All these acts of “financial infidelity” can be damaging to a relationship because, regardless of the degree to which they are dishonest, they represent a choice to be deceitful rather than truthful.
So, why are people so apt to lie about money? Well, as with many things, being completely transparent with another person can feel vulnerable, leaving us open to judgment. Conversely, deception allows us to avoid discomfort and maintain the status quo in a relationship. With financial disputes consistently listed in the top reasons for divorce, it’s no wonder 15 million Americans are hiding secret credit cards and bank accounts.
Of course, this behavior isn’t healthy. If you find yourself committing some level of financial infidelity, it is vitally important to uncover the source of your dishonesty – shame, pride, fear or otherwise – in order to have a healthy relationship moving forward.
Personal Finances: Extreme Financial Infidelities
In a relationship where couples are pooling resources in order to run a household and meet shared financial goals, deliberate secrecy isn’t fair. Of course, some acts of financial infidelity are more egregious than others. For example, one recognized type of domestic abuse is financial abuse; that is, withholding access to money, taking out debt in the victim’s name or strictly monitoring spending habits. In other cases, one partner secretly siphons money out of a shared account or drains mutual assets without their partner’s knowledge. Gambling addictions are another common example. Often, this type of behavior is only discovered once it’s too late and divorce, death or bankruptcy are imminent.
When There is No Malice
The above examples above make financial infidelity sound incredibly sinister. More often, these acts happen without ill intent. For many people, it simply comes about as a side effect of hiding a shameful shopping habit or feeling prideful in asking for help with debt. The indiscretions start small and snowball over time. The longer it goes on the harder it is to confess.
Regardless of the intention, it can be difficult for a relationship to recover from financial deception. Honest communication and active listening are key, as well as a willingness to be transparent going forward. Of course, since financial infidelity can lead to long-term money issues like damaged credit and large amounts of debt, the consequences can be felt for years to come.
Preventing Financial Infidelity in Your Relationship
Relationships are inherently challenging and there are no guarantees, but open communication – especially about difficult topics like money – is crucial to a couple’s long-term survival. If you and your partner have different money values like 73 percent of American couples, communicating with your partner is essential.
If you notice red flags, like your partner’s refusal to disclose financial information, you may already be the victim of financial deception. In this circumstance, it may be necessary to take steps to protect your own finances. Run your credit report for free, keep a close eye on accounts you have access to and don’t be afraid to ask questions that impact your personal financial health.
How to Get Started
If your relationship could benefit from a deeper discussion about money, don’t wait to start the conversation. Begin by scheduling a time when the two of you can talk openly about your financial footing and short-term goals. Make an effort to keep emotion out of the conversation and give one another the space to be open and honest. Consider a verbal or written agreement to be transparent about bank and credit card statements and acknowledge that you won’t let yourself be tempted to make risky money decisions without the other partner’s knowledge or approval.
Keep your financial discussions ongoing by dreaming about your future together: What are your shared goals? What do you envision for retirement? The more you plan and dream together, the less room there is for financial deception in your relationship, and the stronger your trust in your partner will be.