When I was married to my now ex-husband, every couple of months he would pull out a cloth Crown Royal Whisky bag he kept in his nightstand full of pocket change, lay the coins out in neat stacks, and roll them to take to the bank and be cashed.
The act seemed so cutely childish, like he was a 10 year old boy rolling up coins from his piggy bank to try to buy a candy bar or comic book.
Since before we’d even gotten married, our money had been joint except for the $100 cash “fun money” we each took out every month.
This change, he’d told me, was from money back he’d received off his cash money, or I’d sometimes find him even rummaging under the couch cushions looking for more.
It wasn’t until much later that I realized he was lying to me about money: about how much he had, where he was getting it, and what he was doing with it. He was obsessively collecting and rolling change because he needed extra money to buy the drugs he was secretly using.
He was also doing other things without my knowledge to get side-money. He collected metal and took it to the scrap yard to get pennies on the dollar. He sold things on eBay, packaging and mailing them off from his work so I wouldn’t see.
He also bought antique signs and other antique/vintage collectibles to decorate his “man cave.” All of which he’d told me he “won” or that he’d sold something else off to purchase. He started having his purchases sent to his office, and he would unwrap them and bring them in at night, thinking I wouldn’t notice that the walls of his man cave were filling up with stuff that hadn’t been there before.
When I finally discovered that he had a secret credit card, he had run up over $6000 on it, and even after confronting him, he ran up another almost $2000 in just a couple of weeks. That, sadly, was just the tip of the iceberg for him.
He had a problem. A big one. He was financially unfaithful.
The term “financially unfaithful” sounds so silly.
Being “unfaithful” conjures up images of lipsticked collars, the trace scent of another woman’s perfume, or the phone number on a napkin left carelessly in a pant’s pocket. Not someone lying about how much money they make or having a secret credit card or bank account.
But money, like sex, is about our security. We feel secure when we know what money is coming in and what’s coming out, that we can cover bills or emergencies. We feel secure that our partner is with us, and us alone.
But when we discover that our spouse has been lying to us about something that directly affects our security, it’s a big deal. A big fucking one.
One in three people admit to lying about money to their spouse.
Like anything, small lies can lead to bigger lies. Like how the casual flirtation at the office or the “friend” of the opposite sex that you feel like you can’t tell your spouse about eventually turns into a full-blown affair, or like how my ex-husband’s coin-rolling to support his “minor” drug habit eventually turned into a full-blown embezzlement from his job.
You or your partner may be financially unfaithful if you:
- hide cash
- hide a bill
- hide minor or major purchases
- have a secret bank account or credit card
- lie about debts
- lie about the money you earn
These, again, may seem small things to lie about.
But imagine suddenly discovering that your partner has been stuffing extra cash, hundreds or even thousands of dollars, into a box in his or her closet. How would you feel? What would you think?
Imagine too if you’d needed that money and it’d been there the whole time while you’d had to scrounge and stress over how to pay for a new water heater or try to make ends meet because you or your spouse had lost their job.
My ex-husband spent nearly $18,000 on signs and collectibles for his man cave on a secret credit card. He’d then credited himself about $8000 from his job (aka embezzled) onto that same card.
This was at a time when my work salary had been cut nearly in half for a year because I’d taken off sixteen weeks for maternity leave in order to give birth and spend time with our twins. Only three of the sixteen weeks I took off were paid (thank you, America). We had needed that kind of money as I was canceling television services, changing cellphone plans, clipping coupons, and nursing two babies so we wouldn’t have to purchase formula to try to make ends meet.
But that money on his secret credit card didn’t go to us, his family. He didn’t use it to purchase diapers or groceries or clothes. I might have been able to be a little sympathetic if it had, but it hadn’t. The money he was using all went to buying drugs and purchasing items to deck out his “man cave.”
Would finding out something like that feel like a betrayal as extreme as if you’d found a dirty text message on your spouse’s phone from someone other than you? Probably. For some people, (20% of people surveyed) it would feel even worse than a physical affair.
My ex-husband’s financial infidelity was worse for me than a physical affair because it was premeditated and deliberate. It wasn’t just one moment of weakness. It was an ongoing series of choices that all led to him being dishonest over a span of years.
I tried to work through it, but after discovering the first lie and confronting him, he didn’t get completely honest about the extent of his lying. We may have been able to work through it if he had, but instead he tried to hide the parts I hadn’t discovered yet.
When I finally learned that he had embezzled, I filed for divorce the next day.
People cheat financially for different reasons, but mostly to avoid conflict.
They hide bills or statements because they know their partners wouldn’t like how they were choosing to spend money. They might be hiding current or past debts, compulsive spending, or maybe even gambling.
Some people also hang onto money that they put into a secret account “just in case” they get divorced, so they know they’ll be okay if that ever happens.
Money is often the number one thing couples fight about. Creating a healthy financial future is a way to solidify a “we” over a “you” and “I.”
Emily N. Garbinsky, assistant professor of marketing at Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame says,
“…a couple’s sense of financial togetherness — the degree to which the couple feels their possessions and financial goals are shared — directly affects satisfaction with their relationship.”
Money is also the number one reason why marriages fail.
If a couple can’t work on positive conflict-resolutions strategies around money, they aren’t likely to last.
In successful relationships, both partners have a clear understanding of your financial picture, including the mortgage and tax returns. It’s important that couples talk about these things. If it’s difficult, it may be time to meet with a financial planner to work on agreeing. A financial planner can act as an impartial third party and help you pull together all the necessary account information.
Your first and biggest conversations should we on agreeing how you want money to work for you as a couple. What do you want to save for? What are your big or long-term goals? How can you still have fun now?
My current husband and I talk frequently about money. “Too frequently,” he’s told me before, but I know today how important it is to be on the same page around money, and I don’t want another marriage to fail.