Understanding Financial Infidelity

Nothing says dream smasher like Financial Infidelity. You have a dream of adopting a baby or trying to conceive through fertility and you realize that you need a substantial amount of money. Then you discover that your spouse has racked up $15,000 on a credit card that you weren’t aware they had. It’s like the world just came crashing down on you and you wonder if it will ever be possible to be a mother or father that you had dreamed about for so long. You experience anger, resentment, hatred, guilt, frustration, and a sense of being trapped. I know you can strengthen your marriage and overcome the emotional aspect of Financial Infidelity. I also know you can reach your goal of finding the money to pay off the credit card debt and the money you need for adoption and fertility.

First you need to recognize the signs of Financial Infidelity.  In my 17 years in the financial industry, I’ve met many men and women that have chosen to be blind to the finances in their relationship. Having an ostrich syndrome can lead to financial infidelity occurring in your relationship. To avoid the ostrich syndrome; look for these signs of Financial Infidelity:

  1. Receipts for items you didn’t know about
  2. Statements not coming to the house
  3. Won’t talk about money together
  4. No full disclosure on income, assets, or debt
  5. Cut off from joint credit card
  6. Intercepting bills and statements so you don’t see them
  7. Cash goes missing
  8. Statements in mail you aren’t familiar with
  9. Passwords being changed
  10. Packages arriving in the mail

As you look at your spouse, the destroyer of your dreams; you need to realize that they didn’t do this to hurt you. Seek to understand why they did what they did. I know the “Why” creates heartache; not just for the offender, but also for the victim. Understanding why we do certain behaviors can help us change that behavior.

One of the exercises I do with couples that first seek financial counseling is to have them list 10 memories they have about money from their childhood. It’s amazing how your childhood greatly affects how we deal with money as adults. Just with someone that hoards food or drinks in excess, something has triggered them to do that behavior. So it is with money. We do certain behaviors because of a moment that changed our life.

Perhaps your father cheated on your mother and left her destitute. Is this why you have a secret account with money in it? I met with a woman that had $10,000 in a savings account because of this exact reason. Her mother taught her to protect yourself, “so you have options”, she told her. She had a good marriage and had no reason to hide this money from her spouse. It was the secret and the reason behind the money that disturbed her husband when he found out.

Perhaps you grew up without very much money and you vowed that your children would never want for anything? Is this why you have a credit card balance? Wanting to provide for your children is a good thing, but hiding how much you spend on them is destructive. Open up a personal spending account for your children. Decide together as a partnership how much money you plan on spending on your children each month. Then automatically send money to that account. Some months you will spend less and others more, but the money was set aside to spend on your kids. No more guilt about buying that super cute dress for your daughter. All you need to do is look at the balance in the account to know if you have the money to spend on that darling pink, sparkle dress. The key is deciding together how much you can afford to spend on your kids.

Perhaps you feel like you are the man of the house and you should provide for your family. You are embarrassed that your income doesn’t cover the basics and you get secret credit cards to cover the differences. Such as the case with my clients that were married 40 years. He felt that he was protecting his wife by not telling her about their dire circumstances. He was not open and honest with her. Having the credit card debt wasn’t really why she was upset. It was the fact that he betrayed her by not sharing with her and being equal partners. It was the destruction of her dreams that was so devastating to her.  He secretly opened up P.O. boxes to hide the credit card debt. Being married means being partners, living life together, discussing the challenges, and the successes. The going behind her back was why she felt he had cheated on her.

Another reason why our partner may hide money is addiction. Addictions are very powerful. We do things without realizing that we are doing them. We are on autopilot; which can happen when we swipe our credit card or press the button to purchase the item on line.  Conscious decision requires cutting up credit cards and going on a cash basis for the addict. They will also need accountability. Because addictions are so powerful, if you or your spouse struggle with them; please seek professional help from a counselor to overcome the reason behind that addiction.

Revenge Spending is one of the saddest why’s to me. You feel hurt that your spouse got something for $500, so you feel entitled to get something for $500. Perhaps you got in a fight and you want to hurt the other person, you go and spend money to make yourself feel better and to show your spouse/partner that you are mad at them. No one is a winner in any of these scenarios. I counseled a couple where he would spend money on golfing, so she would spend equal money on shopping.

Each couple should have their own personal spending, but it needs to be defined before you spend the money. Personal spending should be a part of your monthly spending plan. The solution that we came up with together was defining how much each person needed to spend to feel fulfilled, but within the confines of their spending plan. He had his golfing money and she had her money to spend how she wanted, but it was within what they could afford; a conscious decision made before the purchase.

