By Dr. Marissa Stanziani
Financial Infidelity is a term that consists of two words I never really pictured going together. But, alas, the meaning of the term and its associated behaviors are much more common than one would think. Financial Infidelity is when an individual within a partnership, be it romantic or otherwise, uses, saves, or (mis)manages, joint finances without the other’s knowledge. Like most things nowadays, the types of Financial Infidelity appear to fall on a spectrum, from seemingly innocuous to downright egregious. However, regardless of the severity, such actions and behaviors can cause significant discord in relationships.
Picture this, you and your partner both work well-paying jobs, but you make a little bit more money. One day you feel like treating yourself, so you book a massage. You don’t mention it to your partner; what they don’t know can’t hurt them, right? Besides, what is $100 anyway? A few weeks later, you get a promotion and a raise, so you decide to buy yourself some new work clothes. When your partner asks you about your day, you don’t mention the new clothes. You join a new gym, it’s a little expensive, but you love it, so you don’t tell your partner the actual price of membership, you low ball it a little bit. Now imagine that small little decisions like this go unnoticed for months, even years. Regardless of your financial wellbeing, one day your partner realizes you’ve been spending money without their knowledge, seemingly you’ve been doing it intentionally behind their back. Isn’t that betrayal?! What once was not, and perhaps would not have been, a problem, suddenly is knocking down the front door of your functioning relationship.
That is how small seemingly harmless actions lead to more significant problems. Just like making decisions about parenting, where to live, or life goals, financial decisions are at the crux of relationships. So how do we avoid finding ourselves in a hot tub of water we paid for without our partner knowing? We communicate!
Money, in some ways, is a lot like sex. It is taboo to talk about. Money is for hushed conversations behind closed doors that are as brief and painless as possible, right? Unfortunately, no. Money, like sex, is something that couples should discuss early on. I recently learned the term Money Story; the idea that each person comes to a relationship with their own Money Story. That is, the behaviors, thoughts, and emotions, we learned throughout our lives regarding money. Were our caregivers savers? Frugal? Spenders? Was money always shrouded in conflict, a tool for control, or was it an open conversation? All these things actively affect our own views on money and our interpersonal relationships. And there is no shame to have come from any of these scenarios but meeting them head on with your partner is paramount in a healthy functioning relationship.
So, have that conversation early on in your relationship. Before moving in together, before marriage, before sharing bank accounts. Create an open, judgement free environment so each person can share their thoughts, behaviors, and feelings without fear of recourse. Have the conversation early, and then continue to have it regularly throughout the years; at least annually if not more frequently. It is totally okay to split up tasks and responsibilities between you, but communication, transparency, and staying involved will be what sees you through!
Do you want to talk to someone about your money story, individually or as a couple? Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.