Is tech making your spouse dishonest?

Kate Taylor 14 March 2018

Is new technology advancing faster than our honesty can keep up? Here, Reader’s Digest’s Dating Expert Kate Taylor looks at the two most common ways couples use the internet to tell little white lies, and how you can avoid committing them

Financial fibbing

Keeping your vow to support each other “for richer, for poorer” was significantly easier before the invention of online banking. Today, the ability to open online-only bank accounts, credit cards and savings accounts means that shifty couples can hide huge amounts of money from each other. And, they do.

A recent survey by TD Bank revealed that 41 per cent of the couples surveyed, across all age ranges, admitted to keeping a bank account secret from their partner. And a huge US Survey conducted by Forbes Women and National Endowment for Financial Education showed that 54 per cent of people who held a joint account with a partner lied about minor purchases; 30 per cent hid bills; 11 per cent lied about their debts; and 58 per cent hid cash.


Why we do it

Like most deceptions, financial fibbing often starts small and feels relatively innocent. Many of us have, when quizzed by our partner, “adjusted” the price we paid for a purchase, to avoid having to justify how much we just wanted it. We might also tweak our salary when wanting to impress a new partner.

Other forms of financial fibbing occur out of a desire to keep some independence within the relationship, whether that’s a husband quietly buying fishing rods online, or—as revealed in a recent Mumsnet thread—a wife sneaking money away every month into a “runaway fund”, to be used if the relationship ended abruptly.

Do these minor fibs matter? Yes. All deceit erodes trust within the relationship. When you’ve hidden money from your mate, they would be forgiven for wondering what else you’ve hidden. Are you a secret gambler? A compulsive shopper? A cheat?


How to fix it

Financial lies reveal imbalances within your relationship that you’ve chosen not to address.

If you’re building a “runaway fund”, are you actively anxious about your relationship’s long-term prospects? If so, address that directly and work through it with your partner or end the relationship now before you become more entangled. And rather than hiding purchases from your partner, why not draw up a budget that allows each of you a pot of “fun money” every month that you can spend on yourself without reprisal or guilt.

If you suspect your other half is hiding bills or purchases, sit down with them and calmly bring up the subject of money in an inclusive, rather than accusatory, way. Reminding them that you are a team can help lessen their need to spend to exert their independence.


Micro cheating

Social media, messaging apps and chat forums have given us a million new ways to communicate with each other. But when we use them to share messages with strangers and friendly exes instead of with our partner, we could be accused of “micro cheating”.

Micro-cheating is a term coined by Australian psychologist Melanie Shilling, who has been studying the ways couples look outside their main relationship for fun and affection. Unlike the blatant dishonesty of a physical affair, micro-cheating consists of tiny moments of connection with someone other than your partner. For example, texting an ex when you’ve had a bad day, liking an attractive acquaintance’s Facebook posts, or engaging in lively online banter with a fellow member of a forum.

All of these things are relatively unimportant, except when you include micro-cheating’s common denominator: you hide these actions from your partner, or downplay their importance. Shilling states you’re straying into dangerous territory when you begin deceiving your partner by saving contacts into your phone under a fake name or lying about your conversations with other people.


Why we do it

Sometimes it’s easier to open up to someone outside your relationship. If you have worries or concerns that you feel might affect your partner’s good impression of you, you’ll naturally feel you have less to lose if you share them with an online acquaintance.

Your relationship might be going through a stagnant patch, or you might just want to talk to other people and feel that your partner would be upset, or angry, if they knew.


How to fix it

It’s impossible to pretend you can resist the siren call of the internet. We are social creatures and will always want to reach out and communicate with other people. But within a committed relationship, it’s important to build a climate of trust.

How? You could start by keeping your online interactions to office hours. Dr Martin Graff, a Psychologist at the University of South Wales, conducted a study to test how couples would (hypothetically) react to discovering their partner had interacted online with another person. He discovered that nighttime conversations were seen as much more threatening to the relationship than daytime ones—probably due to the more secretive nature of the after-hours chats.

Another way to uphold your trustworthiness is not to divulge too much personal information to other people. Graff found that “high-disclosure” conservations were judged to be much more intimate and emotionally charged than chats that barely strayed beyond normal small talk. If you find yourself opening up about your hopes, dreams, and problems in your relationship, your partner is likely to become concerned.

The main way to maintain honesty in your relationship is to keep introducing new and exciting things. One of the most powerful chemicals that affects how attracted we are to our partner is dopamine, and it is released by engaging in new and unpredictable activities, often with a delayed gratification. That little rush of pleasure you get from playing an online game? That’s dopamine. The way food tastes better in a new restaurant with a 6-month waiting list? Dopamine.

You can encourage your brain to produce more of this feel-good elixir by spending time with your partner, enjoying novel experiences. Take an evening class. Visit a new country. Meet new people together. You’ll find that you can enjoy their company more than ever before, just by doing new things. And you can enjoy it all honestly.