How monetary infidelity threatens relationships

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We judge people by their actions, including their spending habits. We use labels like stingy, irresponsible, generous, poor, immoral, or successful – all based on how someone spends money or how much they spend.

We also judge our romantic partners on their spending habits. It’s easier to make such judgments in an intimate relationship because you have more opportunities to observe how your partner spends money (e.g., donates to charity, supports a parent, gambles).

So how do opportunities to observe a romantic partner’s financial decisions affect behavior? In an article published in the February 2022 issue of Current Opinion in Psychology, Olson and Rick provide answers.

Observation of Spending Habits in Romantic Relationships

Based on their spending tendencies, we can categorize people into spendthrifts and narrow-minded:

“Wasters don’t experience enough pain for their own good, leading them to spend more than they would ideally like to spend. The narrow-minded, on the other hand, suffer too much from pain, causing them to spend less than they would ideally spend.”

A complicating factor is that spendthrifts and narrow-minded people are sometimes attracted to one another. Why? Because opposites attract, especially when an individual’s object of attraction resembles their ideal self. In particular, people who dislike certain personality traits about themselves, such as Fights for money are to be expected in these pairings.

However, constant quarrels over money have a negative impact on relationship satisfaction and the couple’s mental health.

To reduce money fights, one solution is for the more self-control spouse to occasionally cater to the likes of the less self-control spouse.

And the spouse of the person with more self-control needs to understand that spending less on a birthday present, for example, doesn’t reflect a lack of commitment or love.

Another “solution” some choose is not to watch their romantic partner make certain financial decisions around the house.

This is not uncommon, as in the early stages of many relationships, one member of a couple is often assigned the role of Chief Financial Officer (CFO) – a decision not necessarily based on financial knowledge or experience, but on availability and willingness to invest in it deal with finances.

Of course, this means that only the person who initially filled the role will gain more financial literacy over time. A danger of such a system is that if the CFO is suddenly absent (e.g. due to illness, separation or divorce), the other partner may feel overwhelmed and unable to manage the finances.

Financial infidelity in romantic relationships

Some married people commit financial infidelity — hiding their money, wealth, inheritance, purchase receipts and bills, or other evidence of their financial behavior from their romantic partner.

Or they lie about how much they make, how many bank accounts they have, how much money they have saved, how they spend their money (e.g. gambling), the price they paid for groceries (e.g. “These shoes were on sale”, “The game console was purchased with credit), etc.

Why do they lie, lead and deceive their romantic partner? Among other things, to avoid feeling judged, arguing about money problems or upsetting your partner.

Still, financial infidelity can create emotional distance and reduce intimacy. And when one partner discovers the other’s secret financial behavior, they may feel betrayed. These feelings of betrayal can be similar to those associated with emotional or sexual infidelity.

This is especially the case if the romantic partner’s financial behavior is ongoing or has changed due to concerns about important financial decisions and issues, such as marriage. B. the accumulation of debt. In fact, in some cases, financial infidelity can lead to a separation or divorce. As the authors noted, “the stealthy accumulation of debt has ruined many relationships.”

Relationships Essential Reads

One way to prevent financial infidelity is through joint bank accounts. Joint bank accounts can encourage more responsible spending, less financial conflict, more intimacy, and higher relationship satisfaction.

An important question is whether financial infidelity is always dysfunctional. To illustrate, what if a person believes eating out with coworkers once or twice a week will improve their mental health and work motivation, while the person’s romantic partner believes it’s wrong to spend money on these “everyday luxuries.” “ spend?

Should the person share this information (e.g., that they went out to lunch) to their partner, knowing it will likely lead to arguments and damage the relationship? Or might discussing these disagreements eventually lead to greater understanding and eventual agreement? There is no easy answer.


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Understand your romantic partner’s financial choices

Let’s finish with some suggestions on how to manage finances in pairs.

  1. Don’t make any assumptions until you have sufficient information about your partner. For example, even if your romantic partner appears financially responsible and frugal at the beginning of the relationship, you may later discover evidence of financial infidelity.
  2. As you reflect on your partner’s behavior, pay attention to anything relevant, not just obvious actions. To illustrate, even a Scrooge-like person can occasionally spend lavishly to impress a special client or business associate.
  3. Understand the reasons behind your romantic partner’s financial behavior. For example, if your new romantic partner is conservative in spending, it can be tempting to assume that they are narrow-minded and frugal. However, consider other possibilities: your partner might be less impulsive and spontaneous than you, value saving money for long-term financial goals (like buying a house), practice thrift for religious reasons, or just be resourceful and enjoy being inventive and frugal (eg, finding clever ways to reuse household items).

Needless to say, if money fights become common, consider couples (or individual) therapy to get to the root of the problem.

To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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