Three decades ago, newlyweds wasted no time in combining their financial lives. As soon as the vows were spoken – or sometimes, even before – newlyweds looked forward to the thrill of seeing Mr. and Mrs. Jones on their checkbooks. It was another sign that they were linked forever, or at least, until they weren’t. These days, though, there are fewer of us who are marrying our checkbooks and credit card accounts just because we’ve promised until death do we part.
Interestingly, 31% of Americans who do combine their financial details lie about their financial pasts and in some instances, they also lie about their current state of affairs. More than half of couples hide cash from their spouse and even more – around 54% – lie about purchases. This might include beating their better halves to the mail box in an effort to intercept a credit card statement or bringing purchases inside and sticking them in a closet, out of sight to an unsuspecting husband or wife.
Another 30% lie about the bills – both in quantity and the total amount those bills. Finally, according to the National Endowment for Financial Education, 24% of couples lie about how much money they earn. This one is surprising considering people are more likely to get caught at lying about their income during tax season.
Why the Secrecy?
The psychological dynamics run deep. Fear is the driving force and most folks, regardless of how long they’ve been married, just don’t feel safe when it comes to providing their spouse with the hard numbers. Others want to maintain control over the family finances.
Quantifying the Damage
Of course, some secrets are bigger than others. Husbands are going to have a different reaction to their wives buying a new car without their knowledge and wives are going to be more than a little upset to learn their husbands took out a second mortgage on the house than, say, an impulse buy of a new golf club. Still, the suspicions are the same. When one spouse finds out about a purchase after the fact, it sends up red flags about what else that spouse might be hiding. And if the hidden purchase is discovered not by confession, but by accident, those stress levels increase even further.
Long Term Damage
Experts in both the financial and psychological sectors say these kinds of secrets, regardless of how much money’s involved, can drive a wedge between couples. Until these couples can come clean and “play fair”, that wedge can spell major marital problems. After awhile, it’s not even about the money, but rather the sense of not being included in major decisions. It can quickly result in resentment, which is an intimacy killer. A wife that gets the credit card bill that she didn’t even know exists can raises suspicions as fast as anything else. That loss of trust is significant. Some marriages can’t weather the storm.
By the Numbers
Couples have a myriad of ways of avoiding “the talk”. Approximately 25% of these couples either change the topic or avoid it all together while 23% of us simply hide the receipts. Out of sight, out of mind seems to the motto for many. Others hide their purchases (17%) while another 10% simply bail out of the conversation once it’s underway. One of the most dangerous avoiding efforts is making the argument that it’s “my” money.
This is often where the resentment sets in. Finally, 8% of married couples turn the blame around on their partner with statements that include,
What about that day at the spa last week? It’s OK for you to drop $100 on something stupid like that but I can’t even plan a golf trip with the guys?
Of course, all of these habits are bad for a marriage and only highlight the importance of dealing with these problems early on.
All the experts agree that talking these matters through is the way to financial bliss. Whether it’s resentment one spouse feels for having to explain even a $10 lunch or the fears a husband has that his wife is going to go out and buy a vacation house, nothing changes until the couple can explore the reasons for their fears and uncertainties.
And, say those experts, it’s best to get those conversations out of the way and put the solutions into place before a couple ends up in marriage therapy, or worse, divorce court.
Some of those solutions include working on the family budget together, coming clean with any financial secrets spouses are keeping from each other and setting a weekly or monthly dollar amount that each spouse can spend without having to justify it to their partner. In some marriages, that dollar amount might be $10 or it could be $1,000.
Whatever it ultimately becomes, it’s important that it be realistic and both spouses abide by their agreement. Otherwise, you’re defeating your purpose and it could suggest there are other problems besides online shopping and hidden credit card statements.
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