What would you do if you found out that your spouse has a secret credit card and that he/she has charged over $30,000? Money problems are often cited as the main reason for divorce. Let’s examine a particular money problem – financial infidelity.
Secrets, secrets are no fun
Financial infidelity occurs when one partner harmfully lies to the other about money. Deception can come in a myriad of forms. Financial infidelity often takes the form of hidden debts, secret accounts, or undisclosed purchases. It can also come in the form of misrepresentations. For example, some people commit financial embezzlement by lying about their income, the amount of an expense, or the balance of an account. However you cut it, a lie is a lie.
There are many reasons someone might withhold information or deceive their partner. For example, a high-earning spouse may tell their partner that they earn less because they fear their partner would spend more. Or maybe a partner made a bad financial decision that landed them in credit card debt long before they met their current spouse. A person with credit card debt may feel embarrassed about the amount owed. Another common reason for financial infidelity is addiction. Sports betting has spread rapidly across the US, leading some fans to empty their pockets to quench the craze. As a result, financial infidelity is very real and more common than you think.
Secrets, secrets hurt someone
Romantic relationships are built on trust. Lying about money can cause a huge breach of trust, especially when couples already have shared finances. If you’ve committed financial infidelity, don’t wait to be caught red-handed. Be open with the truth, open to questions and criticism, and honest with your answers. It is possible to mend and repair the broken trust. Understand that a solution may require full transparency.
On the other hand, if you’ve discovered financial infidelity or your partner has come out with their truth, try your best not to judge. Those who commit financial infidelity often do so out of shame or embarrassment. Instead, get to the bottom of the cause and discuss how you can manage the finances together amicably. Careful discussions in coming up with a solution could ultimately save a troubled relationship.
Be financially faithful
According to a 2022 survey conducted by Personal Capital, 39% of adults avoid talking about money with their romantic partner. No wonder financial problems are a leading cause of divorce. If you’re in a serious relationship, it’s important to get comfortable talking about money. It can be awkward to ask for your partner’s balance sheet or income statement.
Instead, start the conversation by talking about values, experiences, or goals. Our attitudes toward most topics begin to develop in childhood, so questions like “What was your first experience with money?” or “What was your relationship with money growing up?” can lead to insightful conversations without being prying be.
A healthy practice among couples who combine their finances is to set some ground rules. For example, some couples decide on an amount of money to spend without consulting their partner. This gives each person autonomy, sets boundaries and establishes accountability.
It is also helpful to define if and how the expenses will be split. Many couples assume a 50/50 split by default, but when there are large pay gaps, the low earner may be under too much pressure.
Another successful strategy is for both to share responsibility for managing finances. Many families appoint a family member to be the “Family CFO.” But without checks and balances, this can easily open the door to financial infidelity. Shared responsibility can mean several things, from reviewing credit card statements together to scheduling review meetings with your financial advisor that both parties can attend.
If you’re hiding the truth, there’s never been a better time than now to be honest about the skeletons hiding in your wallet. If you have been lied to, try not to judge and find a solution. Once you’ve got a clean slate, make it easy to talk about money with your partner.
Kate Arndt, CFP, is a financial advisor with Bedel Financial Consulting, Inc., an Indianapolis-based financial management firm. For more information, please visit www.bedelfinancial.com or email Kate at email@example.com.