Most of us are guilty of it at least once: our spouse or partner asks us, "Is that new?" "How much did that cost?" "Did you go shopping again?" And instead of telling the truth, we tell an innocent white lie: "This old thing? I got it at Goodwill." Or "It was only $40" (when it was really $100!).
Sometimes, these white lies are innocuous. But when we make a habit of lying to our partners about our spending habits, we commit what is known as financial infidelity.
While it may not seem like financial infidelity is in the same league as sexual infidelity, the reality is that this dynamic — if unchecked — can erode the trust and intimacy in your relationship to the same degree as a sexual tryst.
The reasons for financial infidelity vary from couple to couple. However the under lying cause is simple: when it comes to money, we are tapping into the amygdala in our brain — our body's decision-making device, which includes our "fight or flight" center. So what may be an innocent question from our partner (e.g. "Where did you buy that?") is perceived as a threat to our well-being. So we try to "survive" by lying.
When I am working with couples I always tell them this: money issues are never about money. When we get married, we are also marrying our partner's subconscious and unexamined emotions, beliefs and patterns. And this includes their patterns around consumption, saving, spending and earning.
Unfortunately, talking about money is a taboo in our society, and is a topic that creates a ton of stress for most people. For those reasons, money is also considered extremely unromantic by most couples so these area of potential conflict aren't obvious until after your money is co-mingled. This is when the fights begin.
The main sources of conflict for couples are:
1. Differing Values
One of you loves beautiful things, the other is happy with "any old thing." One of you believes you "get what you pay for," the other will always go for a bargain. What initially attracted us to our partner, what may have seemed cute and charming at first, can become the area of greatest conflict over time.
Values aren't good or bad — they just are. The best way to handle value-conflicts is to give each partner a portion of the monthly income after all living expenses are met to spend as they please without question from the other person. There needs to be a dual commitment to not spend outside of this budget but that neither partner gets to question choices made with this discretionary income.
Once we have children, previous issues can surface. This is especially true for money issues. The reason is that most of us try to compensate for the wounds of our childhood through our own kids. If money was tight when you were little you might want to protect your kids from deprivation. If you were bullied in a public school you might decide private school is the only option.
The best way to handle fights regarding the kids is to share your money history with your partner. Look at what emotional wounds you both have and try to bring awareness to whether you are spending to compensate for your own childhood or because its what you both can afford and believe is in your children's best interest.
3. Mid-Relationship Course Corrections
This is the area that is the most difficult to navigate but can also bring new life and vibrancy into your relationship if you allow it. Quite simply, many of us partner with someone and assume who they are, and how they make money, won't change significantly. We expect that they'll always want to work as a high-paid lawyer, that she'll never want to be a stay-at-home mom, that his crazy idea to become an artist was just talk.
But if your partner is deeply unsatisfied with some part of his/her life, and wants to make a change, no amount of money will solve anything. These moments of crisis are an invitation for you to connect deeply with your partner's longings while expressing your needs and fears. Together, you can find ways to handle huge shifts in earning potential.
Just because you and your partner have these differing styles doesn't mean that money fights are inevitable. If both people can talk about areas of conflict productively, they can bring harmony to their money conflicts.