Committed romantic relationships are built on trust, but deceptive financial behaviour can ruin any efforts made to build a solid foundation. Financial deception can cause just as much harm in the relationship or marriage as cheating on your spouse. Simply put, cheating with money is the act of intentionally concealing financial transactions from your spouse. This is known as ‘Financial Infidelity’.
In the first systematic research on financial infidelity in committed romantic relationships titled, “Love, Lies and Money: Financial Infidelity in Romantic Relationships”, Garbinsky et al (2019) defined financial infidelity as “engaging in any financial behaviour expected to be disapproved of by one’s partner and intentionally failing to disclose this behaviour”. This financial behaviour shares the same characteristics with sexual infidelity in the sense that it involves deceit, secrecy and mistrust, which is a terrible combination to have in any committed romantic relationship.
Common financial infidelity behaviour includes hiding or lying about spending, income, saving and investments; creating undisclosed debt; giving money to others (friends, family, etc.) without the other parties’ knowledge; as well as undisclosed gambling. Some partners prefer not to disclose their income, source or additional income received, for various reasons. It could be out of fear of being judged when income is relatively low, or they want to want to create room for undisclosed expenses, and sometimes because of the fear that the spouse will spend it all. Whether done in good or bad faith, committing financial deception against your loved one is likely to wreak havoc on your marriage or relationship.
Power imbalances in committed romantic relationships have also been found to play a significant role in conflicts around money. Traditionally, men are the primary financial decision-makers, but research found that they also tend to be more sensitive to disagreements about money because of the expectation they have to retain financial control in the relationship. With empowered women, who want to be more involved in financial decision making, sometimes due to lack of communication, conflicts may arise on how money should be spent. This may also result in financial infidelity to avoid arguments over money.
However, financial infidelity is often considered subtle and hidden, and sometimes the partner involved in financial deception does not even realise they are doing anything wrong. It may be that at the beginning of the relationship or marriage, the couple never talked openly about money management issues or set ground rules around spending. Sometimes even if the couple established such agreements, infidelity could occur when the other partner breaks the rules. It may start small and seem harmful, like creating small debts, but if left concealed for a considerable amount of time, it may reach extreme levels until the debt-ridden spouse can no longer find a way to make ends meet. Nothing good ever comes out of such behaviour as it may even turn catastrophic, resulting in separation or divorce.
In their study titled “Financial Infidelity in Couple Relationships”, Stadthagen et al. (2018) found out that keeping financial secretes does not only undermine trust and commitment, it could also hinder the couple’s ability to achieve intimacy. Managing finances together creates a strong bond between couples, as long as there is open communication about money issues. Creating a financial budget and plan as a couple and reviewing it regularly can improve communication on matters relating to finance, business and investments. Transparency is crucial when it comes to finances, it minimises conflicts and fights over money. It improves the couple’s well-being, intimacy, as well as their financial standing with the creditors and financial institutions. Ultimately, raising awareness about financial infidelity benefits everyone.
Disclaimer: Otisitswe K. Tawana-Madziba is the founder of Fin-Edu. For comments, kindly send an email to [email protected] or visit www.fin-edubw.com.