What is financial infidelity?

We've all been a little naughty with our spending from time to time, but what is financial infidelity, and are you guilty of it? Elin Helander, chief scientific officer at financial wellbeing app Dreams explains. 

What is financial infidelity?

woman looking concerned

Romantic relationships are built on trust, this is something all of us will understand. However, even when in a healthy and loving relationship, partners are not always transparent about their financial situation. They may be hiding financial transactions, spending, debt or even savings from one another. These are all acts of financial infidelity—engaging in financial behaviours expected to be disapproved of by one’s romantic partner.

Keeping secrets about money from your partner can be harmful to relationship health and longevity. Research shows that conflicts over money are the primary reason for divorce. Of course, you don’t have to share everything you do with your spouse or partner, but if you are hiding some (or all!) of your financial habits, you might need to consider why.

When it comes to finances, whether that’s bank accounts, loans, or even financial burdens like debt, you should talk to your long-term significant other about it; especially if you’re planning a future together. It might feel uncomfortable and frightening to do at first, but procrastinating on it will surely worsen the situation. Trust your partner and take support from them. Honesty goes a long way, and you’ll have to have this conversation eventually.

 

Why does financial infidelity happen?

man worrying about money

Many people find it difficult to talk about money with friends and family. In a 2020 survey conducted by credit management service Intrum, it was found that 22% of women and 23% of men answered that they struggled to talk openly about finances with their partner. Furthermore, 22% of women and 30% of men stated that It would be better for their relationship if they as a couple were better at managing their bills and savings. The evidence suggests that talking about your finances and tackling them together will strengthen your relationship, even if it isn’t necessarily a romantic topic.

Finances, debt and income are all things that can still be considered to be taboo—we often avoid talking about them, even with our partners or close loved ones. This means that important conversations around finances might feel uncomfortable and frightening to do at first, which can lead to financial infidelity (or at least, lying through omission). Often the situation is unnecessary: we are avoiding a conversation or topic because it makes us uncomfortable. Procrastinating on it will surely worsen the situation. Trust your partner and take support from them. Honesty goes a long way, and you’ll have to have this conversation eventually.

 

How can I avoid financial infidelity in my relationships?

couple happy money

By being transparent about money goals and values, you will make talking about money much easier and over time: just like any other first in a relationship, starting out can be nerve wracking, but over time you’ll wonder why you were nervous in the first place. You will know what approach and priorities you have together and separately, and hopefully you will be able to agree on some shared goals and values around money that you both can work towards as a team.

We know from academic research on couples that having perceived shared goals and values about money is a stronger predictor of relationship satisfaction than, for instance, how a couple communicate during conflict. Consider this an investment in your future! It’s important to be on the same page.

Some topics that can be good to discuss to protect each other’s financial wellbeing are:

  1. “This is my money situation”

To begin with: walk through what your money situation looks like. How much do you earn, what bills do you need to cover each month, do you have loans and or debts? Putting this on the table will lay the ground for your subsequent financial planning, goal setting and talks about how you will manage your everyday spending.

  1. “This is what I dream about”

What are your individual goals and plans for the future? Where do your individual needs and wants meet and where do they differ? Get an understanding of how your money habits and goals are compatible with one another, and how they are different. Take it from there and decide on goals that you work on as a team and those that you will save for and accomplish on your own. This is a way to secure your independence even if you share your life with someone else.

  1. “This is my view on spending”

Some of us are more extravagant when it comes to spending money, while others are more frugal. If you and your partner have different views and behaviors around consumption, you should talk about this and set up a financial plan that respects both of your “identities” when it comes to money management. Although you are very different when it comes to financial habits, you can make it work and secure both your financial wellbeing by agreeing and respecting each other.

 

Read more: Is your mental health making you poorer?

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