Reclaiming Some Independence

I've got a pretty strong opinion about combined marital finances, but I realize that W and I have taken it a bit too far and that has some downsides.  Absolutely zero privacy isn't a good thing.

On one hand, I see marriage as a joint venture - you sink or swim together.  You've got to be on the same page financially, and the idea that "we have separate income, separate bank accounts, and we split the expenses" just doesn't fly with me - it's a team effort, not a collection of individual interests.  There are a lot of big financial decisions in life, and both spouses are entitled to some checks and balances in the process.  On the other hand, I'm finding that too much teamwork comes at the cost of independence and breeds a bit of co-dependency.

For a couple of decades we've successfully worked as a team when it comes to finances - like a business, all our funds are pooled and spending needs a reasonable justification; but we don't need the other's approval for routine transactions.  We keep each other in the loop (good communication and trust are essential) and we each make decisions we're comfortable standing behind.

But the lack of privacy has its drawbacks. For example, W minds our books (and very well, btw), so she sees every transaction post online within a day.  Its great for preventing fraud and identity theft, but it's damn hard to surprise her with a gift I've bought in advance.  I've worked around this, but it's an obstacle.

A couple years ago, I started buying/selling used equipment as a sideline interest to my hobby - all local cash deals.  A few months back, I stopped and reflected on why I was doing this, because the profits are petty compared to my primary income... I realized it was really so I could fund my hobby without her oversight, with no guilt for buying something I couldn't justify.  That's ridiculous, because I have a good income and can afford a few toys.  No, this was really about my independence, and this bit of self-discovery was very enlightening.

I'd keep her in the loop when I'd pull cash out and put it back - that's just good bookkeeping.  But she wanted to know more... she wanted the details of the deals.  Initially, I thought she was trying to be interested in my hobby, but then I realized it was more to assess their risk and worthiness of my time.  Again, good financial management and force of habit, but these weren't amounts worth her involvement.

I decided it was time for a little more financial privacy, and that she needed to trust my financial judgement a bit more.  I withdrew about 1% of my annual income and secured the cash where she couldn't supervise it.  This made her awfully itchy for many weeks, but she got over it.  I continue to do my dealings without any visibility from her.  It's still about my independence, but also about the satisfaction of making my hobby self-sustaining as a mini-venture.

An aside here... I've always thought this ironic, that I could bring home a windfall hugely larger than this, and it doesn't get much reaction - but try and spend a much smaller amount, and watch out for the scrutiny!  I used to run into the same thing in high-end consulting - much less concern over my billable hours vs. my expense reports.  Human nature, it seems.

None of this has had a significant effect on W's attitude toward me, and I didn't expect it to, but I do think a little privacy is a good step in the right direction toward restoring a little of my own mystique and eventually more respect in her eyes.  More on that in a separate story.



DryCreek DryCreek
46-50, M
8 Responses Feb 15, 2010

As my marriage in the divorce lawyer stage, I doubt that I'm the right one to be giving advice on how much autonomy one ought to retain in a marriage. We grew so far apart that it reached the point of being close enough to 100% autonomy that I eventually realized there was no "us", but, on the other hand, it probably would have died even faster if I'd tried to go for the 0% autonomy, no "me", pole, as my wife didn't have much interest in "us", and therefore (I suspect) would not have been able to keep things going as long if we had reversed roles. So, take any support I offer for keeping something for yourself with a grain of salt--it didn't work for me long term.

Sliderule - "Friction reducer" is a good concept. I've had a long run with the philosophy of being "all in" when it comes to my marriage - "us", not "me and her". I still believe in the "all in" concept, but I think I've lost a bit of my own identity be taking it too far, and I'm working to correct that. (This seems to be my time for "Well, duh!" personal discoveries... :-)

Even if you didn't have problems, a certain amount of independent money is justifiable as a friction-reducer in a marriage. We set up "yours, mine, and ours" checking accounts at the beginning of the marriage, with 90% of the money going to "ours" which she managed. That part of things worked well for as long as it lasted.

PB - that's the thing... everything else is golden except intimacy. We had trust issues like 15 years ago, but I think this isn't about questioning where it's going - I think she's confident I could account for it all (she knows I log every transaction). I think it's more about losing her veto right on my activities.<br />
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As to her having a private account, well, she pretty much does - all of them. I check the "balance sheet" from time to time, and I have visibility into all the account detail if I need to check, but reality is that she can spend as she likes and easily hide it. She could rob me blind in a heartbeat - there's a crapload of trust on my side of the fence.

DC, how are things other than sex between the two of you? Is it possible that she does not trust that you are sticking to the hobby with the money, meaning it's not about the amount but the potential for you to do ANYthing with it? I think even in many good marriages, telling your spouse that you now want a certain amount of cash set aside so that you can do as you please without them knowing what it is that might please you would bring on some natural suspicion. <br />
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I'm glad to hear that you've taken this bit of control back though and assume that you wouldn't mind if she also had a small, private account.

Thanks for clarifying that. It is always good to get the correct version. I expect I projected onto you! My dear Ex was VERY controlling, especially about money . . . !!<br />
Good for you on being direct and informing her of your intentions - that keeps everything above board whilst you maintain your independence.

Anne - No, in general she's not very controlling / manipulative. But she is used to a degree of transparency that I'm cutting off.<br />
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I think over time she has misinterpreted my general openness as an invitation to approve or disapprove of my actions and she's slipped into a groove of being authoritative. To counter that, I've started being more direct when I'm just informing her and not interested in her endorsement.<br />
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I suppose there's a loose parallel to when women need a shoulder to cry on - just because they share their woes doesn't mean suggestions are welcome; just empathy. :-)<br />
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Cheers,<br />

It's all about control I think - coupled with natural curiosity perhaps! Wanting full details of WHAT you plan to spend your money on gives her a chance to veto it or approve it . . This is another form of the control she is exercising in your relationship, IMHO. Are there other examples of her being a controlling person??