not-so-harmless problems

5 Not-So-Harmless Problems That Lead To Financial Infidelity

Is your spouse cheating on you with YOUR MONEY? Research shows over 15 million people are lying about their money to their spouse. That’s a lot of millions. We don’t share this to point any fingers, but to lay out the facts to caution everyone about how destructive those lies can be. In fact, there are five not-so-harmless problems that lead to financial infidelity. We have seen it first hand, lies about money ending in divorce.

This lack-of-honest behavior is called financial infidelity–any lying, cheating, or hoarding money inside of a relationship. Lots of people don’t think they are committing it. But let’s take a closer look.

There are 5 not-so-harmless problems that tend to cause couples to commit financial infidelity:

1. Separate accounts

Separate accounts are a breading ground for financial infidelity. Do you have an account that your spouse doesn’t have access to? Or maybe even know about? An “extra” account for “private” spending or saving?

Of the 5 Money Personalities, Savers and Spenders tend to hide money more often than the other 3 Money Personalities. Savers hide money for obvious reasons, but we’ve found even Spenders secretly hide money too so they can have a bigger stash to spend later.

We aren’t saying, “no”, to separate accounts. You can have separate accounts, but you need to have 100% transparency with those accounts.

Ask yourself, “Do I have this separate account for a practical purpose or am I relieved to have this because I don’t ever want to be questioned about a purchase?”

Eliminate any opportunity or temptation to hide money from your spouse.

2. Overspending and Debt

Life gets expensive really quickly, so a lot of couples are struggling with overspending and debt. Their spending gets past them before they realize how much it is snowballing.

The average American household’s credit card debt is $15,654 which is up almost 8% from last year. So if debt is swallowing you up, you are not alone. BUT there’s not much comfort in that when the statements show up each month. The compounding interest charges on those cards can create a lose-lose battle it feels like you’ll never win.

We are not wagging a finger about debt and we definitely don’t think debt is the end of the world, but the pressure of that growing number and maybe even a tighter budget to get rid of it can potentially push a spouse to be less than honest about money. They are scared to tell their spouse or partner. But the truth always comes out.

If your debt is causing you to be less than honest; or if you need to give your spouse a realistic update on your financial picture, now is a great time to do it. Sooner rather than later applies here. Be on the look out for the not-so-harmless problems that cause financial infidelity.

Work together to rein in the spending and tackle the debt. Two heads are better than one.

3. Lack of Planning

Good old Ben Franklin said, “If you fail to plan. You are planning to fail.” And that certainly seems to be true with money.

We are seeing more and more “well seasoned” relationships (later in life) experiencing conflict and stress because one spouse wasn’t honest about how much or how LITTLE they’ve been putting away for retirement. The person tasked with retirement savings hasn’t quite been working the plan like they both initially agreed.

These are relationships easily more than 25 years strong, maybe closer to 40 years of marriage, and they get to this point where they feel sick because their spouse did not share honestly what their retirement savings picture looked like. They were told before the kids left for college, “I got this.” So they didn’t ask until now and a rock solid marriage starts to fissure because of financial infidelity.

In our experience it doesn’t mean the person who’s been in charge of socking away money for later in life didn’t do anything, it’s just that when we sit down with them to discuss the reality, they are surprised to learn that the funds just aren’t enough to make them feel secure.

Ask yourself, “Am I communicating fully with my spouse about our retirement savings? About how much longer we both may need to work?”

not-so-harmless problems

Trust your union that has lasted decades to full disclosure about your planning to avoid either of you experiencing the pain of financial infidelity.

Planning takes time and effort. Saving for retirement isn’t easy, but share the challenges with your mate.

4. Ultimate Control

Does someone in your relationship have complete control of every single penny? Do they take steps to try and control you with money?

This may not be fun, but we would encourage you to walk through the conflict or discomfort to add yourself to the money equation. Tell your spouse you are grateful for their stewardship, but you know you can get further by working together on your finances. Start to take some healthy steps to co-manage your funds. If you need a neutral party to help you make this transition, seek out a trusted friend, financial advisor, pastor or counselor to assist.

Also, if you screwed up in the past with your family’s money that mistake does not forgo your right to be a part of money decisions in the future. Apologize for your past errors, educate yourself, and prepare to jump back in to help.

We recommend regular money meetings for a husband and wife. This way you have a specific time set aside so you don’t have to gripe about money every day and it gets both parties involved in the money management.

Ask yourself, “Am I using money to control my spouse?

Work together to share the challenges and victories of managing your hard-earned money.

5. Money Secrets

Money secrets can destroy your relationship. They can ruin your trust in your partner far beyond dollars and cents.

In fact, we met with a couple that had been married 20 years. One night, the husband brought up his desire to start a franchise, but told his wife, “I know we don’t have that kind of money.” His wife told him to wait a minute.

She went into their bedroom to her underwear drawer and came back with a paper sack full of twenty-dollar bills. She poured it out and there was almost $10,000 in her sack.

She told him that in Italy it was common practice for women to get extra money after buying groceries and stuff that money in their bra for later. So she called this stash her “bra money”.

At first he was thrilled at this sudden windfall of money, but then he told us that he felt duped by his own wife. And that was painful. She had been secretive about their money and hadn’t seen the value of involving him in her little scheme.

So even if you think you’re doing a “good” thing by setting aside money in your bra drawer or coffee tin in the garage, if you’re not sharing that information with your spouse you are committing financial infidelity that could ultimately damage your relationship.

Ask yourself, “Is my fear about not having enough causing me to hide money from my spouse?” Or on the other hand, some individuals may need to ask, “Am I lying about how much money I am spending? Am I keeping money secrets?”

It’s easy to be a less-than-honest with your spouse about money. In fact, I (Bethany) recently confessed my financial infidelity to Scott on our Love & Money Facebook Live taping. That’s how it’s supposed to go, right? (Watch it or read about it.)

You’re in this thing together. Beware of the not-so-harmless problems that cause financial infidelity. Trust your spouse with honesty about your dollars and cents. More money can be made, but trust is costly to rebuild.

The financial infidelity bottom line:
  • Avoid it. (It could be costly if you don’t.)
  • If you’ve done it, confess it. (We all make mistakes.)
  • Lied to? Forgive your spouse. (We all make mistakes. 🙂 )
  • Move forward together.

It is easy to feel backed into a corner, but you aren’t. You can do this. Your spouse can help. Choose honesty for a healthier, wealthier relationship.

Make it happen!

Scott & Bethany Palmer

We would love to hear your comments on this subject or ways you’ve found to help your relationship avoid these pitfalls.

Other resources:

video – Help! My Spouse Won’t Stop Lying About Money

blog – The Type of Cheating (No One Is Talking About) That Can Kill Your Marriage

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