Couples argue more about money than any other topic. Money issues and financial stress are the cause of insecurity, strife and problems in relationships.
The way individuals react to the stress of debt, collections or financial insecurity can vary. Some people are motivated to work harder, to earn more; others will take huge and unwise financial risks in order to earn a quick payout such as gambling on sports or in a casino. Two people in a relationship can approach money matters in completely different ways, and this can lead to financial infidelity.
Financial infidelity can be defined as a lie, an omission, or any breach of trust surrounding money issues that causes a relationship injury.
Financial infidelity is cheating on your partner, the same as any sexual or emotional affair.
Anything you keep a secret from your partner regarding your handling of finances is considered financial infidelity. Now, I’m not talking about buying a coffee on the way to work, or grabbing a sandwich at the deli. Each individual should have some autonomous spending ability for trivial things. You shouldn’t need to account for every penny. What I’m referring to here are dollar amounts that are significant enough to make an impact on, or put at risk, the couple’s overall financial security.
For couples who are living paycheck to paycheck, on disability, government assistance, or are unemployed, this can mean that even a fairly low dollar amount can be significant.
Many couples are just a paycheck away from financial insecurity, and financial infidelity can ruin their lives. For them, and also for those who are affluent, wealthy and financially stable, it’s not simply a matter of money, but of honesty and authenticity between partners.
Often the person committing the offense doesn’t mean to be deceitful. Their intention was not to betray their partner’s trust. Some people simply are not good with finances.
They may make an error and be embarrassed or ashamed to admit it, so they cover it up. Or they take money out of one account to pay back a bounced check. This is financial infidelity too.
Anything you’re keeping from your partner is a betrayal of trust. As with any kind of deceitful practice in a relationship, coming clean is always better. You don’t want lies, even small ones, to come between you and your partner. I know it’s hard to admit you’ve made a mistake, but you need to do that and clear the air.
Your partner may be upset about what happened, maybe even angry with you for making a stupid error, but it’s far less damaging to the relationship than keeping it a secret.
Do you recognize anyone?
The most common kinds of financial infidelity come from individuals who either, invest money unwisely, gamble, or shop excessively. Let’s look at some of the warning signs that your partner (or you) might be committing financial infidelity.
If you’re living with or married to:
The money rolls in. Gifts are purchased. Big ticket items appear randomly. The individual is happy, feeling successful and good. Then they lose. Things must be sold, pawned, bill collectors start calling. The gambler may lie about losing money. They might go away for extended periods of time and not want to tell you where they’ve been.
Gamblers live in a constant state of uncertainty and flux. They’re sure they’re always going to win, but we know better.
Gambling can begin innocently enough, but insidiously becomes an obsession and addiction.
If you are a gambler or are living with one, it’s a difficult lifestyle and a very hard way to stay in a relationship and/or have a family. Gamblers sometimes need to hit “rock bottom” in order to stop.
There is inpatient and outpatient treatment for gambling addictions, but the gambler has to acknowledge that they need help before it will work. It takes a lot of patience and love to help a gambler to get over their problem, and there are a lot of emotions, loss and betrayal along the way.
Shopping in and of itself is not financial infidelity. We all need to purchase things for our homes, ourselves and our children. However, when shopping becomes a compulsion and the individual begins to hide their purchases from their partner, you’re heading into betrayal.
If you notice debits from the bank accounts that your partner cannot or will not account for, or if you begin to find packages in the garage, the closets, the trunk of the car or new items that keep appearing in your home, it’s a red flag warning for you to investigate your partner’s shopping habits.
If not put in check, shopping addiction can (but doesn’t always) lead to hoarding behaviors. In any case, it’s a form of financial infidelity that can become out of control.
You and your partner need to discuss spending limits and actual need for new purchases.
Catch this habit before it becomes excessive, expensive, obsessive, and even more harmful.
The investor always has a “get rich quick” scheme and a promise of a big financial return, or is certain of making a killing on the deal. Most of the time these investments are more about throwing good money after bad than investing, and rarely pan out.
