By Mpho Kuhlmann
Bring up the word “infidelity” around a group of friends and you’re likely to see the conversation veer off to issues regarding cheating with another man or woman. But there’s another form of infidelity that is proving to be just as damaging to relationships: financial infidelity.
Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecturer at the University Of Botswana says money is one of the most pervasive and frequent sources of conjugal conflict. “While physical infidelity can be chalked up to a moment of weakness, having a secret credit card represents an ongoing series of lies and hiding, which for many is much worse than any physical betrayal. For many of us, money brings up primal feelings, such as survival and safety ÔÇô and represents our personal power to create the material lives we want. We all bring to our intimate relationships our own biases, hopes and fears, levels of financial literacy and experiences surrounding money from growing up in our families”
Financial infidelity is real, and one in five people in relationships lie to their partners about money ÔÇö about where they keep it, where they spend it, how much they have. Financial infidelity can mean many things, you might have a secret bank account or credit card, you may make big purchases that your spouse doesn’t know about, or you could be piling up debt, or on the contrary, investing or gambling and making money that your partner is unaware of. If one person is a risk-taker with investments, or one spouse likes to buy material possessions, it can be hard to reconcile those behaviors with someone who prefers to save money in safe ways. Unfortunately, some financial infidelity happens because couples aren’t open about finances in the first place. Sometimes, couples don’t sit down and talk about money, chances are they have accounts that the other doesn’t know about.Where secrets are, lies will follow, and where lies are found, trust is completely broken between the couple.
While many people may not think that lying about finances is as problematic as actual romantic cheating, it’s still a huge deceit that can ruin relationships. After all, a small white lie can feel like a big betrayal. Plus, if a spouse is hiding a small amount of money somewhere and you discover it, how do you know they aren’t hiding more that you just haven’t found yet. Many people are engaging in financial infidelity without realizing it, or even knowing that they are doing anything wrong. Part of the reason is that many couples don’t communicate their expectations about spending. As a result, many people might not see the need to tell a spouse about an expense, or understand where transparency would be appropriate. Then there’s the element of shame. Money is a sticky topic for most couples, trusting someone who’s able to carry on this nature of deceit is difficult. Once one discovers a big lie like financial infidelity, it’s hard not to wonder what other lies they might be telling. The gravity of a lie about finances could point to other types of infidelity, like sexual or romantic. After all, financial infidelity could be hiding something major, like supporting a baby born out of wedlock that came from an extramarital affair.
Leruo Tlale from Botswana Railways in Gaborone says financial infidelity cuts at the heart of our sense of safety, trust and security with our partners. “Even if love is the foundation of your marriage, finances can also play a big part in how you feel about each other. Trusting each other with money can bring a couple closer together ÔÇô or push them apart. On the other hand, lying about money can be a form of financial infidelity. Hiding funds or spending money on secret purchases can turn couples against each other.”
Mpho Badubi of Botswana Insurance Company Limited in Gaborone says many divorces are due to financial infidelity. “People often hide accounts because they feel shame and anxiety about their irresponsible financial behavior. They fear they will be harshly judged or rejected by their partners or might have to face a big conflict in the relationship that they don’t think they can handle. Some are hiding either past or current poor money decisions, compulsive spending or perhaps high-risk behaviors, such as gambling. This has led to many divorces.”