Author: Elly Prior | First published: 24-06-2012 | Modified: 24-10-2017
How do you manage your finances as a couple? Do the two of you argue about money? I've found that if a couple argues about money, they often have issues around sex and control.
So, who tends to make all the decisions in your relationship?
Who is in charge or in control?
And are your values and beliefs around money so different that you're considering breaking up?
I'm really hoping that I can help you gain some clarity so that you can perhaps have a more fruitful conversation about your financial affairs with your partner.
To begin to deal with financial infidelity in your marriage, you need to figure out a baseline. What is your - and what is your spouse's - attitude towards money?
There's only one way to begin to deal with the differences - you need to talk! Only by openly and honestly communicating about your joint and individual financial needs and wants will you manage to avoid the divorce courts.
Through my experience as a professional couple counsellor, I've found that even the most seemingly 'together' couples can still find it difficult to communicate about money. They may have no trouble talking about any other subject, but avoid talking about their finances until there's some sort of a financial crisis.
Not talking about the state of your finances may not seem much of problem if...
However, all that can change. There may be a slow increase in irritations about your expenditures, or perhaps a sudden change in your circumstances. Either way the result will be that you'll have to deal with money problems in your relationship.
A shift in your circumstances that has an impact on your financial stability can suddenly throw up a whole new set of relationship challenges which you may not have been prepared for.
Here are some examples of the kind of changes you may well face during the life-time of your relationship or marriage. Any of these will have an impact on your household budget:
These kinds of circumstances can lead to a complete shift in the dynamics of a couple relationship. For example, a partner who loses their own income can suddenly feel very vulnerable. I've seen the most assertive and eloquent individuals in distress because they had no idea how to talk to their partner about their fears.
Your household budget - and in particular debt - can be a huge source of marital strife. Of course it doesn't matter if you're married or not - if the two of you are in a committed relationship and one of you has a debt that can no longer be serviced, it's likely to cause both of you considerable stress.
A personal debt may be manageable as long as there's enough money in the kitty whilst both of you contribute to the general household pot in an agreed way. However, if your circumstances change and/or you're secretive about your personal financial affairs, there's potential for the two of you to fall out over money.
Therefore there's every reason to learn to talk about money early in your relationship and be able to discuss all aspects of your financial affairs.
If you can have these conversations about your finances regularly, in a non-judgemental and calm manner, you're very likely to be able to come to a suitable arrangement when you hit a rough patch.
It's therefore best to start talking early - when all is well - just to get into the habit and to get to know and understand each other's attitude towards money.
If you're in debt now and you're no longer managing to keep up with your payments, please trust me when I say it's not a good idea to stick your head in the sand. I so want you to deal with the problem as soon as you can... I'd hate the idea that your financial problems and the stress that comes with them is going add an unnecessary burden to your relationship.
I really hope that the two of you can work together on sorting it all out. Blaming each other isn't going to resolve the problem. It'll only lead to defensiveness and secrecy, and is just a waste of your precious energy.
Financial issues can be really tricky to discuss in a relationship. The reason is that it's tied up with our sense of security. So, you might find it helpful to read my page on Relationship Communication first.
It'll help if you're able to talk about difficult subjects in general, so that you can be a little more prepared for a tricky conversation about your finances.
Next you need to know - and be able to verbalise - what your specific concerns are exactly. Statements like: "You're spending too much" or "I don't like your attitude" will only lead to your partner wanting to defend themselves. Before you know it, you'll be arguing about money yet again and nothing will get resolved.
So, what is it that you're worried about? Are you worried that your partner is...
... simply 'wasting' money
... overspending on the credit card
... generally 'frittering' money away
Or is there something else worrying you?
To help you out with this, let me give you some examples of what may be underlying your fears:
When you can verbalise exactly what your concerns are about your finances, you can start to think about possible solutions...
Before having a conversation with your partner you need to think about what you consider to be the best solution. Bear in mind this needs to be one that leaves room to negotiate.
At the same time, do remember that you can't change your partner, so try not to control him or her. Instead, present a sensible argument and let him/her mull it over and come up with some ideas of their own.
