Is Your Marriage at Risk of Financial Infidelity?

financial infidelity

More and more marriages are ending in divorce due to financial infidelity. Although the phrase is new, the problem isn’t. Couples have always fought about finances. Money issues are one of the leading reasons for divorce. It’s just the language that’s new. However, this new language is powerful. Could your marriage be at risk?

What is Financial Infidelity?

Of course, infidelity means that you are cheating on your spouse. Therefore, financial infidelity means that you’re cheating on your spouse with money. Of course, you aren’t having an affair with money. So then what is financial infidelity? Put simply, it means that you’re lying to partner about something related to your shared finances.

Examples of Financial Infidelity

Right now I’m reading Kathy Curto’s memoir Not for Nothing. She shares little vignettes about her mid-century childhood. Her father worked. Her mother was a housewife. Their relationship was tumultuous. In one vignette, Curto shares several ways that her mother squirrels money away. For example, she writes a check at the grocery store for more than the amount of groceries. She tells her husband she spent it all on groceries but keeps the cash back for herself.

Likewise, I know many women in the crafting community who don’t tell their husbands when they buy more craft supplies. It would cause a fight. They don’t want to deal with the fight. So they spend the money, hide their “stash” and never mention it to their spouse. These types of things are common. And yet, they are examples of financial infidelity.

What’s the Line? Do You Have to Tell Your Spouse Everything?

As with the other kind of infidelity, just what falls into the category of financial infidelity depends upon the boundaries of your relationship. Think of it this way: some couples think it’s okay to kiss someone else but not to go any further whereas other couples would consider this cheating. Likewise, what a couple considers a lie about money varies from relationship to relationship.

There’s also the issue of an outright lie vs. a lie of omission. You get an expensive new haircut. Your partner never asks about it. Is it financial cheating for you never to bring it up? That depends upon the unique agreements in your own marriage. These agreements may vary depending on all types of factors including:

  • Whether or not you both have jobs
  • If there’s a significant pay difference between your jobs
  • Whether all of your accounts are joint accounts or you keep some money separate
  • If you both do financial paperwork or only one of you handles it

Ultimately, it’s not the specific details that matter. Instead, what matters is that you and your partner set financial boundaries. You have to discuss them. You have to get on the same page. Then, you have to stick to the agreements that you’ve made. Otherwise, you’re at risk of committing financial infidelity.

Problematic Types of Financial Infidelity

Although each couple must set their own boundaries around financial infidelity, there are some common types that tend to wreak havoc in a marriage. First of all, if you agree to certain boundaries then lie about behavior that crosses those boundaries, you’re committing financial infidelity.

Additionally, if you place your partner at financial risk without their knowledge, then you’re committing financial infidelity. What this looks like can vary from relationship to relationship. For example, if you have agreed to each have your own separate credit cards, then it’s not infidelity to run your debt up without telling your partner. That’s what you’ve agreed to. However, if you’ve agreed to limit your debt then you run up credit card loans without their knowledge, that’s financial infidelity.

Broadly speaking, if you’re lying about or hiding any of your earning, spending, or saving then you’re marriage is at risk of financial infidelity.

Signs of Financial Infidelity

Perhaps you’re worried that your partner is committing financial infidelity. Here are some common warning signs:

  • They shut down any conversation about money.
  • You frequently see credit card expenses they won’t explain. Alternatively, their explanations don’t make sense.
  • When you go to use a credit card, it gets declined. It’s over limit or you have been removed from a joint account without your permission.
  • Your partner has changed their passwords to online financial accounts. They won’t share the new password.
  • It’s baffling to you where your partner has gotten the money to afford large new expenses.

If you are worried about financial infidelity, then you might want to seek help. There are therapists who are trained to help couples with money matters. Or you might just start with an open, honest conversation about setting some financial boundaries and see where that takes you.

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Finances and Work-Family Balance

work-family balance

Work-family balance is an important thing. Most people need to work to be able to support their families. Many people enjoy working and thrive through their work. However, work can take too much time and energy away from the family. Striking a balance is challenging.

Work-Family Balance and Quality of Life

One 2002 study found that people who spend more time on family than work report having a higher quality of life than those others. People who spent about equal time on family and work had a higher life quality than people who spent more time on work than family. Therefore, the perfect work-family balance may be one that leans more heavily on the family side than the work side.

Women and the Struggle with Work-Family Balance

Women, particularly mothers, have struggled significantly with the work-family balance issue. Research shows that 7 out of 10 women with children under 18 also work for pay. However, they earn less than their male counterparts. Plus, they often don’t return to full-time work quickly after the birth of children. One study found that it takes over a decade for the number of women to return to full-time work as the number who were working full-time within one year prior to the birth of their first child.

About 2/5 of mothers wait until their children are older to resume full-time work. Another 1/5 never resume full-time work. This impacts women and their families in a number of ways. In terms of career, many women struggle to get back on track in terms of professional status. We’ve all heard about the lawyers who get put on the “mommy track” and struggle to make partner at a firm after having kids. Recently new information shows that mothers who are scientists have a hard time getting grants and publications in comparison to their single and/or male counterparts.

This Issue Impact All Types of Families

Although women have been uniquely impacted by the work-family balance, it’s an issue that affects all different configurations of family. In the two-parent “mom and dad” family, both partners often struggle with the financial impact of trying to achieve work-family balance. Men increasingly give more time to family than they historically did. That’s a great thing for many reasons. However, it also means that dads are feeling more of the stress in the struggle to achieve work-family balance. The two parents may fight frequently over finances, as well as over division of labor at home.

Single parents, same-sex parents, and people in other family configurations (multi-generational, polyamorous, etc.) also have to grapple with this issue. Who will work? How much will each person work? What adaptations and sacrifices will the family have to make in order for one or more parents to not only earn money but also do a job that they enjoy? All types of families have to answer these questions. There is no right answer and no easy answer. Most people just do the best that they can and adapt as their financial, employment, and family situations change.

Communication is Key

Each individual, and each family, must figure out what works for them. There are many different ways to earn a living. How much money one needs varies widely. People must look at what they are willing to sacrifice in terms of family time in order to work at a certain job. They must look at what they are willing to sacrifice career-wise in order to have more family time. In order to figure this out, people must learn to communicate.

It’s not easy to talk about money. Financial stress makes it even more challenging in families. However, learning how to communicate openly, authentically, and honestly about your work-family balance needs will go a long way towards achieving the right balance in your family.

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