Couples in love often end up walking down the aisle and committing to stay together “for richer or for poorer.” But if you are in a long term relationship, there can be a powerful temptation to turn sneaky and hide the truth about your spending habits from your partner.
Deceiving a spouse or romantic partner about some aspect of your financial life is commonly known as “financial infidelity.” A surprisingly high percentage of adults – 43% – admit that they have financially deceived someone with whom they had a relationship and shared finances, according to a National Endowment for Financial Education study.
Both males and females in the study admitted to this behavior. Men were significantly more likely than women — 47% to 39% — to deceive their partner about money issues, the study found.
Such deception might seem harmless to some, but it often comes with a high price tag. Of those who admit to financial infidelity, 85% say their indiscretion impacted their relationship in some way. According to survey respondents, hiding financial secrets most often resulted in:
- An argument: 42%
- Less trust in the relationship: 32%
- Less privacy in the relationship: 20%
- Break up of combined finances or a divorce: 16%
What Is Financial Infidelity?
“Intentionally hiding debt is one common type of financial infidelity,” says Jenny G. Olson, assistant professor of marketing at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business.
Olson has done extensive research on the topic of financial infidelity. Two years ago, she and colleagues at three other universities published their findings on the subject in “Love, Lies, and Money: Financial Infidelity in Romantic Relationships.” It was billed as the “first systematic investigation of financial infidelity in committed romantic relationships.”
Two main components make up what we commonly think of as financial infidelity, according to Olson:
- You engage in any financial behavior that would likely meet with the disapproval of your significant other. Actions like hiding credit card debt and lying about your income would fall into this category.
- You intentionally fail to disclose this behavior to your partner.
People engage in financial infidelity for all manner of reasons. If your own spending is causing you to fall more deeply into debt, your instinct to hide the bad news from your partner is understandable. Maybe you simply are embarrassed about your behavior. Or, perhaps you want to spare your loved one the pain of knowing just how deeply you are in the red.
But hiding the truth from your partner is pretty much always a mistake. The amount of debt you are hiding can affect your credit score, and if you are trying to buy a home together a good credit report is vital for real estate purchases.
“Financial infidelity has the potential to harm the relationship in a few ways,” Olson warns.
The damage financial infidelity causes
In the context of a marriage, the two partners are part of an “interdependent union,” Olson says. That means that each time a partner does something, it potentially affects the other person.
In some cases, financial infidelity causes monetary harm to the relationship, such as reducing the couple’s ability to achieve joint financial goals, according to Olson. As you sink more deeply into debt and your personal finances are in disarray, your financial woes can jeopardize visions of owning the home of your dreams or other goals.
According to Olson, “If one partner is concealing debt, it could impair the couple’s ability to save for retirement, vacation, household needs, etcetera.”
But the damage can also be emotional. When you withhold crucial financial information from your partner and your subterfuge is later revealed, it results in a violation of trust. As mentioned earlier, 16% of respondents in the NEFE study said financial fidelity led to a separation of finances or even divorce.
Previous studies have found that arguments about money are the single biggest source of divorce. So, the stakes are high.
Debt And Financial Infidelity
The amount of debt is often a major source of tension in relationships, even when financial infidelity is not involved.
A 2018 study by Fidelity Investments found that more than half of couples bring some type of debt into their marriage, with 4 in 10 acknowledging that such debt had a negative impact on their relationship.
While debt woes can create trouble in any relationship, the problem compounds when one member of the couple hides information about debt from the other. In the study that Olson participated in, the researchers asked participants to select behaviors that they felt met the definition of “financial infidelity.”
Deceiving a partner about racking up debt was named by 40% of participants, placing it third behind hiding or lying about spending and hiding or lying about savings.
How To Repair The Damage Of Financial Infidelity
Once financial infidelity occurs, the best you can do is pick up the pieces and try to repair any damage that has been done to the relationship.
“You can’t change what has already happened, but you can decide how to move forward, together,” Olson advises.
If you have been guilty of not disclosing your money issues to your partner, the time to end the deception is now. However, it is important not to simply blurt out the truth of what has been happening.
Instead, Olson recommends that you plan ahead and ask your partner to sit down with you to discuss financial problems you are facing.
“Do not spring this topic on your partner,” she cautions. . “Instead, set aside time, sit down together, and discuss in a judgment free zone.”
Money issues – especially those that revolve around the topic of credit card debt – can be difficult for couples to discuss. “Oftentimes, it’s not about money – it’s about security, stability, and autonomy,” says Olson.
She recommends that couples who are ready to openly discuss their debt situation make an effort to “hold space for each other” and to approach the conversation in a spirit of goodwill.
“Remember that you’re on the same team,” Olson advises. . “It’s easy to point fingers and assign blame when one – or both – partners has been acting as an independent agent. But marriage is a union.”
The Fidelity study offers hope that couples can work together to overcome their debt problems. More than half of survey respondents — 55% — say they feel responsible for helping to pay off their significant other’s debt.
Once you resolve your differences about past deceptions and agree to find debt relief together, the real work begins. Becoming debt free does not happen overnight, but if you attack the problem patiently and methodically, you can achieve your goal.
Options for eliminating your debt include speaking with a financial planner or a nonprofit debt counselor or working with a company such as National Debt Relief to understand how debt relief can work to get you on top of your debts.
If you continue to struggle with your partner over hidden debt issues, consider reaching out for help to someone in the burgeoning field of financial therapy for couples.
This type of counseling can help couples to focus on the emotions, behaviors, and beliefs surrounding their financial lives, and to learn better ways to communicate about money.
At National Debt Relief, we take pride in empowering people to regain their financial stability through our proven debt relief program. Contact us and talk to a financial expert who will work with you to find the best option to settle your debt and help you achieve financial independence.