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Financial Infidelity In Your Relationship? Here’s What To Do

It’s time to diffuse that financial tension by tackling the issue head-on

Do you ever find yourself coming home from the store and hiding your purchases from your partner, or has your partner ever taken a larger-than-expected money out of savings without telling you? Your relationship could be suffering from some financial infidelity, often the result of couples not communicating clearly about finances in general and spending in specific. In a recent study published by The Journal of Financial Therapy, psychologists found 24 percent of people had hidden purchases from their partner, 23 percent had lied about the price they paid for something and 19 percent said they bought something on sale but paid full price. If you or your significant other are experiencing some form of financial infidelity, here’s what you can do to get on the same page.

Start with the positive

A simple way to kick-off a conversation with your partner about finances is by talking about your future goals. “These forward-thinking discussions tend to be positive in nature and allow you to ease into the more uncomfortable topics around debt, credit and current financial status,” says Sonali Divilek, Chief Operations Officer, Customer Office at Prudential Financial. Sit down and ask: What do we want to use our money for this year. Next year? In five years? And how are we going to work together in order to accomplish those things. That allows you to get into tactical strategies for how much money it’s going to take to actually make those items you listed a reality. But it also opens the door to things you’re not going to be able to do.

Acknowledge your differences

At the same time you talk about the things you want together, it’s important to acknowledge that there are financial freedoms you want yourself. We sometimes fool ourselves into thinking that just because we marry or partner with another individual, they’re going to want exactly the same things we want at exactly the same time we want them. Wrong! “It might sound counterintuitive, but it’s important for each person to have their own money. It can be any amount that you both determine is best (dependent on your financial situation), but by having your own money, you don’t feel the need to hide purchases or indulge yourself occasionally,” says Divilek. Talk about finding space in your budget to give each other some money to do with as they want without question or judgment.

Draw a line in the sand

Simultaneously, come up with an arbitrary number that makes sense based on your financial situation and agree not to cross it without consulting your partner. Perhaps it’s $100, maybe $500. The point is, you agree that you’ll no longer buy that new big screen TV without if it costs more than that without talking to your spouse about it. You won’t give that much to charity or lend it to your brother unless you have a conversation about it first. Having a rule like this sets boundaries which can help you avoid the temptation to sweep lies under the rug. That’s a relationship plus. “By trying to hide any negative aspects of your finances – whether it be lying about the amount of debt you have or augmenting your credit score – it will inevitably come out and cause issues later, both in your finances and your relationship.”

Bring in help if you need it

Talking about money isn’t easy. Talking about money when you’re already feeling conflicted about it is harder still. If you can’t get yourselves to sit down and actually sit through a conversation, get some help in the form of a compassionate financial planner says Denise Nostrom ChFC, CLU; Founder and Owner of Diversified Financial Solutions. “Having an objective third party will allow both partners to discuss their financial situation as well as their feelings,” says Nostrom. Among the tactical issues to talk through: How much you’re both saving, where that money is going, how you’re dealing with joint and individual debts and prioritization. If you have one goal that’s more important than the others, a planner can help you work through it, says Nostrom.

Don’t wait or hesitate

Finally, if you’re sensing financial tension in your relationship — even if you haven’t experienced outright infidelity, it’s time to tackle the issue head-on. Money happens to be one of the biggest reasons couples fight or even break up, so discussing finances is such an important conversation to have early on in the relationship. “One simple question can start the conversation,” says Nostrom. “How do you feel about money?.” Ask it. And see what happens.

With Hattie Burgher

Jean Chatzky

Jean Chatzky