Despite the fact that financial issues and money problems are the number one subject couples argue about and a leading cause of divorce, there are few studies that address the issue of financial secrecy or financial infidelity. The reason why many people keep secrets about money is fear of being abandoned, shame, and fear of being vulnerable due to past betrayal by a parent or partner.
According to researchers, romantic partners aren’t always honest about money in their relationships, but when does hiding purchases, debt and savings constitute ‘financial infidelity’? Research by professors at Indiana University, define financial infidelity as “engaging in any financial behavior that is expected to be disapproved of by one’s romantic partner and intentionally failing to disclose this behavior to them.” In other words, it has two parts: it involves both the financial “act” and the subsequent concealment.
Learning how to have productive, low-conflict discussions about money is essential to handling finances in a healthy way. Finances are a touchy subject for all couples and a leading cause of divorce. However, when you get married, your spouse should be made aware of any debts that you have in your name. And after you wed, having regular discussions about expenses, income, and debts is essential to having a happy, long-term marriage.
Anything less than full disclosure about money matters will breed an atmosphere of mistrust in your relationship. Being in debt can result in a great deal of stress and being open about it with your partner will enable you to come up with a plan to improve your situation.
Getting caught in the act of being deceptive felt awful to Michael, age 34, but it was the first step towards being vulnerable and open about my past debt and problems living within a budget. After eight years of marriage, it’s still a challenge for Kendra, 33, to trust Michael about financial matters.
She reflects: “I grew up with a lot of secrecy in my home, and when my mom found out that my dad had cheated with a women he worked with, it opened a can of worms and she uncovered a web of lies, debts, and hidden financial matters that hurt her deeply. I know that’s why I have a strong need to be transparent and won’t put up with Michael keeping secrets.”
Being in debt can result in a great deal of stress and being open about it with your partner will enable you to come up with a plan to improve your situation. Here are some steps you can make to address debt head-on as a unified couple:
- Having weekly one to two-hour discussions about money.
- Taking the time to create a budget together.
- Seeing a debt counselor or financial advisor.
- Looking into debt relief or consolidation companies.
The first two steps above will help you to look at your assets and expenses, and to decide on strategies. If restructuring your budget and coming up with solutions doesn’t seem to relieve your stress and help you to pay off your debt, seeing a debt counselor may be a good idea. Having a financial plan in place will help you to have less stress and you’ll probably argue less and feel more content.
What I have come to realize is that when a partner withholds important financial information, regardless of their reasons, it is normal to feel betrayed. Many couples that I counsel have worked hard to restore trust. Others have chronic arguments over money matters because they don’t have the skills to communicate about touchy topics such as who pays for big things including educational expenses. Even smaller purchases like buying a car for your children can unleash other concerns such as who pays for car maintenance and insurance.
Wendy put it like this “I felt so betrayed when I found out that Ryan had a secret savings account that he never told me about. Even though he explained that he needed to have his own money to feel secure, I still felt that he was being dishonest and I began to mistrust him about other matters such as paying bills or credit card purchases.
If couples have not established a bedrock of trust and vulnerability together, they might be more prone to committing financial infidelity. If you consistently feel uneasy because you can’t trust your partner, even minor mistakes or errors in judgment can make you feel vulnerable, in spite of your partner offering a good explanation for their actions. In other words, by keeping secrets or lying to your partner you put your relationship in jeopardy because he or she may have lost a sense of trust and security that couples need to thrive and grow resilient together.
Fortunately, if you have open dialogues about money weekly, you should feel safe enough to be transparent about your past and present debts. However, you might benefit from seeing a counselor to discuss ways to communicate about money and other important issues in your marriage if you are dedicated to staying together and want to preserve your love.
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Feel free to ask a question here.
Terry’s forthcoming book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, was published by Sounds True in February of 2020.