If you have never heard the term “financial infidelity,” it doesn’t mean you don’t know what it is. In fact, according to a recent creditcards.com survey, 32 percent of respondents have financially cheated on their partners. Both finances and cheating can be complex subjects to discuss, even with and, sometimes especially with, those closest to you. Not surprisingly, this topic is pertinent to physicians and dentists because they tend to have more money available.
In hopes that if there are any seeds of financial secrecy in your relationship, you can identify them, you can admit it, and you can begin to weed that garden of your relationship before it gets out of hand. And if you see financial infidelity or the signs of it in a close friend or family member, perhaps you’ll be better equipped to help them make decisions to strengthen their relationship instead of destroying it.
Financial infidelity occurs when couples with joint finances lie to the other about money. Essentially, it is when one spouse makes significant decisions about money in secrecy. As a result, it can have dire consequences on a marriage. Almost half of the people surveyed agree that financial infidelity can be as painful and damaging to a relationship as physical cheating.
Based on that same creditcards.com poll referenced above, far more Gen Zers (61 percent) and millennials (48 percent) with significant others have kept financial secrets from their partners versus Gen Xers (28 percent) and baby boomers (19 percent).
A few reasons that the younger generations are more likely to commit financial infidelity include:
- Gen Zers and millennials may be more reluctant to share their financial information because they are in the earlier stages of a relationship
- Gen Zers and millennials generally tend to marry later in life
- Gen Zers and millennials have a greater likelihood of being a two-income household
In a relationship where there is the presumption of combined finances, financial infidelity shows up in many different ways. But one of the key questions is what causes this? Why do people financially keep secrets or financially cheat on one another?
And while it’s easy to say, clearly they have a money problem – the problem isn’t money. Like all forms of cheating, the problem is fundamentally a lack of trust. And in that relationship, the ability to talk about money isn’t present. So, either there is a desire or demand to control money in the way you want to without compromising with your significant other. Or sometimes there’s just considerable embarrassment over how you make money decisions, and so you keep it a secret.
Now, often when we talk about financial infidelity, people assume that means someone is spending money and buying things in an out-of-hand way. And it’s true, spending can be a form of financial secrecy, but so can savings.
For example, some people in their relationships find themselves choosing to spend money without the consent, discussion, or involvement of their significant other. And this will often show up in many different ways, including secret savings, hiding existing debts, excessive expenditures without first talking it through with your partner, and lying about the use of money. For business owners like dentists, financial infidelity can show up in running personal expenses through the business account without discussing with their partner first.
The savings aspect of financial infidelity may stem from one party having a desire and commitment to saving or investing more money than their spouse or partner may want to. Sometimes what you see is not statements from credit card companies but statements from different investment programs or clubs. Or it could be statements from hedge funds, cryptocurrency, or private equity funds that haven’t been discussed or understood together.
Sometimes financial infidelity through savings can show up through forgotten or missed bonuses. What is meant by that is there has historically been a pattern of bonuses, true-ups, or extra funds that the couple used for agreed-upon expenses, and now there is no discussion about those, or they seem never to arrive. Is it because they don’t?
Some telltale signs to look for if you suspect your partner of financial infidelity include: new credit card statements; change of status on a joint account or credit card; new passwords for online accounts; unwillingness to discuss financial matters; unilateral financial decision making; and being paranoid about checking the mail.
In any case, the root cause is secrecy born out of a lack of trust and desire to work together, and it can be incredibly damaging. So, what to do if this is present in your relationship? You probably already know. In most cases, the remedy is similar to the treatment for any type of deception or infidelity, and that is honesty.
It is critical to have a conversation about what happened and why it’s been going on. In addition, you will need to offer some level of apology for your complicity in making these decisions. Sometimes, the apology and the light of day can help bring a fresh outlook to your relationship. But usually, some level of breached trust needs to be repaired, and this can be attempted through forming agreements together.
For example, some couples will agree that neither will spend money above a certain level going forward. Or in the case of the savings secrecy, there will be no accounts opened in the household that are not in joint name to ensure that both parties are involved in what’s happening in an attempt to rebuild the trust. Sometimes you’ll need a neutral third party; a friend, a colleague, or a financial advisor can participate in neutralizing or diffusing the energy and the hurt that’s existed while you work to form new methods of making decisions. Indeed, counseling or therapy can often be beneficial to work through the issues you have as a couple and through your own relationship with money and its importance in your life. In addition, creating a monthly budget, being transparent about expenses, reassessing your goals together, and having regular financial check-ins can help.
While a complicated topic, it is one to acknowledge and face honestly. Financial infidelity can be highly destructive in relationships. Still, hopefully, now that you’re thinking about it, you can help avoid this topic in your relationship and move on to brighter times working together towards your shared goals ahead.
Shane Tenny is managing partner, Spaugh Dameron Tenny, LLC, and host of The Prosperous Doc podcast. He is a registered representative of and offers securities, investment advisory, and financial planning services through MML Investors Services, LLC. Member SIPC (www.sipc.org). 4350 Congress St., Suite 300, Charlotte, NC 28209. Spaugh Dameron Tenny is not a subsidiary or affiliate of MML Investors Services, LLC, or its affiliated companies. CRN202201-258887.
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