Standing in line at a store the other day, I heard this conversation between a cashier and a customer.
Customer: My husband thinks I’m at Trader Joe’s doing grocery, but I always end up here before doing the grocery.
Cashier: Are you going to tell him about these purchases?
Customer: I don’t want to. But he always finds out, no matter how I try to hide it.
In relationships, there are different types of infidelity: sexual, emotional, and financial. Financial infidelity happens when we “engage in financial behavior expected to be disapproved by our partner, and so we intentionally fail to disclose a purchase.”
According to a study in 2012 by Professor Jeffrey Dew, financial disagreements have become the top reason for divorce. Money tops disagreements over sex, chores, in-laws, and time together, as the main predictor for divorce. For men, money represents the main conflict that leads to divorce. For women, on the other hand, money and sex significantly increases the likelihood of divorce, but more so the money.
How we handle money in a relationship says a lot about our trust, how we align in terms of goals and priorities, and honesty. For this reason, a healthy relationship needs financial transparency.
Ways Couples Handle Money
How couples organize money varies. Couples can opt to have separate bank accounts, joint accounts, or a hybrid (keeping a separate and also a joint). A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows couples that pool money “experience greater relationship satisfaction and are less likely to break up.” The researchers discovered that couples with pooled financial accounts had “better connection, and showed more positive and stable interactions.”
The researchers theorize that the connection between pooling money and relationship quality stems from interdependence. When couples are dependent on each other, they tend to stick together. However, it’s also possible that pooling money makes us less likely to commit financial infidelity. It acts as a safeguard when we want to stray.
I’m not suggesting couples should have pooled resources. But transparency matters, whether or not couples pool money. When you trust someone with your heart, it goes without saying that you should also be able to trust them with finances. And if you can’t trust your partner financially, figure out why. Talk to each other. I know that the ability to trust my husband keeps me happy in my marriage. This includes knowing, without checking, that he won’t spend behind my back, and that I trust him, and his decisions.
In fact, in an interview with Professor Dew, he says:
Money fights are frequently a stand-in for bigger relationship issues…On the surface, an argument might appear to be about overspending, but underneath, it’s a struggle over trust or power.A Professor Explains Why Fights About Money Are a Possible Predictor of Divorce | Business Insider
When I think about my marriage, I believe that being open with finances and how we handle it right from the start ushered in trust early on in our relationship. We both know how much we have and how much we can spend. I have never felt the need to hide any purchase from him and I know he doesn’t hide anything from me either.
We don’t ask permission to buy what we want; rather, especially for big purchases, we talk about what we want to buy and figure out when we can afford it. It’s not about giving another person authority over your purchases, but sharing with someone what you desire and figure out how to acquire it. It’s not a loss of freedom, but a chance to plan together.
For some this may come with drawbacks. For example, I don’t expect and don’t want him to buy gifts for me and he feels the same way. It’s hard to gift your spouse a car and for them to not find out immediately in a financially transparent relationship. The truth is, as a couple, we don’t express love by buying things we think the other person will like. We find that our love reflects in the way we trust in each other. We had a conversation about this right from the start. Alternatively, if gifting holds a place in your relationship, maybe agreeing to take out a certain amount of cash to buy each other presents can offer transparency while still maintain surprise.
As I write this article and reflect on conversations about money I have heard from couples, I realize that another thing we never do is laugh at the other’s purchase or think the other frivolous. I guess when you trust someone with money, you also trust their judgment and reason.