Do you keep secrets from your partner about your money behavior? If so, you may be guilty of financial infidelity.
You may have never even considered such a term, or you may find the very thought offensive. For most of us, the word “infidelity,” used in the context of a marriage or other significant relationship, means sexual infidelity. Yet many people who wouldn’t dream of betraying their partners by having an illicit affair may be committing financial infidelity.
This issue is a common one in the financial coaching and counseling my partners and I do through the Klontz Kahler Institute. We have found that being financially unfaithful to a partner has the potential to be just as damaging to the relationship as being sexually unfaithful.
The following behaviors may constitute examples of financial infidelity:
1. Spending a significant amount from joint funds without first discussing the purchase with your partner. The fact that the lawn tractor is “for both of you” or the suit was on sale and “too good a bargain to pass up” doesn’t justify making a unilateral decision.
2. Maintaining a secret stash of cash. This might involve literally hiding cash or keeping a separate checking account, savings account, or investment that you hide from your partner.
3. Lying to your partner about the cost of things you purchase. Whether this qualifies as financial infidelity has nothing to do with the amounts involved. Saying the new shoes you bought were on sale when you paid full price for them is just as much a betrayal as lying about the price of a vacation home or a boat. The betrayal is in the dishonesty, not the dollar amount.
4. Hiding income or assets from your partner. This might include lying about how much you earn, hiding bonuses, being dishonest about your net worth, or accepting secret gifts from parents or other relatives.
5. Overspending and hiding the things you buy from your partner. An all too common example of this is a wife who buys clothes, takes the tags off, and hides the clothes in the closet for a time so she can say later, “No, this isn’t new.”
6. Spending money on or giving money to children or other relatives without telling your partner. Allowing kids to manipulate you or play one parent against the other is a common aspect of this behavior. Not only is it damaging to the relationship, but it also teaches the children inappropriate or destructive financial habits.
7. Going to parents or other family members for emergency loans or gifts without discussing the need with your spouse. Going “over the head” of your partner in this way is disrespectful and damaging to the relationship. It implies that your partner isn’t good enough to support the family or that you and your partner aren’t capable of solving your own financial problems.
8. Risking joint resources for investments or business purposes without your spouse’s knowledge or agreement. An example of this might be taking out a second mortgage on your house in order to buy equipment for your business.
Not all money secrets add up to financial infidelity. Partners shouldn’t need to account to each other for every penny they spend. And saving on the sly for your spouse’s birthday gift is a lot different from lying about the cost of that new computer gadget you just had to have. Secrets cross the line into infidelity when they are for the purpose of protecting yourself from the consequences of your financial behavior.
In next week’s column, we’ll take a look at some of the mistakes partners make and some of the habits in a relationship that can foster financial infidelity.