Beware of Financial Infidelity

This morning on the Today Show, financial experts reviewed research on how money is the number-one cause of marital fights, and said the more couples fight about money, the more likely they are to become divorced.

We talked about this research here in February. The gist of it is that the more debt you have, the higher your marital stress level, while increased assets seem to bring security. Couples who used a budget had fewer arguments and higher marital satisfaction.

An interesting concept the Today contributors brought up that I had been thinking about is financial infidelity. That means one or both people are sneaking around about how they spend or save money. Secrets lead to fights, and fights lead to big marriage problems. It’s critical for couples to put all their financial debts, challenges and struggles out in the open so they can be negotiated and managed. Plans for improving finances will be more effective when honesty is displayed.

In the financial stability area, I feel extremely blessed. I can’t recall a single fight about money in our almost-15-year marriage. However, we have unusually similar financial priorities, goals and tendencies. For instance, we both tend to be savers, not spenders. And we like to spend money on the same sorts of things. My hubby tends to be a bit of a spendthrift about some things, which we may occasionally tease him about. But the bottom line is that I know his cautiousness about spending is a way to protect the family for the future.

So, we drive our cars longer than most people I know, and we delay on some unnecessary expenses, but we sleep better at night. We are probably also unusual in that we keep separate checking accounts (although both our names are listed on the accounts, and we both have full access if we needed it). This wouldn’t work for some couples, but it works well for us. Our savings accounts are combined.

Our philosophy has always been to spend less than we earn, substantially less when possible. That may seem obvious to most of you. (I sure hope so.) However, many couples are still thinking they can spend more this year and make it up next year. This generally leads to taking out loans or credit card debt, leading to increased fees and higher debt, more stress, and more arguments.

The experts suggest:

  1. Weekly meetings about your finances where you each provide updates, concerns and progress on your financial plans. You’ll need to discuss and negotiate your financial goals and plans. If you can’t have these meetings without fighting, you may need professional help (financial counselor, accountant, etc.)
  2. If you have credit card debt, focus on paying off the card with the highest interest rate first. Put all your extra money toward paying that one off, while you pay only the minimums on other cards. Then move to the card with the next highest interest rate.
  3. Use automatic payment plans to set up the payments you agree upon.
  4. If you argue about money more than 1-2 times a month, and you feel those arguments are harming your marriage, consider seeing a marriage counselor. Your upbringing and tendencies from your family of origin affect the way you view and use money. Money is viewed as power in a marriage. If you allow these issues to fester, and particularly if financial infidelity creeps in, your marriage is at risk. Divorce is more expensive than a marriage counselor, so get help before it becomes too difficult to repair.
  5. Consider selling assets or downsizing if your lifestyle has become too stressful to maintain. Even if you can afford a higher lifestyle, no one says you must upgrade. One couple I know chooses to use their excess for charitable giving. This decision has given them much greater peace and satisfaction in their marriage than they receive from spending.
  6. When possible, each spouse should have some flexibility in spending so they don’t begin to view their spouse as a “parent” who must approve every expenditure.

Also, read Money Help: Becoming a Financial Free Couple.

Has money been the cause of arguments in your relationship? Have you learned how to better manage these issues without fights?

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5 responses to “Beware of Financial Infidelity

  1. Financial Infidelity is an interesting idea. I know it does happen, but if my wife tried anything like that it would only take me a couple of days to notice. I think both people in a marriage should be aware enough of the family’s financial situation so they would notice when something like this happens.

    Great advice at the bottom of your post too!

  2. Well, then there’s certainly something to be said for being ridiculously poor! Money gets talked about a Lot in my household and every dollar is carefully accounted for because there are few to spare.

    There’s no argument and we both agree: we don’t have it!

  3. Thankfully we don’t argue over finances. We had an intensive premarital class – and watching my parents, others, etc – to get started on things like budgeting, meeting weekly to discuss finances. The meetings work well for us.

  4. I so love this post! My husband is a financial adviser and he has seen SO many marriages fall apart over finances because they don’t do the work to become a team when it comes to managing the family finances. It’s amazing to me how bonding it can be to have a weekly meeting about our budget :)

    • Thanks for the comment. A financial adviser would certainly see the stress on marriages due to poor financial decisions or not working as a team. I’ve never heard anyone talk about bonding over a weekly financial meeting, so KUDOS to you! ;-)

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