I happened to be walking through the den the other day and overheard a pundit on Fox News exhorting prospective newlyweds to be sure to set up separate checking and banking accounts for each of them. She seemed to be mentioning it as a kind of checklist item, probably part of an array of recommendations, many of them likely tax related, that she was reviewing for the benefit of people planning marriage. As a kind of afterthought, she said-as I got closer to the limit of my hearing range-that of course, in today’s hip electronic culture, with people more aware and better informed than ever before, separate accounts were an elementary safeguard for all parties concerned. As I walked out of range, I thought of another advantage to separate accounts. If you don’t see the mess that your spouse makes of her account (and vice versa), then you’re not as likely to get upset about it and argue over it.
But then it occurred to me later that this is one of those instances where the validity of your logic depends on the premises you set. Yeah, if your priority concern is to “protect” the individual members of a marriage, then separate accounts do provide that assurance. But how far should such “protections” extend? Most murders are products of domestic violence, but does that make it wise for me to keep a pistol in my desk to protect me from my wife? Also, it doesn’t take long for the realization to grab hold that the protection is from each other. Do I need to be protected from the woman I’ve vowed to love and cherish till death do us part? More importantly, what message does establishing such protection send to one’s spouse? “Okay, let me get this straight,” I can hear her say. “You say you love me, that there will never be anyone for you except me, and that we are one flesh, but with your actions you are saying that I can’t be trusted not to abscond with all our liquid assets.” Worse yet is that she may not be saying that out loud, but instead storing it in her heart as a corrosive doubt about the strength of our union.
So what is the right answer? I think that depends on what you want out of marriage, and how much you are willing to risk and invest in the romantic commitment that many of us want to be a lasting part of it. In Coinage of Commitment, the female protagonist tells the love of her life that she is assuming a posture of emotional vulnerability and dependence on him. She does this to raise his commitment to her emotional needs to a level he had not contemplated. As a result of how he responds…well, better not to give away the surprise ending.