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STOP! Are You Cheating On Your Partner?

It might be just a few dollars here or there – or a huge secret stash, but you need to know that financial infidelity is likely to destroy your relationship, says Money Mentalist, Lynda Moore.

20 June 2022

Is financial infidelity as destructive to your relationship as a sexual affair? When radio listeners were polled on this question the response was about 50:50.

But from what I have seen, both these forms of cheating can damage a relationship beyond repair.

They’re both a major breach of trust, but with financial infidelity you have the financial fallout to deal with as well, and this can take years to recover from, whether you remain together or not.

Financial infidelity can seem harmless enough, say buying something that you really know you shouldn’t and hiding it away.

You bring it out, saying breezily: “I’ve had this for ages.” Both men and women do this.

For many couples, financial infidelity stops there. But, for others, it can escalate to real financial harm and relationship breakdown.

Little (or big) lies

Here are a few other common examples of financial infidelity:

  • A secret credit card that your partner knows nothing about.
  • Inflating the weekly cash grocery spend by withdrawing cash to buy yourself ‘stuff’ that your partner doesn’t know about.
  • Continuing to financially support an ex-partner without telling your current partner.
  • Mortgaging the house without your partner knowing. Fortunately, this is a lot harder to do under our current financial and banking rules.
  • Racking up debt to cover a gambling (or some other) addiction.

Where the line is for you comes down to your personal values. And it is only when you have experienced it can you really answer that question.

Where on the financial infidelity scale is this? And can my relationship survive it?

What is financial infidelity?

It is making and then hiding financial decisions when you’re in a relationship. It isn’t just the making of the decision so much, or even the hiding of it. It is the two together that is the breach of trust and when the infidelity occurs.

As with any infidelity, it is the hurtful breach of trust that is the hardest part to work through and get over.

What causes financial infidelity?

  • Maybe you’re concerned about the family finances and want to ‘tuck money away’ just in case.
  • You’re unsure about the relationship and want an ‘escape fund’.
  • You might feel that your partner is too controlling with the money.
  • It can also arise from a feeling of entitlement: “It’s my money, I’ll spend it how I want.” This attitude is more about power and control and not feeling the need to share financial decisions with your partner.
  • Or you might be totally unaware you are doing it.

Consider this scenario:

Your teenager Sam has spent all his allowance and despite knowing the bank of Mum and Dad is closed, he really wants to head out with friends.

Sam decides, as teenagers do, to ‘wheedle the money out of Mum’. On this day, however, Mum is feeling strong, and says no.

So, Sam goes to Dad, who is tired at the end of the day and for the sake of peace, hands Sam the cash and jokingly says, “Just don’t tell Mum.”

Sam happily heads out with friends, leaving Mum and Dad at home. A bit later in the evening, Mum asks Dad curiously, “Did you give Sam some money?”

At this point Dad has two choices:

Come clean and confess he did, and put up with a growling from his wife.

Tell a little white lie and say, no it wasn’t him and guess that Sam borrowed the money from a mate.

If Dad chooses option 2, that’s financial infidelity right there.

What’s the message?

I can hear you all saying, “So, what? We do this all the time.” And you’re right, in the scheme of things this is low on the financial infidelity scale.

But what message is Sam getting? If this only happens once or twice, it isn’t likely to have much impact on him.

But consider the situation where the children are constantly hearing from both sides: “Don’t tell Mum” or “Don’t tell Dad.” That can have serious ramifications for them as they enter their own relationships.

They may enter a relationship with the belief that it’s normal to hide money and secrets from their partner.

This could lead them to believe that it’s typical behaviour to have secret credit cards or money tucked away in secret bank accounts.

How to nip it in the bud?

Here are five things you can do:

The Money Conversation: Have ‘the money conversation’ early in your relationship. Set some financial boundaries. Talk about different scenarios and how you feel about them. For example, is it OK to lend money to friends and family? What levels of debt and savings are you bringing to the relationship? What are your financial expectations?

The household banker: This is the person who’s responsible for managing the household finances. They make sure all the bills get paid, the savings plan is implemented, and your financial goals are reached. You can swap this role around and it doesn’t always have to be the same person.

Know what’s what: Don’t delegate your financial responsibilities totally to your partner. You may not be ‘good with money’, but you still need to know what is going on, have access to joint bank accounts and to look at credit card balances, for example.

Play money: It’s important that each of you have your own money that doesn’t have to be accounted for. This can be any amount that you’ve agreed upon. It could be as little as $25 a week, or as much as $1,000 – it really depends on your financial circumstances. By having your own money, you don’t feel the need to hide purchases, or feel guilty if you indulge yourself a little.

Date night: Have regular financial date nights where you talk about your finances. Are you on track to meet your long-term financial goals? How are you going compared to your money plan? What are some short-term savings goals you’re working towards?

Suspicious?

If you’re concerned that financial infidelity might be going on, you need to deal with it sooner rather than later.

Talk to your partner, not in an accusing or argumentative way; although it is very difficult not to get emotional about your finances.

If you feel you can’t raise it yourself, get some help from a professional who can help you have the conversation and deal with the consequences.

As with any type of infidelity, the main point not to let it fester. It’s like ripping off a Band-Aid. The sooner you deal with financial infidelity the better and the less the financial harm.

If your relationship is strong, with good communication and some processes in place for the future, you’ll make it out the other side.

Informed Investor's content comes from sources that Informed Investor magazine considers accurate, but we do not guarantee its accuracy. Charts in Informed Investor are visually indicative, not exact. The content of Informed Investor is intended as general information only, and you use it at your own risk.

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