Here are a few examples of strategies that might help you both to manage your finances better:
Totally freaked out about your financial situation at the moment? Have a look at Marie Forleo's video - she has some great tips to help you feel calm and in control:
Does your partner know all there is to know about your personal finances? Or are you secretly squirrelling money away for a future 'project'?
Are you totally open and honest with your partner? Or are you - for whatever reason - withholding information about your finances?
Ideally you should be honest and upfront, so that the two of you can openly discuss your finances. Financial infidelity is devastating when it's discovered - your partner can rightfully think you've been leading a secret life.
You may get away with it for a while, but the chances are that he or she will find you out. At some point things will just not add up, with suspicions about either your behaviour or the finances themselves.
Your partner might become suspicious because of...
Your partner will most likely go on the hunt until they find sufficient evidence to confirm their suspicions. The discovery of your 'omissions' or outright lies will never come at a convenient moment!
Financial infidelity can potentially be just as devastating as any other type of cheating, including adultery.
However, there's another layer of suffering when your partner has lied about money. Depending on the amount of money involved, it can jeopardise your emotional well-being as well as your financial security, which is even more worrisome if you have children.
Clearly, I'm not qualified to give you financial advice. But in this article, I'm going to help you understand the emotional impact of your partner cheating on you with money. I'm also aiming to help you to get back some control over the situation, because I so understand how out of control, scared and angry you must feel.
So, why am I interested in financial infidelity?
I know, from my professional experience, that money, sex and control are often linked. Sex and managing finances both require an ability to control, maintain, negotiate - and having respect for - your own and each other's boundaries. When these boundaries are absent or insecure, you'll find yourself dealing with things such as disagreements around discipline, all sorts of addictions, infidelity, jealousy, domestic violence and sexual problems.
So, let's first see how serious the problem with money is...
Discover the extent of your partner's financial dishonesty by answering these questions:
There are other types of misdemeanours that can lead to a loss of trust. Here are another few examples which perhaps cannot be strictly classed as financial infidelity, but can nevertheless challenge clarity, honesty and transparency:
To what extend the above are a problem to you depends somewhat on:
Maybe you're only too happy for your partner to deal with all your finances because you don't want to be involved. I can totally understand that, if money and numbers are just 'not your thing'. You may not have had any reason to mistrust your partner and/or the two of you may have made what you thought were solid agreements.
There is an inherent problem with this attitude, though.
What if there's a calamity, such as your partner falling ill and becoming unable to attend to the finances; a relationship break-up; heaven-forbid: a death; or one (or both) of you becoming unemployed, etc.?
Under those kinds of unfortunate circumstances you'll probably find it hard to catch up and get a grip of the situation, particularly because your emotions will be all over the place.
The extent of the emotional impact of your partner's financial infidelity depends to a large degree on what state your relationship is in.
Here are just a few different scenarios:
You can see how the discovery of financial infidelity would affect you completely differently in each of these situations.
The emotional fall-out is, however, much the same as if your partner had cheated on you with your best friend (see Related Articles) - or anyone else for that matter.
Financial infidelity may feel even more devastating if you trustingly helped to pay off your partner or spouse's pre-existing debts.
So many people end up feeling ashamed for having allowed themselves to be 'tricked'. They feel 'stupid' and on discovery are often reluctant to seek help from advisers, professional or otherwise.
However, there really is no need for you to beat yourself up. Here's how it might have happened:
How you actually deal with the discovery, depending on the level deceit and the resultant debt, also depends on how you generally tackle problems in life.
Whatever your usual response to adverse circumstances, it all becomes more complicated when your financial security - and perhaps that of your children - is compromised.
On top of that, you're having to deal with the shock of being so let down by someone you trusted and believed in. The financial infidelity may go hand-in-hand with your partner's adultery, and the knowledge that the other man or woman has had your money spent on them, by the very person you were supposed to be able to trust, can make the emotional turmoil even worse.
All of this is really tough on you and it's completely understandable that life feels pretty rough right now.
So, here is my advice...
I really hope this article is of help to you. :-)
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Thank you so much in anticipation. :-)