Think back on the last fight you had with your partner. Chances are good that it involved money. Arguments about money occur at least monthly for about one-third of couples, according to a 2016 study by the financial services company Ameriprise Financial Inc. Arguments about financial issues last longer than fights over parenting, sex, or in-laws, and they take much longer to recover from, according to researchers at Kansas State University. Moreover, the same researchers found that conflict about money is the best predictor of the probability of divorce. Find out what forms of financial deceit or infidelity — where they’re not being upfront about their spending or money sources — spouses may engage in and what to do if you encounter them.Carol Povenmire, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist with a practice in Pasadena, California.
KNOW YOUR DIFFERENCES
Couples have many differences in terms of personal values, goals, and communication styles, so it is not surprising that they differ about financial issues as well. In the Ameriprise study, 73 percent of respondents indicated that their partner had a different money-management style than they did.It is how those differences in financial goals and strategies are addressed in the relationship that determines the health and success of the partnership. The same factors that build and sustain romantic partnerships, such as the ability to trust, communicate clearly, resolve conflict in productive ways, define and implement shared goals, adjust to changing circumstances, and to weather crisis are necessary in ensuring financial stability. When there are problems in these areas, they will also affect the health of your financial partnership.
ASSESS THE THREAT
UNDERSTAND THE MOTIVATION
If you are on the receiving end of the deception, understanding what motivates the behavior will shape your attitude toward your partner and determine your recourse. For example, if you and your partner are among the 11 percent who never discuss budgeting or finances, your mate may not know what is in or out of bounds in your relationship. There has been no agreement to violate. Recourse involves having those overdue conversations about budgets and spending.
ADDRESS PRIVACY PREFERENCES
IDENTIFY RELATIONSHIP PROBLEMS
It’s also possible that your partner is expressing strong misgivings about your relationship. There may be an ambivalence or uncertainty about committing both financially or emotionally, or significant opposition or resentment about the way resources are allocated in the relationship. If your partner thinks that it’s not a big deal to conceal accounts or spending, this reflects a disregard for your collaborative relationship. All of these are indications of serious challenges to the partnership that meritexploration in couples therapy.
CHALLENGE PATTERNS OF AVOIDANCE
Another strong motivator for deception is the desire to avoid judgment or disapproval. Thirty percent of respondents in the NEFE study actually knew that their partner would not approve of their decision, and another 15 percent simply anticipated that the partner would disapprove. The motivational goal for the secretive activities is to avoid conflict or duck anger. The problem is that this strategy often backfires. As a partner, you might feel even more betrayed and outraged upon discovery than you might have otherwise felt. Model complete transparency about your financial decisions to encourage your mate to do the same.
APPRECIATE THE POWER OF SHAME AND EMBARRASSMENT
IDENTIFY VARIETIES OF FINANCIAL INFIDELITY
FINANCIAL INFIDELITY: SECRET SPENDING
FINANCIAL INFIDELITY: HIDDEN ASSETS
FINANCIAL INFIDELITY: LIVING IN THE RED
FINANCIAL INFIDELITY: PAYCHECK GAMES
FINANCIAL INFIDELITY: MISINFORMATION
DISCOVER THE TRUTH
· Withdrawing or becoming defensive when financial issues are discussed.
· Insisting on screening the mail.
· Changing passwords to shared online financial accounts.
· Sporting a lot of new clothing or expensive gadgets.
· A sudden unusual generosity by a partner.
CLEAR THE SMOKE
CHOOSE YOUR TIMING
· Approach your partner when you both have a big window of time.
· Weekends might be best, but don’t ambush your partner on a date night.
· Avoid talking late in the day or when you are not both sober.
APPROACH THE ISSUE CAREFULLY
TELL THE TRUTH
REPAIR THE DAMAGE
TAKE CONCRETE STEPS
There are numerous apps and banking tools to assist couples in managing their money. Some of these provide budgeting and savings strategies, while others ensure effective coordination of bill paying with multiple parties. Some of these are free to use, while others have a monthly fee. Some of these apps include:
· You Need A Budget (YNAB)
· Honeydue or Honeyfi
In more complex situations, expert consultation is advisable. This can include couples counseling to improve communication, resolve conflict and explore the dynamics around money, control, and autonomy. Your relationship with finances reflects deep psychological needs, and attitudes toward money are often influenced by earlier life experiences with wealth or poverty as well as inherited family beliefs. Money also functions as a symbolic measure of worth or value.
Financial planning experts and debt counselors are a source of information and guidance. Some of these services are offered free or on a sliding scale while others are fee-based and more comprehensive. Couples can schedule regular financial check-ups to make sure that they are on track to meet their goals.An additional resource for those in chronic financial chaos is Debtors Anonymous, a free program based on the 12-step model. It addresses the underlying dynamics of financial self-sabotage and establishes a recovery process with support from sponsors and group members.
GET IT RIGHT FROM THE START
These steps address the problem of financial infidelity in the past or present tense. Optimally, money issues are surfaced much earlier in the relationship, even as you are dating. This can involve negotiations around dating expenses, including meals, activities, and travel.
Before you live together or marry, a conversation about money management is invaluable. This includes full disclosure about spending and saving habits, income, debts and loan obligations, and lifetime financial goals. Creating processes to manage shared expenses can include individual or joint bank and credit card accounts, as well as combinations of both. You can also explore premarital counseling and online tools, such as the NEFE’s LifeValues Quiz, that help you and mate identify the values guiding your financial decisions. Once you have defined your goals, schedule frequent meetings to update each other on your progress and plan for upcoming changes.
The best preventative measure is to be among the 63 percent of partners who discuss finances at least several times a month. Given the important impact of financial decision-making on the well-being of your relationship, your respective credit ratings, and your ability to plan for the future, it is worth the time and energy to protect yourself from financial surprises in all of their forms.