I could sit here and quote statistics all day long about how money is the #1 reason for divorce. I won’t bore you with that, however we all know just how true that is, don’t we?
Money is serious business sometimes. When one person is challenged by money management, that’s one thing. Add two people into the equation with different approaches to managing money and different upbringings and experiences with money, and you’ve got yourself a witch’s brew bubbling over that’s potentially a ripe environment for keeping secrets.
Financial infidelity can show up in many different ways and it can slowly and quietly tear at the fabric of trust in any relationship (husband and wife, parent and child, sibling to sibling, best friend to best friend. etc.), however for today I’m going to focus primarily on how it can impact your relationship with your significant other. It’s a dicey subject, and not a lot of people want to talk about it (and most people certainly don’t want to hear about it). However, it keeps coming up in the course of the conversations I have with my clients and also when I speak with couples about money in relationships. And I feel that if I don’t take responsibility for shining some light on it, it may significantly impact your relationships before you know it. So I’m diving in…head first.
It starts with just a small white lie or “untruth” (my made-up word for when you’re not sharing the whole truth), never intending to hurt anyone. Someone loans you money for an intended purpose, and you use it for something completely different. You buy new clothes or a new gadget and when your significant other asks “is that new?” you say “oh, this old thing?” There’s a separate bank account that you keep and your beloved doesn’t know that you keep it. You can’t seem to get on the same page with your spouse about how to use the money, you’re tired of fighting about it, and so you throw up your hands and simply just do whatever you want to. It may be even be so bad that you unconsciously (or perhaps consciously) give your significant other the “financial middle finger” just to get back at them because they ticked you off somehow and didn’t agree with something you wanted to do financially. OUCH.
I’ve personally heard every single one of these scenarios (and more) with either my private clients or from people with whom I’ve had a “money confessional” moment. It doesn’t have to be this way if you’re committed to having authentic and truthful conversations about money with your loved ones. Trust me, I’m not saying it’s an easy feat to have those types of conversations…I’m simply saying that it’s worth it to have those types of conversations. Honest and open financial conversations can change your relationships with your loved ones forever, and the added bonus is that they strengthen your financial foundation too!
So how do you start to heal your relationship(s) if you sense that financial infidelity is an uninvited house guest? There are 3 steps that I would suggest you start with to begin to weed financial infidelity out of your life:
1) Be honest with yourself
There’s an old saying that “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”. Before you start to think about what your significant other might be doing to impact the level of financial authenticity in your relationship, look inward to see what you might be doing that isn’t on the “up and up” and could be considered hurtful if your significant other found out about it. How are you behaving with money that if your spouse/significant other found out about they would be hurt by or upset about? What might you be embarrassed about if someone found out about it? While I’m a huge fan of financial independence and creating your own financial rules (even if you’re in a relationship, you don’t have to always 100% agree with each other on how to handle the money), it’s always best to be up front and honest about your thoughts and approaches when it comes to financial matters. So start with being honest with yourself, and see if you’re contributing in any way to having financial secrets in your relationship.
2) LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN!!!
I can’t stress this one enough (were the capital letters a good indicator of that one for you?). This is the really, really brave step. It’s time to step forward with your loved one, and let them know that you want to have a really honest conversation about money and how you can be doing things better…together. Share what you learned about yourself and your money habits when you were honest with yourself (yes, it’s time for a confessional). Ask them for their opinion on what they think you could be doing better, what they could be doing better, and what you could both be doing better together when it comes to being proactive with your money and designing a financial plan to support your life. (Don’t forget to breathe, OK?) Sometimes this can be scary stuff, but if you ask the challenging questions and then step back and really listen to what your other half has to say you might be surprised at what you hear. Make sure you respectfully give them the space to speak their peace, even if you don’t agree with what they’re saying when they say it. Be inquisitive, ask questions when they say something that you don’t agree with or understand. It’s amazing what can happen when you genuinely sit down with the intention to listen and hear out the person in front of you. Put yourself in the shoes of your loved ones, and do your best to compassionately hear another person’s perspective!
3) Get on the same page
Once you have been honest with yourself, and taken the time to understand the perspective of your loved one, you’re ready to think about getting on the same page with him/her. Let me be clear, this does not always have to mean that you have to compromise about everything – it just means that you have both decided that it’s time to put everything out on the open in terms of your goals and what you want your life to look like going forward. No more secrets. Dream big together. Once you have goals, you can then incorporate them into a financial plan that will support achieving those goals by budgeting and saving money in advance! Being ahead of the “financial 8-ball” allows you to strengthen your financial foundation, and thus the foundation of your relationship.
I never said this would be easy, and I hope that you’re still breathing at this point (if you’re not, please start again….deep breaths in and out, in and out). I know this can be hard to look at, yet I know from having worked with many couples that when you tackle the big elephant in the room and address financial secrets head on that it only serves to strengthen your relationship for the better. The communication grows, the trust grows, and the love grows.
So if there’s any chance that financial infidelity may be impacting your relationship, is it worth it to you to think about beginning to repair the tiny tears of trust that may ultimately lead to a large crack in the foundation of your happiness? Only you can answer that question for yourself.