Financial infidelity can be as damaging as an affair

September 29, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • Money has always been named as a reason for divorce, but many spouses today are also turning to financial infidelity.
Photo illustration by Kevin G. Gilbert /Staff Photographer

Some will lie about their earnings. Others will siphon money from joint accounts. Then, there are those who create elaborate schemes to cover up gambling addictions and thousands of dollars of debt.

Having an affair isn't the only form of cheating that can ruin a marriage.

There's also financial infidelity — lying to a spouse or partner about money.

And, just like an affair, it can erode trust, create conflict and spell doom to a relationship.

According to a survey conducted earlier this year by the National Endowment for Financial Education, 31 percent of 2,000 respondents said they had been deceptive about money. One-third said they had been victims of money lies.

And 67 percent said financial deception led to an argument; 42 percent said it caused less trust in the relationship; and 16 percent said the dishonesty led to divorce.

With both offenders and victims, the leading money crimes were hiding cash, purchases and bills. Meanwhile, a significant number of people admitted keeping secret bank accounts and lying about earnings or large debts.

There were instances of people obtaining loans from their 401(k)s and even home equity loans without informing or being honest with their significant other.

Some also lied to cover up addictions to shopping, gambling, drugs or sex.

But the secrecy eventually manifested itself, the survey showed.

That's why Nick De Waal, a licensed clinical professional counselor, believes finances is a part of every relationship that needs to be addressed from the very beginning.

"I think it's a big issue in relationships," he said. "And I urge every couple to get on the same page in regard to finances. See what money is going where. Sit down and talk about financial futures and goals and discuss a budget. Finances are a big part of relationships and can lead to loss of trust."

De Waal, who practices in Hagerstown, said he has seen, in particular, the repercussions of hiding a gambling addiction.

"I believe, in this situation, some feel embarrassed because of their choices, which caused them to lose the money or make bad decisions," he said. "With gambling, one typically feels they can get it all back and replace what is lost so there is no need to let their spouse know.

"The disappointment of their actions is sometimes too much to admit but can cause severe problems if not communicated effectively to their partner," he added. "Sometimes, it is not about their partner but admitting to themselves that they have a problem."

A study by The Hartford and MIT AgeLab found that men and women tend to lie equally about money. Many lie because they feel entitled to make purchases, even if their significant others don't approve. They lie to protect their choice.

People who are big savers hide money, including bonuses, from their spouses or partners for fear it will be spent; while others, who are free spirits, keep secret accounts to support fun activities and purchases.

The study also noted that the individual who handles the family finances, such as physically writing the checks, making deposits and handling investments, has an easier time of financially cheating.

Researchers who conducted the study suggest that it's healthy for married couples to take joint responsibility in all aspects of financial management of a household, making every financial decision and taking every action together.

Once money lies are uncovered, the job of rebuilding trust begins, said De Waal.

"In any situation, where trust is lost, I believe it is very important to first acknowledge the behavior to your partner and yourself," he said.

De Waal said it's also important to realize that re-establishing trust will take time and honesty.

"Knowing that this takes time, it's important to provide reassurance to your partner," he said.  "Answer the questions your partner may have."

De Waal said there are several red flags that could alert an individual to whether or not a spouse or partner is financially cheating, including:

  •  Hiding bills
  •  Only carrying cash
  •  Having separate credit cards or banks
  •  Controlling all the finances and not sharing the responsibility with the partner.

"This can all be prevented by working together with the finances and doing the bills together or making the other aware about the budget and where the money is going," De Waal said.

Just like everything else in a relationship, he said, "It all boils down to communication."

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