Money Dishonesty

By Sharon Naylor

December 14, 2011 5 min read

Friends may laugh about how they went on a shopping spree at the mall and hid their purchases in the backs of their closets, but hiding purchases from a spouse is not a laughing matter. There's never been a more dangerous time to be financially dishonest with your spouse, as things are tough, household budgets are stretched and bills have to be paid. If you're indulging and hiding your buys, that is financial dishonesty.

Any kind of dishonesty in a marriage or relationship causes a deep wound when the dishonesty is discovered. This is especially true when it is discovered in the form of collections calls, warnings about a mortgage balance or any other result that is a terrifying shock to the partner. And constantly living with the fear of being found out takes a toll on your well-being and your health, leading to anxiety, overeating, bickering or lack of intimacy.

People often get divorced over money issues. They may lose their homes, their retirement money or their kids' college funds when secrets are kept about money.

Tina B. Tessina, who is a psychotherapist and the author of "Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage," says, "Money dishonesty can cause huge troubles in marriage, including financial infidelity -- where one or both parties spend money out of resentment, jeopardizing the couple's financial security."

Whether you are a newlywed couple or have been married for a long time, now is the time to come clean about your financial standing and financial habits. This is not an easy thing to do, especially when you have far higher credit card bills than your partner thinks, or if you've been tapping your savings. Your partner will be unhappy to learn about these secrets and unhappy to learn that you kept them out of shame and embarrassment.

If it's you finding out that your partner's the one who's been financially dishonest, you'll surely be hurt, angry and worried, as well.

Here's how to put an end to financial dishonesty and repair the damage caused by it:

--Be brave. It takes courage to say: "I've been irresponsible with money. I never meant to hurt you. I need for us to work together to make things better before I cause an insurmountable problem." If your spouse has mentioned that your spending is a concern, he or she will -- often after an initial angry or hurt response -- join you in making a new financial plan of complete openness and repairing any damage caused.

--Be completely honest. Shaving $10,000 off the actual total of your credit card bills just to make this moment a bit more comfortable is dishonesty again, and will destroy your partner's trust in you when discovered.

--Make a new plan for paying bills. After the revelation, often the "cheater" faces the difficult result of no longer being in charge of the accounts. That hurts because it can feel as if you're 10 years old and your spouse is punishing you as a parent would. But you must accept that this arrangement can be best until you learn new money-management skills, and until you earn your spouse's trust again.

Be the one to suggest that the walls of privacy come down, that you create a joint account where your financial moves are clearly visible to your spouse. That shows your dedication to being a more honest partner and works toward earning your spouse's trust. This is also when you admit that you cannot split the bills equally, if your spouse earns more than you do. In the past, you may have paid the cable bill with a credit card so that your partner wouldn't know you're short on funds. A new bill-split plan can eliminate that desperation that led to financial dishonesty.

--Get counseling. A qualified family counselor can guide you both through this difficult time, revealing and explaining your money issues and fears, and helping you handle the emotional aspects of working together to recover your financial issues and trust.

--Don't react; respond. Tessina reminds you that your family system is like your work culture. You wouldn't argue or insult a co-worker or manager. You may be angry, but "when you've had a chance to think about the situation, you'd develop a better way of handling it," and propose a solution.

--Create an organized system. Consider arranging automatic bill payments taken from your joint banking account, so that no one is late or misses a payment. Use an interactive online budget spreadsheet to keep you organized and accountable when you enter expenses in it each week.

--Meet regularly to discuss progress. This is where trust grows again, when you sit down for a weekly financial summit and discuss the household budget, credit card pay-down progress and the smarts of splitting the bills more equitably. Over time, you'll find that this new financial management plan is helping you both achieve your goals faster than if you hadn't undertaken it.

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