Are you guilty of financial infidelity?
From lying about purchases to keeping credit cards or debts secret from your partner, experts say these red flags indicate you're heading for serious marital discord
In the near decade since they've been married, Ankita (name changed) has never asked her husband how much he earns every month. He's made it clear it's none of her business. As a stay-at-home mum to two kids, she feels the guilt of not contributing to the family purse, and says, "On some level, I actually believe I have no right to an opinion in these matters because I don't earn." But she also hates having to account to him for every little thing she spends on - which is why she began squirrelling away little amounts from the household allowance, whenever she could, just so every once in a while, she could indulge in a purchase - a pair of shoes, a perfume - that wouldn't end up in a squabble with her spouse (who she says would always feel she spent too much). "It's not that he's great with the budgeting at all," says Ankita. "He's actually quite careless with money, spending lavishly and unnecessarily on family and friends, even though we have increasing bills with the kids and no savings. But, for him, it's all about control."
She tells of a recent incident when her husband outed her on a fib and went "ballistic" - not so much for what was purchased, as for what he considered a serious case of mistrust, that she'd been lying to him for a while. Relationship experts have a term for this: financial infidelity. They'd also say Ankita's case falls on the lower spectrum of this all-too-common cause for marital conflict today - in that financial infidelity runs the gamut, from pretending all is well with the household budget when it is not. to having secret savings, investments or even debts that your partner doesn't have the foggiest clue about.
According to Bonnie Eaker Weil, author of Financial Infidelity: Seven Steps to Conquering the #1 Relationship Wrecker [that's right: Bonnie considers money, not mistresses, the real deal-breaker], secret credit cards, binge shopping, revenge spending, and POPs (pissed-off purchases) are just a few examples of how financial infidelity undermines trust and harms a relationship. "In fact, it is a form of cheating so subtle, people do not even know they are doing it," states the acclaimed New York-based couples therapist.
A CreditCards.com report, released in the US earlier this year, found that only 52 per cent of individuals polled believe their significant other is honest with them about financial matters. The survey also found that 31 per cent of respondents considered maintaining secret credit cards and accounts without a spouse's knowledge far worse than physical infidelity. Yet, the same website found (in a separate poll) that 1 in 20 admitted to concealing the existence of a credit card or bank account from their other half.
Stuart Ritchie, head of financial planners and director of AES International, which has offices in DIFC, notes that few couples remain entirely financially compatible throughout their marriage. "Even if, at the outset of a relationship, partners are earning and contributing similar amounts, disparity usually creeps in for one reason or another. For expatriates, it can be that a couple has relocated to enable one partner's career to advance, at the cost of the other partner's career ambitions. This can occasionally create feelings of resentment or entitlement, both of which can lead to financial infidelity, or to money being used as a weapon. But, more commonly, the fact is men and women typically think and talk about money in very different ways."
It's not just man:woman ratios that are driving these conflicts. Cultural attitudes, country laws and upbringing play a big role in why people are financially unfaithful. But the standard response to couples in modern marriages unable to find common ground in money matters is to opt for separate financial lives. "Maintaining separate accounts means my wife and I have less arguments about how we spend our respective incomes," says Mathew (name changed), who works in sales and ticks the middle-income bracket. "It affords us a degree of financial independence we wouldn't have if we were pooling all our money into one account. We split the bills, and are able to spend the rest of our earnings as we wish - which is a good thing, as we have very different ideas of where that money should go!" They still have their spats - especially when one needs to borrow from the other or spends more than a certain amount without informing their partner - but Mathew says the arrangement may be the best one for them for now.
Anne Jackson, a certified self-development and relationship coach at One Life Coaching (www.onelifecoachingme.com), believes commons goals are important to healthy relationships - and that couples can work towards them without losing their identity in the process. (After all, isn't that what the whole my-money-your-money game is essentially about: protecting ourselves?) The Dubai-based counsellor considers it a rather "shallow" approach if partners are unable to accommodate the other's financial values. "Every relationship has a set of values - and financial values are an important part of that. Once you know what those are, you can respect your partner's differences in values, rather than arguing with them to change them."
Choosing to not have those conversations or be accountable is not the solution, she adds. "Financial independence is important - but it should only be a percentage of your joint income. If you keep your finances separate, how do you build for the future?" she asks. "That is just a short-term solution for not growing your money, as it were. The power of two salaries combined is greater than two separate ones - so the latter may work while you're young or if you don't have kids, but if you continue along that path, you'll probably find you have nothing in 20 years."
Stuart agrees that those who work together on their financial goals are far more likely to achieve them - and sooner. "Using processes like cash flow modelling and lifetime forecasting, we are able to demonstrate, in black and white, the difference between working together, say, towards retirement and working separately. The numbers don't lie and are often a powerful enough illustration for more reluctant couples to see the very real benefits of working together on financial goals. Being unable to have an open and honest dialogue about money as a family can be erosive over time."
So, how does a couple move forward? Experts are almost unanimous in advising partners to set up joint accounts linked to everyday expenses, with both spouses getting an equal sum of money to spend as they please every month, as a way to ensure infidelity doesn't creep in. And this applies to equations where only one partner is bringing in the moolah - while the other holds down the home front - too. As Anne notes, "Even local courts of law recognise the job of child-rearing to be as important as that of the breadwinner. Judges say it's because your partner stays home and looks after the kids that you can work hard, win promotions and earn what you do. So, not sharing or allowing the non-earning member to have some decision-making capacity is never good for a marriage - which is supposed to be about being a team, not just sharing a roof."
Having honest conversations about your finances won't put a dampener on the romance - cheating does. It's tackling these issues together that will put your relationship right on the money.
5 signs of financial infidelity
1. Wanting total control of the family finances and not allowing the spouse access.
2. Insisting on total financial independence, which works against the "for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer" vows.
3. Telling the spouse that the situation is "x" but behaving like it is "y". For example, telling the family that they need to tighten their belts, but then spending lavishly themselves.
4. Constantly criticising the spouse's spending habits so that s/he spends an inordinate amount of time defending themselves, deflecting attention from the one cheating.
5. Any changes in habits - from large cash withdrawals to unexplained cheques.
- Courtesy: Anne Jackson