Financial infidelity can lead to marital strife

It’s a fact that money issues contribute to the breakup of many relationships.

As individuals, we worry about money. As couples, we argue about it. Or avoid the subject. Some people spend without knowing where their money goes. Others track every dollar and are frightened of losing it all.

Times are hard. Unemployment rates remain high — higher than the numbers the government reports, in part because the long-term unemployed are not counted in the statistics, as if everything was just fine with them.

Many have had their homes foreclosed on. Many saw their retirement, savings, and investments lose value in the recession, and could not take advantage when the stock market rebounded. College tuition continues to increase.

Such challenges are stressful and frequently contribute to marital problems — that’s so, even when we are open and honest with each other. When there is “financial infidelity,” relationships suffer even greater strains.

In January 2014, Harris Poll conducted a survey for the National Endowment for Financial Education, and the results, “Financial Infidelity Poses Challenges for Couples,” were posted on the Endowment’s website in February. Its findings are probably familiar to most who work with couples. Here are some of them:

Deceitful behaviors

Of those who have ever combined finances with a partner or spouse, 33 percent have committed financial deception.

When those who have combined finances were asked about their own behaviors, the data showed that 30 percent have hidden a purchase, bank account, statement, bill, or cash from a partner or spouse. Thirteen percent have lied about finances or debt.

Asked about the deceitful behavior of a spouse or partner, 30 percent said that a significant other had hidden a purchase, bank account, statement, bill, or cash. Twenty-one percent said a spouse or partner had lied about finances or debt.

Seventy-six percent said the financial deceptions affected current or past relationships in some way. As one would expect, trust is damaged; 33 percent said it caused less trust in the relationship.

Why behave deceitfully?

• Thirty-five percent said they believe some aspects of their finances should remain private, even from their spouse or partner.

• Twenty-four percent said they discussed finances with their spouse or partner, but knew the spouse would disapprove.

• Sixteen percent were embarrassed or fearful about their finances and didn’t want their spouse or partner to find out.

• Fifteen percent said that while they hadn’t discussed finances with their spouse or partner, they feared the spouse would disapprove.

Conclusions? Some might take away from these findings that partners should share financial information with each other. All of it. Always. This approach may work well for some couples.

For others, deciding together that each can spend an agreed upon amount on whatever she or he wants without any obligation to tell the other, will be the right way to go. (This approach would very likely suit those in the 35 percent that said they believe aspects of their finances should remain private.)

You and your partner may well have different temperaments. It is very possible that growing up, your experiences regarding saving, spending, debt and so on taught each of you different lessons. Some of those lessons may have been unhealthy; for instance, the perception that money is bad and something to be frightened of, which resulted in never learning how to handle financial matters.

With a partner, or just for yourself, being honest about money pays off. Admittedly, talking about money can be hard work, especially if one of you has been deceitful. But a willingness to talk, listen, and change destructive behaviors may help to improve your own life and strengthen the relationship.

New York City and Long Island-based divorce mediator and collaborative divorce lawyer Lee Chabin helps clients end their relationships respectfully and without going to court. Contact him at lee_chabin@lc-mediate.com, (718) 229–6149, or go to lc-mediate.com/. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/lchabin.

Disclaimer: All material in this column is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.