Financial Infidelity: The Downfall Of Too Many Marriages

financial infidelity

Chet was a nice guy — hard worker, hard player. He married "always sunny" Tallia. They were a great pair. Tallia was everything Chet thought a wife would be: adoring, pretty, helpful and chatty. Maybe chatty isn't the best word, he thought, but my buddies were right — women love to talk.

Most days he was happy to let her have the last word (and all the others in-between), but when it came to handling their money, he felt it was his job, and she didn't need to be bothered.

Chet liked fiddling with his '67 Mustang named Max. He was good with his hands, enjoyed the solace of the garage and saw potential profits from his labor. Perhaps he'd even buy Tallia her dream house with the profits from the eventual sale of the car.

Money was tight, so he didn't tell her about all of the expenses associated with the car. He convinced himself he was completely comfortable with the years it was taking to fix up and sell Max, the setbacks he'd encountered and the growing pile of bills. He thought a credit card would be a good way to "float" the expenses until the car sold. He didn't worry Tallia with the news.

Then, Chet was away one weekend when his super-charged credit card bill arrived. When he returned home, he had a $21,000 fight on his hands and the sudden need for new luggage. Tallia figured, If he was lying about something this huge, what else is he lying about?

Chet's "I got this" attitude led him to be dishonest with his spouse about money. It started with small amounts and even good intentions. But, he forgot his companion was riding shotgun, and that dishonesty is a form of "financial infidelity" — the act of lying about, hiding or secretly hoarding money in a relationship.

Most relationships have financial infidelity in varying degrees, whether it's telling your honey you paid forty bucks for your new shoes when you really spent double that, stockpiling cash without their knowledge or opening secret accounts — even with good intentions.

What's at stake is not the money — it's our relationships. Whether it is small sums or massive amounts, financial infidelity is a relationship killer.

More than 70 percent of divorced couples in America cite "money" as the number one cause of their split. Money affects every day of our lives, and how we view money shapes our decisions and how we handle it. Add another person's views on money to the equation and we've got a hot-rod headed for a crash.

Understanding and communication is key but certain situations create an especially fertile environment for financial infidelity.

Steer clear of these five, main triggers for financial infidelity:

1. Separate accounts. 

Many couples think if they keep their money separate they can avoid any tension about money. There may be certain times when separate accounts work for a couple, e.g. business account and personal account, education account or surprise gift account — monies you temporarily use to treat the other without them knowing right away. Frankly, you can have 15 different accounts if you're transparent with each other about every one. But maintaining entirely separate accounts usually leads to entirely separate lives.

2. Overspending and debt.

In March 2013, Bloomberg.com reported, "Disposable income, or the money left over after taxes, dropped 4 percent after adjusting for inflation, the biggest plunge since monthly records began in 1959," yet consumer spending for the same timeframe rose.

We work hard. Sometimes we feel we need a tangible reward for that hard work and we're optimistic we can pay it off later. Then other expenses pop up and our debt grows. That's when the secrets start; we start lying about spending, hiding receipts and borrowing to cover our money mistakes. It's a vicious cycle.

3. Poor planning. 

Kids grow up fast, some small businesses never turn the corner and somehow retirement age gets closer every year! The desperation of little-to-no retirement or college funds or even a rainy day fund leads people in relationships to point fingers and take drastic measures, often in isolation. Avoid the blame game and the temptation to fix it on your own. Work together or your lack of funds won't be the only hurdle you face in retirement. 

4. One-sided control

If there is one person in your relationship who controls all of the money, we can pretty much guarantee financial infidelity in the relationship. It indicates a lack of trust, respect and partnership. Both people spend money and need money to make the household run; both need to be involved in controlling the funds. Mr. Mustang himself, Henry Ford said, "Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success."

5. Keeping secrets, large or small. 

Money secrets destroy relationships. Much like sexual infidelity starts out with small flirtations and grows into a poisonous affair, financial infidelity may start small or unintentionally.

The good news is financial infidelity can be overcome and stopped dead in its tracks. The debt may be there, bad habits may need to be dealt with but a known evil is an easier dragon to slay together than a toxic secret lurking in the dark.

Approach your new relationships, and old, with the desire to work together and discuss your money openly. Your relationships will profit.

The Money Couple helps others achieve financial freedom while putting family first. They offer services and resources to bring couples closer together, not only in their marriages, but in their finances as well.