Now that you know how to recognize financial infidelity and why someone would commit it; how do you repair your relationship?

A weekly 30 min touch base will help you be accountable to each other. It can be hard to not be accusatory or judgmental, but resolve to check that at the door during these weekly sessions. Remember that you are a in a relationship of equals, not a parent/child relationship.

Content communication is vital during this 30 min touch base.

  1. Talk about your dreams
  2. State your expectations
  3. Explain your needs
  4. Define enough
  5. Set mutual financial goals

Your dreams are what fuel your passion. They can be as simple as having an emergency fund or as big as opening your own business. Since I work with couples preparing them for adoption and fertility; it may be the dream of becoming parents or welcoming another child into your home. Imagine what that dream would look like. Tell your partner your dream. Don’t judge each other. Don’t correct. Just listen.

Stating your expectations will help you not feel guilty or angry towards your spouse. Remember that your spouse/partner can’t read your mind. If you want the trash taken out and you didn’t tell them that you want them to take it out, you can’t be angry with them because it wasn’t taken out when you expected it to be taken out. It’s important to say what you mean and mean what you say. For instance, if you want to go to the movies and your spouse asks you if you want to go bowling and you say, “yes” with a negative attitude; you said yes. You didn’t clearly state your expectations; therefore, you went bowling.

Explaining your needs requires you to understand your Money Personality. I am a Saver and my husband is a Spender. I have a need to feel secure. He understands that need because I have explained to him why I feel insecure when we don’t have a certain amount of money in our savings accounts. Discover the why behind your Money Personality. The exercise where you write down your 10 first memories about money may trigger why you have a specific need. Being open with your partner may be uncomfortable at first, but it will draw you closer together.

I recently sat down with a couple and talked to them about defining enough. Later she confided in me, “Laura, this exercise really helped us out a ton. The lines of communication were opened for the first time.” If you are a spender and you haven’t defined enough, you will always feel you need to spend more to feel fulfilled. Defining beforehand how much you need to have your needs met will give you back your intentional living. For the Saver, defining enough gives you a number to work towards. If you don’t put a number on it, no amount of money saved will ever be enough. When you are in a relationship of opposites, this exercise is crucial. The Spender will always want to spend the money in the checking account and the Saver will always be protecting it fiercely. Defining enough will bring peace.

Your relationship can grow stronger after financial infidelity occurs. Opening the lines of communication is key to success. Having mutual financial goals will draw you closer together. What is it that you both want to accomplish? It’s not about what you want. You’ve already discussed that with your needs and expectations. What is it that you both want to do? Dream together and make it fun. Do you want to buy a house together? Draw out the plans together; imagine what it would be like to sit under your porch together holding hands or what your kitchen will look like as you are making dinner together. Make that dream a reality by putting a date and a dollar sign to that goal.

Earlier I mentioned the relationship of equals. When financial infidelity occurs, you have the instinct to be a parent/child or a boss/employee relationship. This doesn’t work in a marriage. You must work towards a relationship of equals. This means you don’t ask permission as you would in the parent/child relationship. I’m saying that you should say the following: I would appreciate it if or it would mean a lot to me if.

For example, “Honey, I’d appreciate it if you let me know when you buy something online because I want to make sure to pay the Visa bill when it comes due. Surprises are difficult for me to handle. I need to realize that what you bought was necessary or planned, so I’d appreciate it if you let me know that it’s coming. Whenever I see a package come from Amazon, something inside of me says, “Aah, do we have the money to pay this off?” Knowing before it arrives will help me prepare and know that this purchase was planned and I know where the money is coming to pay it.

Another example, “Love, It would mean a lot to me if you didn’t buy the kids candy when you go to the store with them. Whenever I see them have candy these thoughts run through my head; they are rotting their teeth out, they need to learn to accept no, that is just wasted money, and oh my word they are going to go crazy running around. I know I’m probably overreacting, but those are my thoughts. It would just mean a lot to me if you only bought them candy on special occasions or as a reward instead of everyday.

Having a relationship of equals will allow you to communicate more effectively about money and overcome the marital difficulties that you have experienced. Financial infidelity is more than having separate accounts. It is the betrayal of secrets in a relationship that should be open and honest. If you follow the steps to content communication and remember to be a relationship of equals; you can repair the damage that has happened and have once again a happy marriage.

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