I bet, at least once in your marriage or relationship, you went out and bought something because you were mad at your spouse. Or perhaps you thought you were wiser than your significant other and took control of the finances…by doling out an allowance. Well these are just a few samples of financial infidelity.
Basically, financial infidelity is the act of, or a situation wherein, you are less than truthful about your financial situation with your spouse or partner. To clarify further, “less than truthful” means purposely not telling them about how you’re handling money. It could be a tiny indulgence each day like a gumball from a candy machine, which most likely won’t lead anywhere bad, or it could be something big like gambling your life savings away and trying to hide it. It’s a sin of omission (not doing or no telling) or a sin of commission (doing intentionally).
Where did I get the term “Financial Infidelity”? Dr. Bonnie Eaker used her knowledge from years of marriage therapy to write “Financial Infidelity: Seven Steps to Conquering the #1 Relationship Wrecker“. I must say up front, in case you don’t get through the rest of this article, that regardless of your relationship status, or whether you think you and your loved one are completely honest with each other, I highly recommend buying the book and reading it from cover-to-cover. It’s a very valuable resource when you’re just starting your relationship, and as an eye-opener when you’re in one.
Financial History in Our Own Marriage
One problem with finances and marriage mixing is that the people managing each come from different backgrounds and every single life experience helps to contribute to the baggage they bring into the relationship.
For Stacie, her family values “quality over cost“, but that you need to examine your purchases for a long time before actually spending, regardless of the cost (a few pennies to thousands of dollars). There’s a lot more that went into her financial history, but we’ll save that for another time. Nevertheless, I’ll say that in a nutshell, Stacie is the saver in our relationship.
I am the spender, as evidenced by “How we lost $14,500 by stupid mistakes“. Sure, I thought about the purchase, but I rationalized my way to the decision I wanted, not the one that made sense. I left college with well over $10,000 in credit card debt, while Stacie left with none. And I left with a shiny, new $20,000 car, while Stacie had a used, broken-in $8,000 car.
So what happens when you bring those two personalities together? Fights. But we’re the lucky ones.
We fought about money BEFORE we got married! Heck, we fought about having kids before we got married too. That was before we even got engaged or went on our first real date! We talked about merged finances (I didn’t want my money mixed with hers. Bet you wouldn’t have guessed that). I still recall a pretty heated debate about merging our money while driving one day, and we were about to break up.
How We Combat Financial Infidelity
Before we had an actual name for this problem, we made a promise to each other that we would talk to each other before purchases above a certain level. In most cases, though, we found that we talked to each other about most purchases anyway. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t have problems with spending.
For instance, Stacie almost broke up with me when I was one signature away from trading in my Acura for a Lincoln. I still don’t know if it’s because it was a Ford product or because she couldn’t stand my inability to just be happy with what I had. I’ll go with the latter on this one.
But overall, money hasn’t been a big issue in our relationship for one big reason: although I’m a spender, I’ve become cheap, and that helps prevent me from buying many items. Oh, and I’ve accepted Stacie’s philosophy on spending even though it’s not always easy.
One area where I worry about our finances
Per Dr. Bonnie’s book, I am the financial infidel in our relationship. While I don’t hide any purchases (even the giant can of Jolt I buy multiple times per week now), I do control the finances. However, it’s not because I’m trying to hide from Stacie. Instead, she would rather not deal with the money management. She just wants to make sure we’re paying off our debt and saving towards emergencies and retirement. We still discuss big things like which debt to pay off, and how to budget for big things. She lets me handle the daily stuff.
But if you were to read Dr. Bonnie’s book, you would realize that this is not an ideal money management solution. Although both parties are fine with the setup, we’re not preparing ourselves for the future. What if something happens to me? Without taking a turn at handling the finances for a few months, Stacie would be overwhelmed. Plus, controlling the finances makes it too easy for me to be critical about Stacie’s spending.
For example, I’m generally critical (suspicious) of Stacie’s clothing expenditures. But money isn’t the primary reason. Rather, it’s because I have a better eye for how things look on Stacie, and how appropriate they are for work or play than she does (and she admits it too). In the grand scheme of things, though, my critical nature would definitely come off as overbearing and controlling. You can quickly see the arguments and fights that could stem from such a volatile situation.
But overall, while some people would find our relationship unbearable, others would think we’re perfectly normal. In my opinion, we need to make a change to how we manage our finances so that I’m not the only one managing the money. Technically, Stacie knows all of the passwords, but she doesn’t know where to use them, nor the timing of our bills and payments. While most are automated, she still needs to know, so we need to share the management responsibilities.
Recognizing and Fixing Financial Infidelity
Dr. Bonnie’s book gets into much more serious situations than ours; mostly couples on the brink of divorce, or those who have already committed to permanent separation. She’ll admit, though, that there are relationships that are too broken to be fixed, but that for a majority of couples, there really is a step plan to recognizing and fixing money issues.
The book is not “couples therapy”. Instead, it focuses on assessing your own history, tendencies and actions to see where you have weaknesses AND strengths. While I’ll admit the activities contained in the chapters are best done with your partner, they’re certainly very appropriate when done alone (especially if you don’t have a partner yet). For instance, realizing WHY you feel a certain way about money (saver, spender, a bit of each) goes a long way to recognizing the type of person you are more easily compatible with.
And being a real doctor, Dr. Bonnie looks at the biology that makes us prone to certain habits and reactions, which gives us a clue into why we act the way we do. Our genetic makeup isn’t a scapegoat for our actions; instead, it’s a hint in to how to stop ourselves from making certain decisions that could prove fatal to our relationship and even our own financial security.
Finally, financial infidelity is not the problem; it’s the symptom of the problem. Spending lavisly on your spouse because you’re guilty of an affair is obviously just an outcome of the affair. And the affair itself is probably not the root problem either. Perhaps you have a fear of abandonment and thus committment. Figuring out the true cause of your money problems is the only way to fix the illness.
As a reiteration, “Financial Infidelity” is definitely a must-buy, whether you trust your mate or not. As a note, it took me weeks to finish reading because Dr. Bonnie digs so deeply into the various topics that I needed time to absorb each. It had me rethinking my actions as well as how I viewed Stacie’s (and my own families’).
While the text flows quickly and you could finish the book in a couple days, I don’t advise trying to tackle the whole book in a weekend. Take the time to do the self-assessments, talk to your spouse or confide in a friend, and see a professional counselor if needed. Use the book as a guide to identifying and resolving your money, trust, committment and other issues, but don’t expect it to be the end-all solution. Fixing your core issues isn’t a weekend project, but you need to start somewhere, and this book is a good start.