This doesn’t stop our investor from getting involved in the next scheme or investing in the stock market, or new companies.
This is a kind of game that some wealthy people play as a sort of hobby; it is fine until the money is lost and the investor doesn’t want to tell his partner about it.
Sure, it’s embarrassing, but wouldn’t you rather be embarrassed than betray your partner’s trust?
The investor needs a spending limit to “play” with. The partners have to be in agreement and there has to be full disclosure on where the investment money is coming from (who is providing the seed money), and about the amount.
There must be honest communication about how much money is being lost or gained, and if one partner doesn’t feel good about the investment, it shouldn’t happen.
4. Secret stasher
The secret stasher is a little bit like the doomsday prepper. They think the end of civilization as we know it is just around the corner, and when the poop hits the fan, the economy will collapse and the entire infrastructure or our country will come to a screeching halt.
They have a plan to be ahead of the coming apocalypse and are buying everything you might possibly need to survive when it all goes down. I realize this might seem a little far-fetched, but there are more people out there with this mindset than you might think.
The secret stasher’s intentions are good, but if their partner is not on board with their buying habits, that doesn’t bode well for the relationship. The secret stasher is filling the garage (or the bunker) with a vast array of survival gear, food, guns and who knows what all else. Their partner may not even be aware of the extent of the purchase.
This is something that must be talked about and agreed upon by both partners. The decision to prep for the end of the world cannot be an arbitrary one.
If the money that is going towards all of the stashed items is coming from both partners, each must have a say in how the money is spent, or it qualifies as financial infidelity.
Four Solutions to avoid financial infidelity
1. Work together on financial matters
Both partners need to sit down together and assess the financial status of the couple and look at what their needs are and how much money it is going to take to meet their obligations.
If the couple decides to have one partner be in charge of the checkbook, bill paying etc., there must be an accounting each month where they sit down together to reconcile all the payments, and both can see how the money is being spent.
Both partners must discuss all purchases over a set amount and must agree on making the purchase. The rule is, if you’re not both on board, it doesn’t happen.
Work on your budget together, and see how you can both work on saving money to put towards those items that you want to buy. You can make it work by being honest and upfront, and both of you putting in equal time and effort into keeping everything authentic and financially secure.
2. Hire an accountant
When one or both partners have struggled with money management in the past, or there have been incidents of financial infidelity in the relationship, it may be a good idea to get a third party involved. It’s a bit expensive to have a money manager, or accountant, on retainer, but your relationship is worth it.
Giving your finances to a business manager will help free you from worries about how money is being spent. You’ll have a business professional advising and supporting both of you in meeting your financial goals.
You remove all suspicion about your partner’s spending habits and as a couple you are able to have candid and authentic discussions about your financial dreams and goals for the future.
3. Have checks and balances
In a relationship where there’s been mismanagement of money or financial infidelity; going forward there must be honesty and authenticity in all things related to finances.
You each have to be an open book when it comes to money matters.
Check in with each other often about how the financial plan is going and talk about absolutely everything related to spending.
4. Have a budget
A monthly budget is a necessity. I don’t care how much money you have in savings, how much you bring in with income and investments; a budget will protect you and keep you on the up and up when it comes to spending. Financial infidelity is far less of a possibility when the two partners are sitting down together every few weeks to look at their financial plan and to see how the budget is working.
It’s not written in stone, and you have the ability to adjust for unexpected events, things you wish to purchase, or emergencies. Make sure you build fun into your budget. Save for something you both want like a vacation or a new car. You both need to be equally invested in making your financial plan work.
The main point of all of this is to incorporate financial discussions as a regular part of communication in your relationship. It’s not always easy to talk about money matters, but if you can use some of the tools I suggest, you will have an easier time bringing up your concerns and sharing your feelings about your goals and financial plans.
Want to have a happier, healthier marriage?
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
More by Stuart Fensterheim