Hiding a credit card account from your spouse. Spending that extra $300 on a tablet when doing so will bust your household budget for the month. Forgetting to mail the car payment on time and then hiding that fact from your spouse.
These are all financial missteps that could ruin your relationship. Money problems are a top cause of stress among couples. When partners don’t discuss their finances honestly, or when they hide financial woes from each other, they are putting their relationships at risk.
The good news? Couples can avoid this strain by holding regular meetings about their finances, creating a household budget together and vowing to never hide money secrets from each other.
“Relationships are all about trust and communication, and if one partner spends the other’s bank or lies about finances, this causes a real rift in the relationship,” said Samantha Daniels, founder of The Dating Lounge, an invitation-only dating app, and owner of the matchmaking service Samantha’s Table. “Living a secret life is never a good thing and, bottom line, you usually get caught anyway. It is much healthier for the relationship to be upfront about what is going on with your finances.”
A survey released last year by SunTrust Bank shows just how much stress finances can place on a relationship. According to the survey, 35% of respondents experiencing stress in their relationships said that money was the primary cause of it. Those respondents from the ages of 44 – 54 were even more likely to point to money as the top cause of relationship stress, with 44% saying that finances were the biggest stressor in their relationships.
There’s a reason for this: When couples aren’t honest about how much money they are spending, they are lying to their spouses, and a relationship without honesty is always going to crack. When couples overspend regardless of their household budget, it shows a lack of respect toward their partners, another problem that will fracture a relationship.
According to Rosemary Frank, a financial advisor and certified and advanced divorce financial analyst, “Hiding money, secret spending and secret accounts are really about a lack of trust and/or respect for the other person.” Said Frank, “Money is the tool with which partners punish and/or control. It’s not really about the money, it’s about the motivations behind the ways money is used and abused in a relationship.”
Rob Pascale, co-author of “Making Marriage Work,” says that money problems can damage a relationship even when there is no secret spending or hidden credit card accounts involved. Say a couple buys a home that they really can’t afford. Each month they’ll struggle to make their mortgage payments.
That kind of long-term financial stress can color everything else in a relationship. The couple might feel guilty whenever they go out to eat, ruining what should be a nice evening out. Maybe their anniversary arrives and the couple doesn’t have enough money to celebrate.
“When we have prolonged debt that drags on for years, we constantly feel the pressure to make payments,” Pascale said. “That means we’re likely to experience continued emotional stress, and prolonged stress can lead to conflict even among the most resilient couples.”
Then there are the one-sided debts. For instance, a husband might buy a boat even though his wife has no interest in fishing or boating. The wife might then resent having to give up a nicer car or a vacation because the couple now has to worry about payments for a boat that the wife didn’t even want.
“That kind of debt can tell a lot about a marriage,” Pascale said. “When one partner puts a couple into debt to meet his or her needs only, there’s some question as to that person’s commitment to their partner. Couples who end up divorced because of financial issues tend to spend more on individual items rather than on things that benefit both partners.”
How to Avoid Relationship-Ruining Money Woes
Jamie Hopkins, associate professor of taxation at The American College of Financial Services and co-director of the New York Life Center For Retirement Income, says there are steps that couples can take to increase the odds that money problems won’t torpedo their relationships.
First, and most importantly, couples need to actually talk about money. This is something that many couples rarely do. Couples should talk about their financial habits long before they get married, Hopkins said.
“This means being honest about their financial situation, how much they spend, how much they save, what has been their financial experiences in the past,” Hopkins said. “You cannot develop a secure financial situation for both couples without communication.”
Couples should schedule regular financial conversations throughout their lives, Hopkins said. This way, they can address possible financial challenges before they become even bigger problems. Creating a household budget is a key, too. Once couples have this budget in place, they can analyze how well they are meeting their financial goals each month.
Couples should not keep financial secrets from each other either, Hopkins said. This means that you shouldn’t open a credit card account that you hide from your spouse or partner. It also means that you should not buy something and then try to hide that purchase.
“This type of financial infidelity can be very harmful to a relationship,” Hopkins said. “Lying about financials can erode trust in a relationship.”
Finally, it’s important for couples to talk about their past financial experiences. If you’ve always run up credit card debt, share this information with your partner. If your parents were constantly struggling to pay the bills, this might explain why you are so reluctant to spend money on entertainment or eating out. Sharing past financial experiences can help couples understand their partner’s views on everything from saving to using credit cards.
“If your partner can understand better where you came from, they can better understand where your financial future will lead,” Hopkins said.
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