I hear many stories of where couples have hidden their spending or debt from each other and this has caused conflict in their relationship. In other words there has been financial infidelity.
Couples don’t intentionally start off hiding their spending or debt from each other. Rather this has evolved over time as situations or arguments about money have arisen resulting in one or both partners not being completely honest with each other when it comes to their money habits.
This usually stems our upbringing and where we learned our money values from i.e. how our parents managed money and the principles they passed on to us or that we experienced growing up. Therefore when it comes to a relationship, one of you may be a spender and one of you may be a saver which can create conflict when it comes to relationship money matters.
So how important is it to disclose your financials with each other?
Relationships that have a strong foundation can overcome any challenge they are faced with and Trust is a big factor when it comes to building a strong foundation in a relationship. Our background plays a large role in how we feel about money, how we manage money and what our money values are. If partners have different perspectives about money based on their upbringing, it can cause conflict and result in partners hiding their money.
You shouldn’t have to disclose every penny you spend, however there should be transparency on earnings, who is paying for what when it comes to household or lifestyle expenses. This should be discussed relative to each other’s income levels so that is deemed fair.
Financial infidelity can have a huge impact on a relationship or marriage
When partners have had numerous discussions around finances and assume there is a common understanding or that they are on the same page where managing money is concerned only to find out later this is not the case, can have some serious impact on the relationship. It can cause a lot of anger, resentment, hurt, pain, betrayal and trust issues as well as severe financial implications should there have been reckless spending or debt incurred.
What are the implications when it comes to hiding debt or unwanted spending behaviour from each other?
Depending on the type of relationship (e.g. married via ANC or In Community of Property), if a partner has not been transparent with their money management, they may well have created a situation that puts not only the relationship at risk but also the credibility of their partner due to being reckless or making hasty decisions.
This can result in the loss of their assets (e.g. home), as well as have the innocent partner liable for debt that they had no idea about, was not involved in or had any part in the process leaving them being black-listed and paying off unwanted debt for years to come.
How do couples start the conversation about finances and when is the right time to talk about it?
Money conversations should start early on in the relationship once it has progressed to a more serious level (e.g. being mutually exclusive, moving in together etc). However there are some common signs or red flags one can look out for in the beginning stages of a relationship:
- When you go out, notice and observe who pays for what. Does your partner always wait for you to take out your wallet, do you split the bill/go dutch, do you take turns paying etc?
- Notice your partners spending habits, are they always shopping for the latest gadgets, fashion or trending items?
- Observe how your partner speaks about money issues eg. savings, investments, managing debt.
- Observe how your partner tips when it comes to restaurants, petrol attendants etc
Money conversations should really happen before a couple moves in together, there should be transparency on who is earning what and how that can be used as a guide to share household expenses e.g. you can expect your partner to pay half of everything when they earn a substantially lower amount than you (it should be split proportionately).
Couples can even go as far as drawing up a household budget, allocate who pays for what, perhaps even open up a joint expenses account where they deposit their portion into and the balance they keep as their own individual money that they are free to spend as they wish however, there should still be ground rules and discussions when it comes to large purchases, loans or other such money topics to prevent any nasty surprises.
What are your options should you find yourself in a situation where there has been financial Infidelity?
Have a discussion with your partner that requires complete transparency. You may need to do a complete review of your financial situation and seek legal input if necessary (e.g. debt review, legal obligations/consequences etc).
Reset the boundaries going forward in your relationship as to how each of you will conduct your financial contributions and money management. If couples cannot have this conversation themselves they may need to seek the help of a professional to assist them with the process.
Paula Quinsee: Relationship Expert, Tedx speaker and author of self-help guides: Embracing Conflict and Embracing No. Paula teaches individuals and companies tools and skills to immediately and positively enhance the quality of their personal and organisational relationships.