Financial problems are a leading cause of divorce and can drive a wedge between couples. Sometimes, financial infidelity has been going on for years and goes unnoticed and in other cases, a partner may suspect it’s happening but use rationalization or denial because they have trouble believing that their loved one would be deceitful.
It’s not uncommon for couples to withhold financial information or avoid full disclosure due to mistrust, resentment, insecurity, anger, or emotional sensitivities due to past betrayal.
Like many couples, Sydney and Kevin, in their early forties, rarely spoke about their finances, so it was easy for debt to build up and most of their discussions about money turned into arguments. Married for over a decade and raising two children, they had drifted apart and the last thing they wanted to talk about at the end of a long day was finances.
When a couple has poor communication skills and baggage from the past, this can be disastrous for a marriage because it destroys trust and intimacy. It can also set the stage for financial infidelity.
Kevin put it like this: “When I found out Sydney had a $10,000 balance on her visa it hurt because we’re going to have a hard time paying that off. It bothers me that she didn’t trust me enough to tell me.”
Truth be told, when couples are dishonest and one or both partners try to gain control or achieve security by withholding important information about finances, this can destroy the fabric of your relationship. Financial infidelity can be defined as consciously or deliberately lying about money, credit, and/or debt. It’s not occasionally forgetting to record a check or debit card transaction.
How to Deal Effectively with Financial Issues
The first step in dealing with financial problems in your marriage is to be vulnerable and honest with your partner about money. Admitting that there is a problem and a willingness to get help from a professional are essential to saving a marriage with financial infidelity or stress.
Both people in a relationship need to be honest about their financial mistakes in the present and in the past, so that they can truly repair the damage done. That means bringing out every statement, credit card receipt, bill, credit card, checking or savings account statement, or any loan, or other evidence of spending.
Next, both partners need to make a commitment to work through issues together. If any financial infidelity occurred, the person who was betrayed needs time to adjust to the details of the breach of trust and this does not happen overnight.
Couples need to share details about your past and current debts. Keep in mind that you will be discussing emotions as well as numbers. For instance, Kevin said to Sydney, “I felt so hurt when I found out about your high credit card balance.” Share details about your past and current debts, as well as spending habits. Full disclosure is highly recommended so that your partner can begin to rebuild trust.
In order to deal effectively with bringing debt into your marriage, you must make a commitment to having regular and open dialogues about money. Practicing full disclosure and developing a budget plan geared toward a debt-free marriage will allow you to achieve financial success and happiness.
Building a Budget Plan
In Mary Hunt’s Debt-Proof Your Marriage, you will find advice about building a budget plan. This list summarizes her suggestions with my own advice added:
1. Write a record of spending. This is a detailed list of your average monthly income and a detailed recording of where your income goes. This list becomes your baseline and it will include debts from previous marriages (credits cards, loans, etc.).
2. Review your record at the end of the first week. Discuss the spending that took place without criticism or judgment. Try to be as calm as possible and avoid overreaction if you want your partner to continue sharing.
3. Develop a monthly record based on four weekly records. You can label it something like “Sydney and Kevin’s Monthly Spending Record” and be sure to total up the categories of expenditures.
4. Look at money leaks (money that’s pouring out of your bank account) and laundering (spending that’s kept secret or skimmed to avoid confrontation). Both of these issues will make it hard to build trust and allow you to reach financial success.
In order to keep a record of income and expenditures for over a three-month period, place everything into a category, explains Patricia Schiff Estess, in Money Advice for Your Successful Remarriage. At a minimum, you’ll want these categories and should feel free to add more and revise:
- Basic Housing Costs (rent/mortgage; taxes; insurance, utilities, water, and fuel, etc.)
- Phone (cell phones and a land-line if used)
- Housing Upkeep (repairs; furniture, equipment; appliances; household help, etc.)
- Meals in restaurants and take-out
- Entertainment (recreation, movies, plays, concerts, tickets to community events, etc.)
- Clothing (purchasing it; dry cleaning)
- Transportation (everything you spend on a car, subway, bus fair, tolls, etc.)
- Travel (vacations; airfare; gas, hotels; car rentals)
- Education for adults and children, including private schools and college
- Medical (co-pays and monthly contributions to health insurance; any out-of-pocket expenses including medicine)
- Family (childcare; child support; allowances)
- Savings and investments (all pension and retirement plan contributions; all investments, including real estate)
- Charity and gifts (including church contributions and donations to parent’s colleges)
- Debt (interest and principal payments you’re making monthly)
- Taxes (federal, state and local)
- Personal (pocket money that’s hard to keep track of and used for beverages, snacks, etc.)
- Don’t forget to add up everything on this ledger and try keeping as little cash in your pocket as possible so you can better track your expenses. Once you have a clear view of your assets and expenses, you’ll be in a better position to come up with a detailed budget plan. Before you make up your budget plan, take time to discuss your financial goals.
Make a Commitment to Change
Promise to stop doing the behavior that’s problematic and offer your partner reassurance that you have made a commitment to change. You may need to do this by showing them bank and/or credit card statements. It’s vital that you commit yourself to doing whatever is necessary to rebuild trust with your partner and to rid yourself of debt and spending habits that are contributing to any financial problems in your marriage. Consider counseling sessions as a couple to gain support and a neutral party’s feedback for at least eight to twelve sessions or until you see improvement.
5 Ways to Promote Financial Health in Your Marriage
1. Full Disclosure about money. This may be a challenge if you’re used to keeping finances separate or tend to keep secrets about finances. However, it’s the first and most important step to building trust and financial security in your partner.
2. Practice rational detachment when you and your partner discuss finances. Avoid becoming overly emotional or defensive when you want to discuss money. He or she may yell, accuse you of being insensitive, and/or start crying when you bring up finances. If this happens, simply ask to take a 20-minute break and get back together when you are calm.
3. Be honest with your partner about your income and expenses. If you or your partner lies about money this is a red flag of bigger issues. If either one of you use denial as a defense mechanism and refuse to admit you have a problem, it’s a sign that you need couples counseling.
4. Make a commitment to have a savings plan and try to stick to your budget. This is a good thing to do, especially if you have children and/or stepchildren that you are raising. Try not to take it too personally if your partner wants to see your credit card statement or check book. Remember that full disclosure is the goal for every couple who desires more intimacy and trust.
With time and patience, you should be able to identify your fears and concerns about finances with your partner. Remember there is no “right” or “wrong” way to deal with money matters and it’s a good idea to focus more on listening and give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Remember that feelings are not “good” or “bad,” they are just real emotions that need to identified, processed, and shared effectively without blaming your partner, if you want to achieve financial health in your marriage.
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