Going out to buy a $100 pair of shoes or a new golf club took some finagling. After several trips to the grocery store to receive cash back, there was finally enough to pay for the expensive item without tipping off an unsuspecting spouse or partner. Have you ever done anything like this? Although it may seem like a little white lie, therapists say it’s considered financial infidelity and could lead to a broken relationship.
Financial infidelity is becoming more common, especially among married couples who have their finances tied together. It’s one of the biggest threats to a relationship, according to the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE). Harris Poll conducted a survey in 2018 on behalf of NEFE and found that 41-percent of American adults who combine their finances say they have committed financial deceptions against their partner. 75-percent say it’s affected their relationships. Some people even go as far as opening a secret bank account or credit card to conceal spending habits from their significant others.
“Women tend to hide spending. They have their Amazon and Zappos purchases sent to work instead of home. Men make bad financial decisions and think that they can shuffle the money around so no one will notice,” said Dr. Caroline Madden, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist from Southern California.
With financial problems being one of the top five reasons for divorce, many Americans opt to conceal cash, hide bills or lie about earnings and debt to avoid the pain of an argument or a breakup. Many couples are not on the same page regarding finances. While one might like to spend money on vacations, cars, gambling or entertainment, the other might want to sock it away for retirement. Some people who run the household finances by themselves might be too ashamed to tell their partner they failed to handle the bills.
No matter what the differences are, hiding financial habits from a significant other can sometimes cut just as deep as an affair. “It is one thing when, as a couple, bad decisions are made. It is quite another thing when (a) partner has jeopardized the family without the other person’s knowledge,” said Madden.
Counselors and therapists say being afraid to discuss finances with a spouse or partner could indicate a problem with the relationship. Every individual has their own core beliefs about money, and couples can overcome the shock of financial infidelity and regain trust by seeking therapy.
Tips for a healthy financial relationship with your partner
- Talk about it – Keep the lines of communication open with your partner. Talk to them about your purchases even if they don’t show up on a bank statement. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, ask yourself why. Perhaps you are committing financial infidelity yourself without even realizing it. Both people in the relationship should have full disclosure about their combined finances.
- Get to the truth – Don’t make bold accusations if you suspect financial infidelity. Gather the facts and find out what your partner’s financial goals are with spending habits. Being accusatory could undermine your partner’s goals, saying yours are more important than theirs.
- Come up with a financial plan together – Meet with your partner to discuss a future financial plan that is open and includes both of your goals. “Having three accounts is what seems to work best for most couples. His, hers, and a joint account. Couples need a certain sense of adult agency and autonomy,” said Madden.
- Seek a counselor – Lack of communication is the underbelly of financial infidelity and signals a relationship problem. Attending couples therapy can help both parties resolve conflicts, understand a partner’s self-awareness and personal growth as well as your own, and resolve roadblocks that hinder communication. Through individual therapy, people can gain a more realistic perception of money and adjust to reasonable financial behaviors.
If you decide to seek counseling from a therapist, you can check a professional’s license to make sure it’s valid and in good standing by visiting the California Board of Behavioral Sciences at https://www.bbs.ca.gov/ and click on the Verify a License button.