Santiago and Mary are the typical couple who fight tirelessly to achieve the “American Dream.” Santiago works in the banking industry and Mary works as a high school teacher. They have been married for more than 10 years, but even though they have steady jobs, they have serious financial problems. These problems have grown over the years and now they find themselves on the verge of separation because trust and respect have been lost.
Mary alleges that Santiago never shows her the status of their finances and he always tells her that there is no more money left. Santiago controls what is spent and what is not spent at home. He gives Mary a monthly amount of money for her personal expenses, but, other than that, Mary does not have access to more money and she feels that her husband is hiding the family’s financial status from her.
However, Santiago confessed in therapy that he has a money issue. He spends the money buying unnecessary electronics without telling his wife and justifies it by saying that he needs them to be able to work. But the most serious problem is that Santiago, secretly, sends money to his relatives in his home country so that they can build a house. Mary never knew about this expense. Santiago said he does not know how his wife will react to this and that he feels obliged to help his family. So, he came seeking professional help so he can tell his wife what he has been doing for years.
This is a typical problem in many marriages today, financial infidelity. This consists of spending money, owning credit cards or loans, having secret accounts or money deposits, borrowing money, or incurring debt without the spouse or partner knowing it. Financial infidelity in a relationship can include any financial decision made by one of the spouses that may affect, overload, strain, or delay the financial planning in the relationship, as we see in Mary and Santiago’s case.
The most serious problem with this situation is that it results in a loss of intimacy and trust in the relationship. The rate of financial infidelity has been increasing over the years, as a study in 2005 showed that 30 percent of respondents had lied about financial information and 25 percent had withheld information, while a 2008 study showed that half of the people who completed the survey had committed some kind of financial infidelity.
Why does financial infidelity happen?
Many people blame this growing crisis of financial infidelity on the rise of social media for setting unrealistic lifestyle expectations. According to a recent study by the Nonfiction Research Company, 28 percent of 18-24-year-olds admit to posting photos on Instagram that make them look like they have more money than they actually have.
While some people rely on photos prepared cleverly to keep up with the Joneses, others may actually be immersed in debts or go bankrupt in order to maintain an image or to keep their pride afloat.
This type of expenditure, called compulsive spending, tends to manifest itself in a person’s 40s. And, even though not everyone is a compulsive spender, most Americans are in debt, even if it has not affected their quality of life yet. According to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, total debt balances have increased in recent years for every US age group.
How harmful is financial infidelity?
“Financial infidelity has the potential to be as damaging to the health and longevity of the relationship as sexual infidelity, since conflicts over money are also a main reason for divorce. Given the role that finances play in the health of relationships, consumers benefit from being aware of financial infidelity and its consequences.”
How to prevent financial infidelity
Be transparent about household finances
There is no magic formula to overcoming the fear, guilt, and anxiety that goes with being completely transparent about your expenses. A key to developing this habit is to impose a rule on yourself: frequent and open communication, without exception, especially if only one member of the family retains control over the household finances.
Develop an action plan
Research suggests that the best way to avoid surprises is to establish a well-defined plan and stick to it. Couples who pay their bills in a less structured way are more likely than those who had a more established budget and plan to keep a financial secret from their partner. It is important to establish a family budget that considers not only regular expenses like mortgage or rent and utilities, but also long-term goals and emergencies.
Have only one bank account
Some financial experts suggest keeping only one shared account, but others recommend each spouse keep a separate account for the little things they want for themselves. I believe that a single shared account will prevent financial infidelity. If there is a fund in the budget meant for one half of the couple, then that specific amount can be placed in a personal account.
If you are experiencing financial infidelity in your life, maybe it is time to seek professional help. Do not let finances destroy your relationship. Find the courage to confront your problem and heal your relationship.