Right now, in homes across the country, there are dirty little secrets stashed in shopping bags in the trunks of cars. Some are tucked away behind storage boxes in the garage or lurking under the bed.
Why are they hiding? Because it’s easier than having the argument that will inevitably come once the secret keeper’s spouse finds out.
“People who would never consider cheating on a spouse with another person will rationalize betraying a spouse’s trust by cheating on the family budget.”
Even in otherwise happy marriages, it’s tempting for couples to occasionally keep money secrets from each other. What sometimes begins as a minor omission can snowball into full-fledged financial infidelity and threaten the future of the relationship. Sooner or later, the numbers don’t add up and the truth comes out.
People who would never consider cheating on a spouse with another person will rationalize betraying a spouse’s trust by cheating on the family budget.
Why do we do it? Some do it because they’re ashamed of an impulsive purchase and don’t want the judgement or embarrassment they’ll feel if their spouse finds out.
Some do it because they’re married to a financial control freak who questions or criticizes almost every buying decision, and keeping the secret is a way for the spouse to assert some control over their own financial life.
According to the 2016 Harris poll for the National Endowment for Financial Education, 42% of Americans admit to lying to their spouses about financial issues. With a number that significant, it’s easy to see why money is often cited as the No. 1 cause of divorce.
Here are some of the red flags that financial and behavioral experts say might indicate that a spouse is keeping money secrets:
+ Spouse refuses to talk about money or constantly changes the subject or delays conversations about money.
+ Spouse keeps shopping trips or major purchases a secret.
+ Spouse has financial statements or bills sent to a work address instead of a home address.
+ Spouse gets overly emotional about money.
+ Spouse is paranoid and/or insistent about getting the mail.
+ Spouse makes unexpected and/or excessive ATM withdrawals.
+ Spouse has a financially addictive hobby.
+ Spouse removes you as a joint user on a credit card.
On his website, financial expert and author Dave Ramsey writes that there are different reasons why a spouse might be keeping money secrets.
“Some people spend behind their significant other’s back because they feel it’s the only way they can have stuff without getting in trouble. In that case, that’s a marriage and a communication issue,” Ramsey writes. “You should never be afraid of the person you are married to. If you can’t communicate about it without fighting, get a marriage counselor.”
Ramsey warns that sometimes money secrets stem from an addiction problem – with alcohol, drugs, gambling, pornography or something else. He said couples with those issues should definitely seek help from a counselor or their church.
“Both spouses should also have access to financial documents and website passwords for banks and credit card accounts at all times.”
The good news is that couples can and often do overcome financial infidelity by coming clean with each other and restructuring the way they talk about money. Many experts recommend having a certain money threshold that you won’t exceed without first discussing it with your spouse.
Both spouses should also have access to financial documents and website passwords for banks and credit card accounts at all times.
Finally, if one or both spouses feel as if they can’t buy anything without “permission,” set aside monthly “fun money” so that each person has control over a portion of the family budget without having to run it by the other spouse first.
With some basic guidelines in place and a commitment to being open with each other, couples can drag their financial skeletons out of the closet and help prevent them from becoming relationship killers in the future.