Financial Infidelity

As we are making plans to celebrate out 10th wedding anniversary in the not too distant future, I thought I’d share something that has been on my mind that relates to relationships and money.

At work, we are getting close to the time that annual raises are announced. A co-worker confided with me that whenever this happens, he changes his direct deposit to have the extra funds go to a separate account that his wife doesn’t know anything about and doesn’t tell her anything about the raise. He thought this was a clever way to be able to have some extra spending money for “guy things”. I’m afraid I wasn’t as excited as he was about his plan and rained on his parade when I pointed out that the proper term for this behavior is ‘Financial Infidelity’.

What is Financial Infidelity? Financial Infidelity is the purposeful act of hiding money or spending from a spouse/significant other. I’m not referring here to things like buying gifts to surprise them in the near future, but making financial transactions and attempting to conceal them from a spouse. It could be that one spouse has a bank account or other assets that the other spouse doesn’t know about, or perhaps one spouse opens a credit card account to run up charges without the other knowing.

Something that falls into the same category is something a friend calls spousal money laundering. This is the act of using cash to conceal transactions from a spouse who diligently tracks all debit/credit card purchases and then finding creative ways to get more cash (for example, offering to pick things up from the store for friends and get paid back in cash that could then be used for other purchases that may have been scrutinized by the other spouse).

But if I don’t hide money from my spouse, he/she will just spend it all! Not if you’re on the same page financially. I wish there were a magic bullet for how to get to that point, but the best solution I’ve come across to this challenge is still to simply sit down together with your spouse and discuss long term goals you share as a couple. This is not generally something that can happen in one session, and requires true dialogue between the partners with minimal distractions and interruptions. Often the spouse attempting to do the hiding will need to ask the other spouse a lot of questions to try to understand their feelings and resist the urge to dictate what the couple’s goals should be. Both spouses will often find themselves conceding certain points before coming to a set of goals that both can agree upon. Once goals are truly determined, deciding what to do with money should be a much easier decision. If financial decisions are made that are not in line with the jointly set goals, then the process needs to start over again to uncover preferences not revealed in previous discussions.

If you lie to your spouse about money what else would you lie about? The reason that this is such a big deal is not because of the purchases themselves but rather the lack of integrity with the person you are supposed to cherish above all things. I can say from experience that a relationship is strengthened when everything is out in the open and nothing, financial or otherwise, is concealed. Financial infidelity can conceal innocent spending, or more sinister vices such as gambling or pornography. Whatever it is, when someone feels the need to conceal something from their spouse, their own selfishness and lack of trust is revealed. This can be overcome, but may require having some difficult discussions that have been swept under the rug or ignored in the past.

If you find yourself engaging in any of these behaviors, or think you spouse may be doing so, the best thing to do is to talk about it, plain and simple. I don’t pretend to be a relationship expert, but have found that as I have had difficult discussions with my wife, our relationship has been strengthened as we get to know each other better and make ourselves vulnerable to the other. To me, this is one of the great parts of sharing your life with someone. As with many things in a relationship, this all can be simplified to trust and communication. If you can successfully master this, you will be able to achieve great things together.

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