Financial cheating is common and damaging to relationships. Apparently one third of individuals who are in relationships with joint accounts report lying in some way to their partner about money. This can lead to arguments, separations, and sometimes divorce. Financial problems caused by intimate partners has become so common that researchers have coined the term "sexually transmitted debt".
Financial cheating can be large or small and it can involve spending and saving. Sometimes it can be lying about the size of a purchase or it could mean having a small stash of cash. However, these issues can grow quickly becoming huge debts or large savings accounts. When issues like this come to light it is often the breach of trust that is the most damaging.
One of the major reasons for financial cheating is the fact that couples don't talk about money. They often argue about money, but rarely discuss it. Some researchers have commented on how it seems that couples find it more difficult to talk about money than sex. In fact, only 25% of couples actually track their spending and have a financial plan. Couples often fall into their money management habits without thoughtful discussion or consideration.
Not watching spending gives each person more opportunity to cheat. We are only human and when people are given the opportunity cheating can be a temptation that is hard to resist. Keeping an eye on the bottom line is always the best way to help each other stay honest and accountable.
Lying and cheating is usually inconsistent with the positive image people have of themselves. So if someone is going to lie, they usually come up with a reasonable explanation. Perhaps the person spends a bit more as a way of compensating for not receiving enough attention. Perhaps they feel they feel they should have an extra savings account because the other person is untrustworthy.
Research has found that people find it easier to justify lying and cheating in ambiguous situations. For example, it would be easier for a teacher to give his or her favourite student a higher grade on an English essay because it is so subjective as opposed to a math quiz where there is a clear right answer. Relationships are notably ambiguous in nature. They are often filled with misunderstandings and usually both members of a couple feel they are giving more than they are getting back. Financial cheating can be a way to get back what they feel they deserve.
Couples can also cheat financially to punish one another. I met one couple who got into frequent heated arguments. In one instance the husband left in the middle of an argument and bought a SUV. This kind of action may be meant to assert power and dominance in the relationship.
Sometimes financial cheating is because of a specific personal issue. A gambling addiction is a good example of this. Being a gambling addict usually goes along with lying about money.
Each person in a relationship brings in their own feelings about money and how it should be spent. Some people are spenders and others are savers. Some like to risk and others like steady growth. Some really feel the power money brings and others accept it as a form of love. Unfortunately, these issues are often not well understood because people rarely talk about money in meaningful ways.
Overcoming Financial Cheating
The two primary ways to prevent financial cheating are to discuss finances as a couple and to monitor spending. The actual system you develop to manage your family finances is less important than ensuring you have a system with which both parties are satisfied.
If you are concerned that your partner is cheating financially, the main thing to look for is inconsistency. Does their behaviour match what they are saying? For example, have you noticed any of the following - avoiding talking about finances for no apparent reason, insisting on managing money alone for no reason, and spending that does not match income with no financial consequence. Other things to look for are sudden changes in behaviour, lying about money to others, parents who have issues with money, and signs they are covering their tracks - like an empty browser history.
Finding out that your partner has cheated financially can be devastating. In some ways it can be harder to cope with than sexual cheating because you may now have a significant debt that is a constant reminder of the lie. Moving forward from this type of betrayal can take a great deal to time and effort, but there is hope. Couples can be very resilient and can achieve a new intimacy and trust with some hard work and the help of a trained therapist.
By Dr. Syras Derksen