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 libido. But there's another form of infidelity that is proving to be just as damaging to relationships: financial infidelity.
Up until the Great Recession of 2008, the data on financial infidelity was both sparse and inconclusive. But as economic conditions increasingly began to weigh on the financial stability of U.S. households, researchers are finding that financial infidelity is now trumping sexual infidelity as the largest threat to stable relationships.
A recent survey, co-published by Today.com and SELF magazine, takes a closer look and illustrates the severity of financial infidelity and it's impact on relationships.
The study builds on previous work on the subject by the National Endowment for Financial Education, which claims 58 percent of spouses hide money from their partners, and the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, which says one in four spouses wouldn't tell their partners about "financial difficulties."
While both studies are worthy of additional review, the Today/SELF survey is especially enlightening, shining a harsh light on the lengths that some partners will go to hide financially destructive behaviors from their spouses.
Today/SELF polled 23,000 online adults, and found that most respondents (60 percent) view financial infidelity as harshly as sexual infidelity, with one-third linking the two, saying that lying about money, ultimately leads to lying about sex.
Researchers also found that almost half of all survey respondents (46 percent) have lied to their spouses or partners about money at one time or another. These financial fibs included hiding purchases, lying about money spent, and hiding cash withdrawals from joint banking and investment accounts in what the survey calls a "clandestine" fashion.
Money Secrets: Men vs. Women
According to the study, almost twice as many women as men hid purchases from their partner, while over a third said they keep "money secrets" from their loved ones due to conflicting attitudes on the three cornerstones of family finances -- money, credit and debt.
"Discussing money can be very awkward, but it is important to have this conversation with your partner early on," notes SELF Editor-in-Chief, Lucy Danziger. "To have a successful relationship, you need to have trust and hiding money secrets is a huge way to break that confidence. Open up about past debts, then lay some ground rules for the future and have a mutual agreement on your expenses. This openness will save you from many fights in the end and lead to a much healthier relationship."
Facing Financial Infidelity Head On
At Credit Sesame, we're all too aware of the destructive potential debt and money problems can have on individuals --and couples and families. Our work with consumers reveals that money is an emotional lightning rod, particularly when consumers bring their own preconceived notions of what constitutes "fidelity" into a long-term relationship.
When consumers mix credit and debt, they tend to personalize the issue. And as financial problems accumulate, spouses and partners may see it as preferable (or in their minds, unavoidable) to lie or cover up money issues -- if only to buy more time to solve the problem.
What steps can financially troubled consumers take to alleviate financial infidelity before it seriously impairs their relationship? Consider these steps:
- Make a pact to make financial decisions as a team.
- Agree on a monthly sum of money that each partner can spend, "no questions asked" -- as long as it fits the budget.
- Confess if you've been hiding money. Clinical data shows that transparency builds trust and solidifies relationships.
Warning Signs What red flags should partners look for if they suspect financial infidelity? Here are a few telltale signs:
- A partner who wants to control the finances with no input.
- Suspicious withdrawals from investment accounts.
- One person changes the subject when money discussions come up.
Financial infidelity is a genuine threat to relationships and any partner who compromises the trust associated with shared assets threatens to severely damage the relationship -- often times, irrevocably.
This doesn't have to happen. Financial relationships, like any relationship, thrive on clarity and transparency. Practice both, and financial infidelity won't be an issue in your life.
Adrian Nazari is the Founder and CEO of CreditSesame.com, a free personal finance resource that gives consumers the power of bank-level analytics — providing comprehensive credit and debt analysis, monthly access to your free credit score, and personalized savings advice to help improve your finances, build wealth, and save money.