Financial Infidelity Can Be as Harmful as an Affair
It’s all too easy to think of infidelity in a very narrow light, particularly since sexual infidelity is the most salacious kind of infidelity, as well as the easiest to recognize. But a relationship, and particularly a marriage, is about much more than simply agreeing not to have sex with anyone else.
Relationships are about commitment and trust in a variety of forms, which means there are also numerous ways to betray your partner, some of which may be even more threatening to the relationship than an affair based solely on sex. Studies have found that women in particular are more distressed by emotional infidelity, and recent data also suggests that various behaviors that have come to be called financial infidelity can also put a marriage on the rocks.
One thing to keep in mind about financial infidelity is that it is typically a feature only of marriages. Couples who are simply dating, even if they have been dating for a long time, are not obligated to share their financial information with each other. They may have a general idea about how much their partners earn and an observational knowledge of their spending habits, but that is often the extent of their sharing.
However, things are different for married couples (and often for committed life partners who choose not to or cannot get married). Even if such couples choose to maintain separate bank accounts, their financial lives still become enmeshed in a number of ways. They still build a lifestyle around their combined assets, they may apply jointly for loans and they become the automatic beneficiaries in the event of a partner’s death.
All of which means that irresponsible financial behavior on the part of one married partner inevitably affects the other. Secretive financial behavior is often even worse because it leaves the other partner totally unprepared to deal with the reality of his or her joint financial situation.
Money Matters a Huge Source of Conflict
Secret credit cards and secret bank accounts are the two most common forms of financial infidelity. Spouses with separate bank accounts may also simply hide receipts or even hide major purchases in order to conceal their extravagant spending. Other financially deceptive behavior might include disguising how much money you make to explain why you have so little discretionary income, or lying about how much you put into savings.
Granted, none of these behaviors sound like great ways to conduct a marriage or life-partnership. But some people may still question whether this kind of secretiveness and even deceitfulness really equals infidelity. It seems less essential to a relationship than an emotional or sexual connection. However, consider the fact that money remains the No. 1 thing that married couples fight about, as well as the leading cause of divorce in the United States (that’s right, ahead of sexual or emotional infidelity). Perhaps a better question is how a betrayal involving anything so important to the success of a marriage could not be considered infidelity.
Maintaining Independence While Avoiding Financial Infidelity
Of course, not all undisclosed purchases, secret credit cards or secret bank accounts conceal a serious spending problem that could lead to shared financial problems. Some people are frustrated by the financial adjustment that comes with marriage, when their hard-earned money becomes shared property.
However, the secrecy often indicates that the partner committing financial infidelity feels ashamed of his or her spending or thinks his or her partner would not approve. One possible solution is for partners to agree that each is free to spend extra income as they please, as long as financial obligations are shared fairly and as long as both partners are able to review savings account balances, credit card balances and credit scores.