When you are in a partnership, it's important to lead with honesty. Dishonesty can put you at risk for committing infidelity, which comes in many forms, including sexual, emotional, and even financial infidelity. Yup, it may come as a shock to you, but you can commit financial infidelity. This type of infidelity involves you engaging in knowingly dishonest financial behaviors or making money decisions that violate the agreement that you have with your partner. So, how do you know if you or your partner is committing financial infidelity?
You want to make sure that you are not doing anything behind your partner’s back that you wouldn’t do openly. Hiding money is one way to plant a weed in your relationship garden. Weeds not only grow quickly, but they choke the flowers that you’re trying to grow. You could significantly impact the good parts of your relationship by doing something underhanded like hiding money.
It should be noted that there are functional reasons for hiding money. If you are planning a surprise for your partner's birthday, hiding money would likely be appreciated when the surprise is revealed. Also, people who are saving in secret as a part of plans to break away from an abusive partner aren't committing financial infidelity. They are being protective of themselves and planful, so that they can keep themselves safe.
Lying or Withholding Information About Money
When a partner doesn't tell the whole truth about money, this lie by omission is considered financial infidelity. For example, it's not wise to receive an honorarium of $500 for speaking to a community group and then tell your partner you got $200.
Lending money without a conversation falls under this category as well. When a family member or friend asks for money, be upfront about needing to talk it over with your partner first. It's not about asking permission; it's about being an accountable and trustworthy person.
With that being said, there is nothing wrong with having separate bank accounts. For some couples, keeping money separate helps to keep them together. Also, many couples have set up rules about their accounts. For example, a couple could agree that each partner keeps 15% of their individual paychecks as personal money. You can do anything with this money as long as it's legal and doesn't result in other types of infidelity. In this situation, lending money without the permission or knowledge of your partner would be acceptable as long as it is your personal money.
Misusing Family Money
If you have joint savings account that you use to save for your summer vacation each year, it should be understood that money in this account should only be used with both partners' agreement (barring an emergency). Taking money out of a pot that has a specific use without your partner's knowledge is a one-ingredient recipe for an argument.
What Should You Do If This Sounds Like You
1. If you find yourself lying or hiding money, it's important that you consider the root of the problem. Is there a trust issue in your relationship? Do you and your partner value money differently? While both partners may place a lot of stock in money (pun intended), one partner may do so because money is equated to status, while the other partner may equate money with stability and predictability.
2. Talk to your partner about money. Many times, couples are arguing about money because of unspoken or implied rules. This is probably the most difficult part of financial infidelity. You can't hold your partner accountable to rules that aren't known. Negotiate clear boundaries and expectations about money. When boundaries are not clear, you run the risk of "cheating" on your partner unknowingly and getting blamed because "you should have known."
3. Consider paying bills together...literally. Sit at the computer and pay each bill together so that you can see how the money is rationed, discuss sticky points, and be on the same financial page.
4. Commit to saying the truth about money, even if it's ugly. Timmons, Arbel, and Margolin (2017) researched marital stress in the Journal of Family Psychology and pointed out that financial stress falls in the top five stressors in marriage. This should be no surprise. It's most likely not the best idea to compound that stress with a lie.
5. Think outside of the box in terms of money. "They" say that married people must have a joint bank account. Forget what "they" say. Do what works in your relationship—whether you’re dating, engaged, married, or separated. You can set up any system as long as everyone agrees on the system. When that system stops working for you, change it.
6. If your partner violates one of your money rules, or you believe your partner is committing financial infidelity, you should start a dialog. Having these thoughts and remaining silent will only allow resentment and frustration to fester.
It's all about being honest and transparent with your intentions and your behaviors. With money, it's better to ask first to avoid offending later. Otherwise, you may end up writing a relationship check that is destined to bounce...do people even write checks anymore?