The Infidelity of Financial Affairs

John Wierenga |

For centuries we've known that men are bigger cheaters than women. It seems that men, by their very nature, are more inclined to hide their infidelities and risk their relationships. Now we learn that women can be bigger cheaters than men, but with financial affairs, not romantic affairs. A recent survey conducted by GK Roper revealed that nearly 80 percent of women respondents reported hiding some aspect of their finances from their spouses compared with an average of only 30 percent of men. Few would argue that financial infidelity is as devastating as a marital infidelity, but most would agree that deceit is deceit which leads to an evaporation of trust no matter where it comes from.

Therapists and relationship experts all agree that concealing financial issues from one another prior to and during a marriage, is as big a sign of trouble for a relationship as is concealing a marital affair. Couples do recover from infidelity; it’s the lack of trust and respect that are the destructive elements. Most men and women believe that if their spouse is able to deceive in one aspect of their lives, they are more likely to deceive in others.

The study found that women are most likely to conceal credit card accounts from their husbands. In most cases, these are accounts established before they were married, so it might seem harmless that a woman simply forget to tell her husband, or perhaps even choose not to, because it seems like such a small thing. While that may be true for some, others have experienced major problems especially when it turns out to be not just one account, but several, and they get used extensively. At that point, it’s not just the concealment of a credit card account that threatens the relationship, it’s the concealment of spending habits that could ultimately harm the relationship. The reality is that irresponsible use of credit by one spouse, even if the accounts are held in separate names, can wreak havoc on the credit of both spouses.

Why Do It?

There are a number of reasons why a spouse might conceal financial activities – fear of reproach, hiding a spending addiction, security concerns, fear over loss of financial control. All of these suggest that the relationship is already lacking in trust and open communication, which is more of the root problem than is the concealment. Couples who avoid or refrain from discussing finances including their credit situation and their preferences and priorities, are destined for trouble especially if a problem is left to fester. There are situations in which leading separate financial lives may be appropriate and even preferable, such as in a second marriage where both spouses are financially independent, or even when one of the spouses is substantially more well off. However, open communication about all matters including finances, can only strengthen a marital relationship.

The study also found that women are more likely to hide a checking or savings account from their husbands. Considering that the majority of women will, at some point, find themselves either divorced or widowed, this finding isn’t all that surprising. It’s a sad commentary on our society that women feel they must take such measures to protect themselves, and it’s made worse when women feel as though they can’t tell their spouse for fear of reprisal. The fact is that men, as a whole, do want to feel as though they are in control, financially. While these attitudes about finances and control are changing, especially as women are increasing the household income, men can be somewhat unyielding in their attitudes if they feel threatened.

Seeking Financial Harmony

Changing attitudes and shifting trends are leading more couples to join in a more collaborative relationship when it comes to finances. Respect for each other’s dignity and independence is the cornerstone for a relationship that approaches the management of finances as though each had an equal stake regardless of who brings home the bacon. It’s a relationship in which each partner encourages the other to spend and save in their accounts at a level that each agrees to, and there are no questions asked on what is purchased or how much is saved. When each partner feels more secure about the other’s attitudes and actions with regards to finances, they are more likely to feel more secure in all aspects of their relationships.

After working with couples for over 25 years, I've found that when husband and wife both come to annual reviews and financial planning sessions, although generally one of the partners is not all that interested in most of the discussions, it's still a benefit to both and proves to be a good indicator of a healthy marriage.

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