When your spouse is less than honest about money in your relationship, your money is not in danger, your marriage is. Unfortunately, most marriages have some form of less-than-honest money behavior, which we call money infidelity.
Money infidelity is when a spouse lies about money, hides it, secretly hoards money, completely controls it, or any money-related behavior where one spouse is less than honest with the other. Just like sexual infidelity, money infidelity can be terribly destructive, so it is crucial to understand why people lie about money, and how you can keep it from guaranteeing divorce in your marriage.
There are five main reasons couples commit money infidelity.
1. Financial Separation
If your spouse honestly believes the old idiom, "What one doesn't know won't hurt one", you may be on a slippery slope towards money infidelity. Separate accounts are not inherently wrong, but when couples keep separate accounts for the sake of secrecy or perceived security there is a problem. If you have a separate credit card because you don't want your spouse to know about your extra spending, say hello to money infidelity. If you have a separate, secret checking account because you don't trust your spouse with your money, you're committing money infidelity.
We are not saying it is wrong to have separate accounts. There are often good reasons, although, the practice generally breeds mistrust. Couples can have 5 checking accounts, 15 credit cards, and 6 savings accounts if they want. The amount of accounts doesn't matter, but the total, 100% transparency about those accounts does.
2. Overspending and Debt
Many couples struggle with overspending and debt. People work hard and want to enjoy the fruits of their labors. And they should, but many enjoy beyond what their paycheck can support. The Federal Reserve just announced that consumer debt increased more in the third quarter of 2013 than it has in five years. Debt can tear a relationship apart. And the stress of escalating debt leaves couples open to money infidelity.
The couple agrees to cut back, but one spouse can't resist the latest technology or those super cute shoes. The other thinks if they would just risk a little more, invest more aggressively, they would be sure to make their money back, plus some extra to cover the debt. That's when the secrets start. They start lying about their spending or investing, hiding receipts, and borrowing money to cover mistakes.
3. Lack of Planning
Your economics teacher (or most likely your mother) was right. You can't make up for lost time when it comes to investing. Most of us know that, but don't really feel the sting of the Compounding Interest Principle until we're faced with large expenses like retirement, paying for college, unexpected medical bills, or a down payment on a house.
When couples fail to plan for their financial future they get angry and desperate so the "blame game" and sneaky behavior begins.
Kyle and Emily are knee-deep in that game. The college brochures are arriving daily for their daughter. It seems like a million years ago when Emily first mentioned to Kyle her desire to set aside money for Tallia's college. Emily didn't realize Kyle thought it was silly to start a college fund for someone in diapers when they could use the money now to build a better life for all three of them. He figured she'd need loans no matter how much they saved, so they might as well enjoy the money now. He never started the fund.
Emily had no idea. To avoid arguing about it, she dropped the subject many years ago and hoped he'd eventually take the lead and some action. She found out last week, he never did. Well, today Emily is the one taking action. Kyle is unaware, but Emily is meeting with their bank to take out a personal loan to cover the anticipated college debt. She had to pay for her own education and certification, but not her daughter!
Emily is so mad at Kyle for not taking the situation seriously, so she thinks maybe he'd be more serious in a smaller car. Emily is taking this matter, and the automotive classified ads, into her own hands. Kyle and Emily's lack of planning has led them into a state of desperation and money infidelity.
4. Total Control
When one person in a marriage controls all the money—no questions asked, money infidelity is not far off. A marriage is a partnership where two brains are better than one, and a place where trust is essential. Especially when your money is involved.
Say "the controller" sets an unrealistic grocery budget, some spouses won't ask to change the low amount they’ll simply "fix" the problem by opening up a credit card at the store to "catch the extras". They suspect the controller has no idea how much groceries cost now that the boys are older and have hollow legs, and will have no idea about the additional card. The new card even accumulates points for fuel savings so they rationalize the secret plastic.
Both parties are at fault. The controller doesn't believe the other can be trusted to be honest and responsible about their spending so they disregard them completely and assume total control, while the other avoids the controls by being dishonest. They may be racking up fuel points, but no one is accumulating any positive relationship points.
5. Money Secrets
Money secrets start small. But like a three-ounce baby panda that is soon 300 pounds, secrets grow extraordinarily.
Money secrets aren't always about private credit cards and overspending. In fact, a friend of ours admitted to writing grocery checks for $10 over the amount due every time she went shopping and stashing the cash in a bag in the closet. Over years and years of marriage she ended up saving almost $12,000! But when she finally confessed her secret stash to her husband, he didn't know whether to be thrilled or ticked.
Ultimately he was happy they had "new found savings". But he was terribly bothered she never shared this fact with him for all those years. He hadn't been skimming money off the top for a rainy day fund. Why did she feel the need? Was she making plans to leave him? Did she think he wouldn't provide? Not at all, but secrets make people jump to interesting conclusions.
When you are less than honest about your money, your spouse loses trust in you. When you lose trust in your relationship, your marriage is in trouble. Understanding the triggers of dishonest money management is a great start. Talk with your spouse about your money; trust each other with your finances and your future. Guarantee yourselves and your family a divorce-free marriage.
To see what money infidelity exists in your marriage, take our confidential, free online assessment. And for easy-to-follow tips on exactly how to have those talks and avoid divorce, check out our book The 5 Money Personalities: Speaking the Same Love and Money Language.
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