Financial Infidelity: 5 Steps to Getting Your Relationship Back on Track
“My partner doesn’t really need to know I splurged on these shoes, so I’ll intercept the credit card bill from the mail before he sees it.”
“My bonus was a bit more than I anticipated, so it won’t hurt if I don’t tell my wife and have some fun with the extra money.”
A one-time money secret may seem like a minor relationship infraction, especially if the amount in question is a small one. But as I know from conversations with my clients, one fib can lead to another, snowballing into long-term deceits, such as secret credit cards or hidden bank accounts. Little flakes of dishonesty can severely ice over a relationship, especially when debt accumulates or credit scores fall.
According to a 2016 survey conducted by Harris Poll for the National Endowment for Financial Education, more than four in 10 U.S. adults report having purposely deceived their partners in household finance matters. Moreover, when financial deceptions occur, 75% of respondents say there is an effect on the relationship. But, like 54% of those polled who had erred, you can resolve to repair the financial infidelity.
The new year is an ideal time for couples to ring in an improved cash era based on trust, forgiveness, and better money habits. Here are five ways to act on a vow to move forward financially—together:
1. Take responsibility and reaffirm your dreams. In cases of financial dishonesty, as with all relationship transgressions, it’s important for the guilty partner to take responsibility verbally, and acknowledge the severity of putting the household in jeopardy. Only when that occurs can you forgive and commit to tackling the issue as a team.
To start, ask some pointed questions. As a couple, are you saving for a house with a white picket fence, your kids’ education, or early retirement? Do your shared dreams include frequent travel and a second home? Do your individual dreams include entrepreneurship? Re-explore what you both want in a quiet place over coffee (not wine or cocktails), suggests April Masini, a New York-based relationship expert and author, who frequently covers the etiquette of money. “Many times, couples don’t know what the other wants,” she says, “making this meeting informative even beyond money.”
Once you know your money goals and have decided it’s time to move on, you can start working on the infrastructure of your finances.
2. Decide what’s “yours, mine, and ours.” Individual bank accounts can offer independence and might work well for couples with different spending habits and interests, provided both partners agree and are willing to dip into these accounts to pay for household expenses when needs arise.
Additionally, discuss a maximum spending threshold for individual purchases that can be made without a partner consult. “Anything over that amount—whether it’s $50 or $50,000—has to be mutually agreed on before spending,” says Masini.
And what about the notion that separate bank accounts mean you’re headed for divorce? Ignore it. “Many happy, long-term couples have healthy relationships with each other and their money because they recognize that having separate accounts works for them,” says Masini.
3. Create a realistic budget, allowing for “extras.” Designing a budget involves deciding how much of your monthly income goes toward both your expenses and your shared goals. For example, discuss the amount you will need to save for retirement vs. paying down student loans.
To help funnel your money appropriately, choose a finance app that not only tracks your fixed expenses against your savings goals, but also allows for discretionary spending. Make it fun, while being open and honest about your wants. If you share a love of wine, discuss how many bottles you can buy monthly without over-spending. Agree to some tradeoffs, if necessary. Perhaps you drop the expensive annual getaway with friends in favor of day trips.
Also remember to pay attention to your short-term goals, such as building your emergency savings, and mid-term goals, such as saving for your first home. Automating deposits into savings and investment accounts can greatly help in adding to those savings buckets.
4. Free up cash flow to reduce resentment. When financial infidelity has plunged your household into a debt spiral, refinancing your mortgage, consolidating student loans, or taking a personal loan to eliminate credit card debt can help free up cash to get your spending back on track.
The steps to consolidation or refinancing can be very therapeutic and healing. “When couples recognize their deficits and assets in knowledge and communication—not just in finance—and use all their resources to create a financial process that helps them achieve their goals, they’ve succeeded,” says Masini.
5. Vow to make money talk almost as fun as pillow talk. Monthly budget discussions work for many couples, but for those with trust and spending issues, a weekly (or even daily) check-in may be most effective in avoiding a financial—and relationship—crisis.
“Wherever and however frequently money discussions take place, talk when fresh, as opposed to just after stepping in the door from work,” Masini says. “And set a finite period of time—30 minutes or so— for the conversation.”
Remember, it’s not necessarily a bad thing for couples to have different financial styles. One partner may be a money warrior, always saving and balancing the checkbook, while the other is more freeform, allowing for some spontaneity. Varying financial types can coexist—you just need budget boundaries, a mutual understanding of finances, and good spending and savings habits.
Share this article with friends who might be in need of building financial trust in their relationships.