expenditure by integrating income disparities.

A more vulnerable “non-financial director”

The couple’s decision making regarding financial management may reflect the exercise of power relations between spouses and create dissatisfaction. Several respondents evoked a sense of injustice or a system imposed by their spouse that did not suit them.

Surprisingly, the financial management method changes relatively little over time in the couple, even though one of the partners explicitly requests it. This tendency can be explained by the difficulty of questioning the original contract, tacitly or officially discussed between the spouses. As a result, partners should ensure that their views are considered financially from the early stages of their romantic relationship.

Formal exchanges between the spouses, aimed at taking into account the values ​​of each individual and finding common ground that benefit the couple, therefore seem to be a prerequisite for a balanced relationship.

A better understanding of how couples organize around money can help propose solutions aimed at improving well-being, supporting good aging and strengthening individual financial management skills for the most vulnerable partners in difficult times (spouse’s illness or death, unemployment, divorce, etc.).

Couples should discuss financial matters early in their relationship.
Claudio Santana / AFP

With regard to this last issue, the “non-financial director” of a household, that is, the partner who prefers to leave money decisions to his or her spouse, will be particularly vulnerable at these stages of life. Also, companies that specialize in wealth management, such as Quintésens, offer couples the opportunity to analyze their financial situation to find the most suitable support solution to prepare for retirement and protect the surviving spouse. The banking industry, like Fortuneo, also provides personal advice on savings for two based on marital status.

Dealing with the couple’s finances can also be marked by financial infidelity when one of the partners voluntarily hides financial information from their spouse. If this aspect is associated with risky behaviors, such as gambling, it seems important that accompanying regulatory solutions be proposed to prevent the household from getting into an overly sensitive financial situation and to the detriment of the well-being of the partners. Legal emergency measures, at the request of one of the spouses, such as a ban on emptying a bank account, are thus still possible.

Understanding the different contours of the practical organization of French couples also helps to boost the public debate on social policies. The debate on the deconjugalization of the service for disabled adults (AAH) in the National Assembly in the autumn of 2021 is a striking example of this. A member of the Social Commission, who suggested a view of the couple where a total pool of resources takes place, explained as follows:

“We believe that the individualization of the AAH would call into question our entire socio-fiscal system, which is based on family, marriage and national solidarity.”

However, taking into account the heterogeneity of the methods of financial management of couples seems to be central to supporting them in a realistic and relevant way over time and in relation to the various possible life challenges.

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