Infidelity. It can feel like a dagger through the heart of a marriage. The hurt. The loss of trust. The feelings of being cheated upon and used. Could it be happening to you right now and you are unaware of it?
According to a recent online poll, 1 in 20 Americans admit to having a checking, savings or credit card account that their spouse or significant other doesn’t know about. (source: CreditCards.com) That means that over 13 million people are cheating on their mates.
How financial infidelity starts
Just like more traditional cheating, most financial infidelities start small. Instead of flirting with the opposite sex at work, the cheater will stop at Starbucks on the way into work every day and not mention it to their spouse. It doesn’t seem like much, but before a year has gone by they’ve spent over $1,200 that their mate doesn’t know about.
Or it might be the occasional online purchase that wasn’t part of your spending plan. They don’t want you to know about it so they use a secret credit card. It may take years, but sooner or later the unpaid balance becomes significant.
The transgressions typically get worse as time goes on. It’s not uncommon for the cheated spouse to find out that their mate has an entire financial life that they knew nothing about.
How to spot financial infidelity
How can you tell if your spouse is being financially unfaithful? Surprisingly, it’s not that hard to spot. Even if you’re wearing “I’m in love” tinted glasses.
Unexpected or unexplained packages, bills or statements are a giveaway. In a good marriage, partners know about each other’s financial decisions. They don’t keep secrets or important information from each other.
Does your spouse keep you away from some or all financial statements? It’s hard to know if anything is wrong if you never see any statements. While it’s fine for one person to take the lead in financial affairs, they should spend some time each month explaining what’s going on in the couple’s financial lives.
If your mate’s explanations don’t seem to make sense it’s time to ask questions. Answers about how money disappeared or where they found money to buy things that weren’t budgeted should be easily understood. If they sound like they’re trying to hide the truth, that’s probably exactly what they’re doing.
How to avoid financial infidelity
The best way to avoid financial infidelity is for both partners to be involved in the financial affairs. You might not need a budget to keep from overspending, but it is a wonderful way for both partners to share financial information.
Smart couples start the conversation before they get married. That way any differences in how they handle money can be resolved before they cause trouble. It’s common for both people to have deeply held beliefs about money. Those beliefs can clash or even cause one person to go underground with their finances to avoid confrontation.
Give each other some space to make choices without consultation. Many couples find that it helps if each person has a small amount each month to do with as they wish. Money that they can use for a small frequent treat or save up for a big-ticket item. The agreement is that each of them can use the money for anything they want without judgment from their mate.
Have a solid financial plan. Financial troubles are typically the #1 or #2 cited reason for divorce. It’s easier to be truthful when there’s some financial room for mistakes.
How to fix financial infidelity
If your mate has been financially unfaithful it doesn’t mean that your marriage has to end. But, like any unfaithfulness, it will take time, counseling and a change in behavior to survive.
1. Begin by having a serious discussion about money. You may want to have a third person there to help keep things calm. Focus on seeing where your deepest beliefs about money are different and what you can do to accommodate those differences.
2. Make sure you understand why the financial infidelity occurred. Whatever the source was you need to address it to prevent a reoccurrence.
3. Commit to regular, frequent open book financial sessions. Review your brokerage, retirement account, savings account, and any credit card account statements together. Discuss any unusual items.
4. Simplify your finances. Especially closing unneeded credit card accounts.
5. Do everything you can as a couple to rebuild honesty and trust as a couple in your financial affairs.
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com site and Surviving Tough Times newsletter in 1996. The site features thousands of articles helping people ‘Live Better…for Less’.