When we think of infidelity, most of us picture the typical affair: A mysterious, beautiful woman, a discreet hotel room and lipstick-stained collars. However, not all cheating is so cut-and-dry. In fact, there are ways to betray your partner without ever even looking at another woman.
I am talking about financial infidelity. Yes, believe it or not, there are ways to cheat on your spouse that involve nothing other than your bank account and your secret penchant for online poker.
Money is the most common issue that couples fight about, and with good reason. Money isn’t about numbers. It’s about security, trust, and intimacy. In our society, money is what guarantees us a safe, healthy and happy life, so when we share that money with our loved ones, we are essentially sharing our quality of life and our future with them. No wonder money can cause so many fights.
When we look in our checking account and see that $200 is missing, we aren’t just angry because our partner spent a large sum of money without our knowledge, but we are also left feeling fearful and anxious. We wonder: What if we don’t have enough money to make our mortgage payment this month? What if I lose my job and our savings account is depleted? What’s going to happen if we lose this house and end up with nowhere to live? Suddenly that $200 purchase feels very sacred and very important indeed—how dare your partner spend that money without asking you first?!
With so many emotions tied to money, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction and decipher when and if you or your partner has a true spending problem. For me, a good indicator of whether financial infidelity is occurring is the level of secrecy involved. For example:
• Do you or your partner lie, hide, or otherwise keep your purchases a secret?
• Do you or your partner routinely make agreements about money that you break? (i.e. You promise not to spend any money online shopping, but then you drop $340 on Amazon overnight).
• Do you or your partner spend money to the detriment of your relationship or family, such as by spending your vacation fund on poker or by selling items you own to upgrade your car?
If any of this sounds familiar, you might be dealing with financial infidelity. Financial infidelity occurs when one or both partners lie about money and purchases in order to satisfy their own desires. When they are found out, they might continue lying or they might become very defensive and angry about being confronted. They might make promises not to spend anymore, only to break down a few days later and spend some more.
Financial infidelity can often be linked to other issues, like a shopping addiction or a gambling addiction. However, it could also just be any type of spending that is hidden from your partner and that is detrimental to your intimacy and relationship. As I mentioned above, money is so much more than just numbers: It’s about shared love and trust, and shared goals for your future and for your family’s security.
If you think you might be suffering from financial infidelity, it’s crucial to start an open and honest dialogue with your partner right away. Come clean about past purchases, whether that means digging out receipts or showing her the hidden items you have stashed in your closet. Sit down as a couple and make a real tangible plan for your money and your spending. It might be a great idea to meet with a financial planner. Moving forward, keep your purchases transparent and be honest about your spending. You might even keep an Excel list on the fridge where you can each write down what money you spend every day. You might not need to be so detailed in the future, but in order to recover from financial infidelity, total and complete honesty and transparency is crucial moving forward.
And, if you think you or your partner might be suffering from a gambling or shopping addiction, it is crucial for you to seek out a therapist in order to help you recover from these serious issues. Click here to find a therapist in your area and to find someone who specializes in your specific area of concern. Remember, you are not alone: You can take back control and bring peace and love to your life once again.
Laura Berman, PhD, is a world renowned sex and relationship educator and therapist; popular TV, radio and Internet host; New York Times best-selling author; and assistant clinical professor of ob-gyn and psychiatry at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago. Dr. Berman is a New York Times best-selling author of many books on sexual health and pleasure, a weekly columnist for the Chicago Sun Times, and host of the radio program "Uncovered with Dr. Laura Berman."