Bring up the word “infidelity” at a dinner party or on a psychiatrist’s couch, and you’re likely to see the conversation veer off to issues regarding the libido.
But there may be an even more insidious form of infidelity that packs just as much punch as the romantic kind, and can just as easily break up a couple.
A new study shows that 80% of couples spend money behind their significant others back – and don’t tell them about the purchase. Another 18.5% of the 200 survey respondents included in the study have opened a credit card without their partner’s knowledge.
In addition, 38% of survey respondents who do practice financial infidelity say they fear that, if found out, their relationships would end quickly.
Why do so many people hide debt and spending issues from their loved ones? Primarily (and this goes for not only couples, but for family members, too) individuals don’t like conflict. Not only do they fear that being exposed would end valued relationships, they just don’t want to get into an argument over their profligate spending habits.
Part of it is insecurity, too. In a 2005 survey of 1,000 men and women, Money Magazine concluded that 71% of study participants lied about money. Psychologist, deception expert and study contributor Robert Feldman of the University of Massachusetts said, “People lie because they need to present themselves as competent and worthy. Money is one key way people feel they are valued.”
Okay, lying about money to your partner is a problem – now what’s the solution?
Here are a few tips for talking to loved ones about money, debt and spending.
- Be honest with yourself. Nobody can change a toxic situation into a healthy one without admitting they have a problem first. It’s not as hard as you think. Recognizing you have a problem doesn’t make you a bad person, but failing to take productive steps to redeem yourself is another story. It’s best to acknowledge the reality of your situation before you go forward.
- Be above board. Opening up and laying your cards out on the table isn’t easy if you’ve been hiding spending and debt, but it’s the key first step to coming clean.
- Talk about cash versus credit. The best way to track spending is by keeping a close eye on your bank account and your credit cards. Agree up front with your loved one that you’ll set aside one hour per week to review credit card purchases (you’ll need to sign up on your credit card company’s website to track ongoing purchases) and bank account withdrawals. It’s a lot harder to hide a spending spree when the information is laid out for both of you to see in the harsh light of a bank account or credit card statement.
- If your loved one brings up “red flags”. Be honest. If you have a history of making only the minimum payment on your credit card, or claiming you only use your credit card to earn rewards points, understand that such behavior may signal a “red flag” to your partner. Be prepared to explain how you use credit, and how you usually pay it back.
Financial infidelity is a serious trust issue – one that could affect your blossoming relationship for years to come. Get ahead of the problem by speaking honestly with your partner, and developing an agreed-upon plan to confront your spending problems before they sink your relationship.