Financial infidelity is a major contributor to marital discord and can be just as devasting to marriage as relationship or sexual cheating. In either case, trust is dismantled. If couples do not learn how to deal with financial cheating, they may very well be on their way to divorce. Studies have shown that money problems are one of the biggest contributors to divorce. (Money worries biggest reason for marriage ending).
What is financial infidelity? Simply put, financial infidelity is not being forthcoming or honest in matters related to spending, debt, income, banking accounts, as well as not working toward (or hindering) agreed-upon financial goals. Consider the following questions:
- Do you withhold information about your salary, bonuses, or raises?
- Do you hide purchases from your spouse? In my previous life of financial ignorance, I used to wait until my spouse fell asleep before retrieving my shopping bags from the trunk of my car. Sound familiar?
- Does your spouse know the status of your outstanding credit or loan balances, including student loans? Do you hide credit card or other loan statements?
- Do you still have active banking accounts from your single days, or have you opened banking accounts since being married, and your spouse is unaware of those accounts or the balances?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you are guilty of financial infidelity, and you may be placing your marriage in jeopardy. Couples who are transparent with their finances, establish shared goals, and are committed to those goals are the most successful in their marriage and in meeting their financial goals. There are some things couples can do to increase their chances for success:
- Marry the right person. Seriously. You should date someone long enough to get a sense of their attitude and behavior on spending, saving, and goal setting. If they are only interested in spending and creating debt—that’s a huge red flag that there will be financial discord in your marriage.
- Put all your cards on the table (before marrying and certainly during the marriage). List all income, savings, debt, and bank accounts. Complete transparency is the only way to accurately set financial goals and objectives (what you want to do and how you’re going to do it). I know a couple who married and shortly afterwards the wife learned about her husband’s $50,000 student loan balances. Obviously, this was not something she planned to deal with when establishing their financial goals. Transparency is the first step to creating and building trust.
- Identify shared goals. Do you want to buy a home, invest, take annual vacations, or establish a college fund for the kids? You should agree on your goals and establish their priority.
- Create a plan (budget) that includes allocating resources to your shared goals.
- Commit to the plan. This is where the most damage occurs. It’s easy to establish goals and come up with a plan, whether it’s a verbal plan (“We need to get out of debt.”) or a detailed written plan (highly recommended), each person must be committed to doing their part. You can’t go off-script with your spending. If your shared goal is to save for a down payment on a home, shopping and vacationing at every opportunity will hinder you from meeting that goal. If you and your spouse have committed to paying down your debt, one person’s excessive and hidden spending is cheating. You must both be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to stay on track in meeting your goals.
When one spouse fails to follow the plan, they are displaying defiance and disrespect, which will lead to resentment, arguments, and ultimately the marriage may become irretrievably broken. Amos 3:3 says it best, “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” One of the keys to a successful marriage is to recognize that as a couple, you are to operate on one accord in body, mind, spirit, and finances.