We all know that good communication is the cornerstone of a successful relationship. But when it comes to money, most us find communication very difficult – even with our loved ones. The end result is so-called “financial infidelity”, a state of play where partners keep financial secrets from each other or do things with money that they know the other would disapprove of.
Buzz words aside, the bottom line is that it is cheating to keep secrets about money from your partner. We spoke to Ruth Ancer, a clinical psychologist in private practice, about how couples can break the cycle of financial infidelity and steer their relationships onto more solid ground. Here's what she said.
Money can be a language that communicates deeper issues in the relationship like control or intimacy. So it’s important to look not only at attitudes around money itself, but at what they actually represent. If it’s uncomfortable to talk about it, ask why. If you don’t want to reveal your money secrets, try to understand what causes your reluctance. Address the root causes and not just the problem itself.
If you and your partner are in a long-term relationship, sharing a home and possibly raising children together, then your finances are each other’s business. Even if you are married out of community of property and exist as separate financial entities, you still owe each other honesty and the acknowledgement that your financial decisions affect both of you. From the outset, it’s important that you buy into this approach or all the other steps will be very hard for you.
Acknowledge that you would like to be more open about money in future, even if it means being honest about some of the things that make you uncomfortable. Clear your schedules, and sit down together to discuss the income and expenses of the joint household. Work out where your money is going and discuss any issues that arise out of this.
Then agree on the best way forward – whether this means a weekly or monthly money meeting, or simply promising to raise any financial issues the moment they come up.
Spend some time working out your joint budget, debt repayment plan and insurance as well as savings and investment goals. Make sure that these are achievable, and find ways to encourage each other towards achieving these goals. Your weekly or monthly meetings can then be a measure of your progress in each of these areas.
If you’ve been keeping financial secrets from your partner, it’s probably because you know they will disapprove in some way of what you’ve been spending your money on. It’s vitally important that you stop telling little lies like, “Oh, it only cost R100.” Or bigger ones like, “Yes, my credit card has been paid back.” Don’t cut labels off new clothes or hide new purchases.
At the same time, you need to get to the root cause of the lies. If your partner disapproves of the way you spend or manage money, and you think he or she is wrong, then address the issue rather than hide from it. However, if you know deep down that they’re right, then you need to take a long, hard look at how to improve your impulsive behaviour.
Remember that your agreement at the outset requires both of you to keep each other updated. Then, every time there’s money news or a new source of financial anxiety (or even a windfall) go to your partner first thing, to discuss this.
Although all the points so far have been about being more open and communicating more effectively, it’s also important to remember that you are both adults and entitled to some autonomy. You should both know the difference between buying a new pair of shoes at the end of the month and blowing through your credit limit a week after payday, so allow yourselves some independent activity, within reason.
As much as it’s important to be financially transparent, it’s equally important to trust your partner, so make sure that your communications are about mutual support and management and not about keeping tabs or making each other accountable.
With two people on your marital financial committee, you might find that you end up setting rules and goals that are a little extreme or limiting. Remember that it’s important to have fun and live in the moment as well – so make sure that some of the goals that you set include evenings out, holidays, treats and new clothes. Otherwise, you’ll both give up in a fit of misery before you’ve even got going.
Of course, if you find that trying to talk about money is causing conflict in your relationship, it might be time to get some outside help. This can range from a discussion with your financial– who may be able to provide understanding and perspective – or a therapist to help you understand and overcome your deep-rooted issues around money and control.
Just like with any other area of your marriage, if you need help, get it.