Money matters are so stressful and so frequent that couples are often tempted to hide the truth about their spending. This is what we call financial infidelity. Typically, no husband or wife intends to withhold information, but somehow the lies and secrecy creep into the relationship.
There are four main factors that contribute to financial infidelity in marriage:
- Financial separation. When a spouse has a secret account, a hush-hush “emergency” stash or a private credit card, there’s trouble. Are we saying spouses can’t have separate accounts? Nope. But both spouses need to know about all accounts, all money in the mattress and all credit cards. As long as you’re both fully aware of these accounts and any financial activity, you’re good to go. If one of you starts hiding money from the other, you have financial infidelity in your relationship.
- Overspending. The stress of debt can make even a strong relationship vulnerable to dishonesty. A couple agrees to cut back, but the husband can’t resist the latest gadgets and technology. So he lies about his spending, hides receipts and borrows money to cover mistakes he’s embarrassed about.
- Lack of planning. We see this in couples who’ve been together for a while. Things have been going well, and then a big expense (college, retirement, health issues) looms closer than ever before. Unprepared for the future, each spouse tries to solve the problem. The state of desperation often drives one or both of them to make secret choices the other might not expect.
- Control. If one spouse controls all the money, we can almost guarantee there will be financial infidelity in the marriage. It stems from a lack of trust. If she doesn’t trust him to handle the family finances, he may assume she has no idea what he’s capable of and will find ways to spend what he wants without telling her. If he is the one who holds the purse strings tightly, she may be driven to be dishonest about her spending. When he thinks she can still make dinner for four on a few dollars, she resents his control and opens a store credit card to purchase healthy groceries for their family without having to deal with him.
The point of uncovering lies is not to place blame or point fingers. It’s to help you and your spouse understand the reality of your spending choices so you can get rid of anything that holds you back from having a close relationship.
Scott and Bethany Palmer, The Money Couple, are the authors of The 5 Money Personalities: Speaking the same love and money language.