Nearly every relationship harbors some level of financial infidelity. It might be as minor as not telling your partner what you really spent on her birthday gift or as major as keeping a secret bank account to pay for your gambling addiction. (Find out where you stand with the Financial Relationship Index) Either way, the path to healthy financial communication will never be smooth unless you are honest about your behavior and committed to changing your ways.
If you’ve got a history of lying about spending or hiding money from your partner, it’s time to come clean. You can do it!
- Admit your financial infidelity to yourself. Take a good look at what you’ve been doing and why you’ve been doing it. What’s behind your behavior-Fear? Anger? Control? Resentment? Shame? Before you tell your partner about your infidelity, you need to understand what’s led you to these behaviors. This isn’t about making excuses or blaming your partner, it’s about being honest with yourself so you can take ownership of what you’ve done. No one made you do these things.
- Be prepared for anger. Your partner is going to be angry. He’s going to be hurt. He’s going to resent you, especially if your financial infidelity has led to debt or other money problems. As much as we’d like to tell you this won’t happen or that everything’s going to be just fine, the truth is that financial infidelity is a real problem that brings with it real pain.
- Get it over with. There isn’t going to be a perfect time to confess your financial infidelity. Naturally you don’t want to bring it up in the midst of some other argument or use your confession as a weapon against your partner. Instead, pick a quiet evening, sit down together, and tell your partner the truth. Preface your confession by saying something like, “Honey, I know we’ve had some disagreements about money in the past. And I want you to know that I’ve done some things with our finances that I’m not proud of. I want to tell you about those things so that we can work together to build a better relationship and a better financial future.”
- Listen to your partner. Once you’ve laid out your confession, it’s time to listen. As hard as it might be to hear, your partner will want to respond to what you’ve said-and it might not be very pleasant. But if you don’t let your partner react and respond, the questions, the anger, the resentment that she is bound to feel will only fester and blow up later. So take it in, listen without getting defensive, and apologize and seek forgiveness.
- Focus on the future. Depending on the level of financial infidelity you’re dealing with, your partner might have a lot of questions or concerns. There might be some serious financial damage that you’ll need to repair. There might be issues of trust and resentment that will be hard for you to deal with. (If there has been a severe breach of trust, we strongly recommend seeking professional marriage counseling.) But don’t let your past define your relationship. Come to this conversation with ideas for repairing the financial and relational damage and make a plan for moving forward. Show your partner that you are committed to building something new, together. Plan a Money Huddle and use that time to take a hard look at your financial picture-warts and all.
Recovering from financial infidelity is never easy. But with time, patience, trust, and a true commitment to change, you and your partner can rebuild your financial relationship.