Fiscal infidelity may not be the worst form of betrayal to afflict a relationship, but its ability to destroy trust and wreak enduring harm at the core of any marriage should not be underestimated. Whilst it’s an accepted axiom that money problems can cause deep-seated marital problems, the harbouring of financial secrets can spell the death of any marriage teetering on the edge of even minor instability. Not quite as severe as physical infidelity, the reality is that financial infidelity can be wrought with all the same emotions as the former infraction – betrayal, guilt, shame, bitterness, resentment and anger. Although somewhat lower on the rungs of marital misdemeanours, the root of this form of infidelity emanates from the same place – miscommunication, lack of trust and a complete inability to understand each other.
With financial woes being blamed for the breakdown of most marriages, it should come as no surprise that 71% of recent survey participants admitted to keeping money secrets from their partners. Although merely an inanimate object, money has a de facto emotional connection between the various facets of our lives. Money links our hopes and goals to our achievements and successes, and is the accepted enabler of many of our dreams. From little white lies to deep dark financial secrets, financial infidelity can place the entire family’s welfare at risk, especially where one partner has blind faith in the other when it comes to managing the family’s money.
Frighteningly, over one third of married couples claim that there is one ‘financial controller’ in the relationship, with the other spouse (willingly or unwillingly) abdicating all financial powers to their partner. Only 11% of couples practice a true ‘division of labour’ approach where both take equal responsibility for the financial management of the family’s fiscal matters regardless of each partner’s income levels. And although the majority of adults surveyed did not consider financial infidelity as grounds for divorce, they did agree that it is a major violation of marital trust.
Financial infidelities range from minor acts of omission, such as hiding credit card statements or low-blowing the cost of purchases, to acts of commission involving the operation of secret bank accounts or surreptitiously changing the contents of one’s Will. Whilst many couples surveyed indicated that most financial infidelity could be resolved, 62% considered the secret bank account (sometimes referred to as ‘the runaway fund’) as the most serious financial violation, originating from the heart of distrust and impermanence.
Perhaps most devastating of fiscal fibs when it comes to the family’s future welfare is the concealment of debt. 38% of people claim to be in the dark regarding the levels of their partner’s debt, and a staggering 25% of survey participants claimed they wouldn’t tell their partners if they were to encounter financial difficulties. Add to this that 21% of people claim they’re not completely honest about their spending habits, whilst 7% have admitted to hiding bonuses from their spouses. Marriage counsellors the world over will attest to the fact that there’s nothing blissful about financial ignorance and, without stating the obvious, open and transparent discussion about one’s financial affairs is as essential as a double-bed when it comes to marriage. As someone once said, “If you’re going to have secrets, join the CIA. Don’t get married.”
Having made huge progress from the days marital power where keeping separate bank accounts was akin to keeping separate bedrooms, there are still those who raise eyebrows at partners who operate separate banks accounts. Whatever your stance on joint or separate bank accounts, the experts are unequivocally clear – as long as one is transparent about one’s money and accepts joint responsibility for the family’s finances, the chances of money being the cause of familial failure are greatly lessened.
Financial woes typically develop where two people lead separate financial lives. Seemingly harmless little white lies soon transcend the definition of ‘minor fiscal fib’ and morph into full-blown financial falsehoods that become a major source of conflict, causing couples to stake out their territory and refuse to meet on any middle ground. Whatever the reason for the financial infidelity and fibs, the words of Sara Gruen resonate with relevance: “With a secret like that, at some point the secret itself becomes irrelevant. The fact that you kept it does not.”
Whether the financial infidelity is a cry for help by an overly controlled house-wife, a form of passive-aggressive rebellion against a miserly mate or the last resort of a partner desperate for some autonomy, the end result is inevitably a breakdown of trust that resonates at the very core of the relationship, giving fresh meaning to the words of Cassandra Clare in the Clockwork Prince – “Lies and secrets, they are like a cancer in the soul. They eat away what is good and leave only destruction behind.”
As with any aspect of marriage, the financial component of one’s relationship needs to be a transparent ledger available for inspection by one’s partner. As co-managers of the family’s financial affairs and joint custodians of the marital estate, full disclosure of one’s financial affairs allows for joint decision-making, co-responsibility and mutual respect – the essence of any formidable partnership. Earning potential and income levels aside, lasting victory on the path to a family’s financial future begins with less regard for each other’s net worth and simple recognition of each other’s self worth.
Have a blessed day!