Financial Infidelity – How Sneaky Spending Can Sabotage Relationships
When we hear the word infidelity, we usually think of secret physical or cyber-sex , forming a romantic or emotional bond with a person outside the relationship or any sort of interaction which breaks trust between two exclusive partners. But there’s another sort of infidelity more common that you’d expect and in these financial times, it’s on the rise.
With Australians facing into the 12th interest rate rise since April last year and inflationary pressures causing a spike in the cost of living, many partners are hiding and/or lying about their expenditure to avoid confrontation. This is what is called “financial infidelity” and like a sexual affair, it can prove just as trust destroying and corrosive.
Financial infidelity includes behaviours like:
- Not informing your partner on purchases (meals out or drinks, shoe shopping to large items like cars, expensive watches, and even investment choices made). It is lying by omission.
- Taking funds out of shared accounts (like withdrawing funds at the supermarket checkout) or hiding expenditure
- Misleading or lying about levels of debt or your income
- Lending large sums of money to others without discussion or agreement
- Holding secret bank accounts or credit cards that leave you and your partner financially exposed
The reason people commit financial infidelity is because they are experiencing overwhelming emotions like shame, humiliation, fear, and anxiety over their finances. Sharing the truth feels too exposing and even painful. Often, they have no idea that they’re carrying imprinted childhood experiences about what having and/or spending money means.
Sometimes a partner feels inadequate about their earnings or shame around their financial literacy, so they choose to lie or hide rather than be transparent and openly share. Alternatively, a partner might fear disappointing their partner and the consequences that may include castigation or even abandonment.
I see this in my consulting room with my clients who have misused the common funds or been secretive about purchasing risky investments, gambling, or any sort of significant expenditure that hasn’t been agreed upon. Such financial “cheating” will directly impact how a relationship functions.
What to do:
In my work as a relationship therapist, I suggest couples who are experiencing the effects of financial infidelity:
- Change your approach – come to the table as an adult, not positioning yourself as a naughty child
- Be honest – broken trust needs repairing and without being honest there will be ramifications for the relationship
- Regular financial discussions – understand the landscape together and create goals for the short term and long term to keep you on track
- Get informed –books or podcasts to help budgeting are in the library or on podcasts
If you’re reading this and nodding in recognition, please don’t despair, rather take action. You can regain control and a sense of power by coming clean to your partner and getting on top of your finances together. This typically impacts the relationship positively.
Remember, that as easily as we can commit financial infidelity, we can re-correct and discover financial intimacy.