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6 Steps for Overcoming Financial Infidelity

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If your partner has been secretive about money, you both have some repair work ahead.

Financial infidelity is a term you may not have heard before — or maybe you’ve never even considered the concept. It’s defined as the secretive act of possessing credit and credit cards, spending or borrowing money, holding secrets about a bank account or stashes of money, or incurring debt unknown to one’s spouse or partner. This trend, although rarely talked about, continues to grow exponentially.

The Statistics

Research conducted in 2012 by Self.com and Today.com who surveyed almost 24,000 men and women found:

  • Almost 50 percent of married adults admitted to keeping money secrets from their spouses.
  • 37 percent of men and 56 percent of women admitted to lying to their partner about money.
  • 63 percent of men and 70 percent of women agreed that being honest about money was as important as being monogamous.
  • 31 percent of couples had committed financial infidelity.

One in ten: That’s the ratio that people admit to having hidden credit card purchases, which have played a role in their separation or divorce, according to a report by Moneysupermarket.com and reported in the article, Secret Credit Card Spending and Divorce Linked in New Survey.

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Warning Signs

According to Adrian Nazari, Founder and CEO of CreditSesame.com, and further discussed in the Huffington Post article, Financial Infidelity: What To Do When Someone Cheats, there are three warning signs of potential financial infidelity: suspicious withdrawal, changing the topic when money issues come up, or a partner who wants to totally control the finances. A person should also be on the lookout for their partner insisting on secret passwords for online banking accounts, or having separate credit cards.

Discovery & Disclosure

The awareness that the financial infidelity is much more complex and destructive than first imagined becomes more real as the secrets become revealed or brought out into the open. The betrayed partner experiences rage, intense anger, heartbreak, and immediate loss of trust for their partner. They ask:

What else could they be hiding?
How could you do this to us?
How could I missed this?
How long has this been going on?
How will I be able to trust him or her again?

Although financial infidelity causes significant damage to a relationship, it doesn’t have to destroy it. However, overcoming the infidelity and rebuilding trust is a lengthy process. Here are actionable steps you can take to get back to a trusting place.

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Steps To Recover & Rebuild Your Relationship

1. Full disclosure. In other words, come clean and put your debt or financial infidelity on the table. This entails coming clean and taking ownership of it. Apologize, and mean it.

2. Have a conversation and ask the questions. People vary in their relationship with behaviors towards money. Ask things like: What is your relationship with money? What effects have your family’s relationship with money affected your relationship with money? Can you separate a want from a need? The answers create a context for understanding your partner’s relationship with money and helps provide an explanation, not necessarily an excuse.

3. Review your budget.  I remain surprised by the number of people who have no budget (read, “fly by the seat of their pants”). They have no idea on how much money it takes to run their home, take care of their bills, and what, if any, their disposable income is.

4. Set financial rules and goals. Make time on a regular basis to discuss money, bills, expenses, and short and long-term financial goals for the future. How much can a person spend on their own with no questions asked? Who will manage the money and budget? What are the parameters for making joint versus unilateral decisions?

5. Seek professional help. It is imperative that both people have a willingness to seek outside professional help — be it a financial counselor and/or marital therapist. You will need a third party who provides an objective viewpoint, as well as new skills and strategies to get you through the tenuous times — and there will be many.

6. Rebuild trust. This is the most difficult and challeging step. Upon learning of the financial infidelity disclosure, the betrayed partner has no time or patience, let alone trust. They are unsure if they can or are willing to make the relationship work. Honesty, transparency and an open line of communication will all help with this.

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Since the infidelity didn’t occur overnight, the problems will not disspate overnight. The pain and suffering caused by one will be felt by both. Couples often want the bad feelings and problems to “just go away” and resolve quickly. It doesn’t happen this way. There will be a lot of “fits and starts”, meaning there will be improvements, and also setbacks and relapses. Expect the betrayed partner to ask the same questions and need reassurance, and more than once or twice. Remember that your feelings will be all over the place and will feel like you are on a roller coaster. You are. But you will eventually step off.

Keep in mind that a person’s willingness to examine their behaviors, take responsibility for their finances and incurred debt and infidelity, and tackle the difficult feelings often associated with financial infidelity (shame and embarrassment) are vital.

If both partners are willing to learn how to communicate honestly and openly, there is greater hope that the relationship will survive the significant pain and stress of the financial infidelity. Over time, disclosure, greater transparency, and a willingness to share feelings — both good and bad —  provides the couple with not only the ability to trust again but an openness to resolve issues together before they become significant problems.

Originally for YourTango.com by Dr. Kristin Davin, Psy.D.

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