Why financial infidelity is just as bad as cheating on your partner

 Illustration of couple arguing (PHOTO: Getty Images/Gallo Images)
Illustration of couple arguing (PHOTO: Getty Images/Gallo Images)

Dishonesty is dishonesty, no matter which area of your life it applies.

And according to a recent study, lying to your partner about your spending habits can have a deeply damaging effect.

The study found that a third of married people are guilty of “financial infidelity” and hide extravagant purchases from their partner by using cash and getting items delivered in plain packaging.

It found almost 36% of the people surveyed engaged in at least one type of financial infidelity.

“Financial infidelity, which can also involve lending someone money without telling a partner, or hiding how much you earn, is said to be as ‘harmful’ for relationships as cheating,” the report says.

“Among more than 300 married couples, those especially likely to lie about money later reported feeling worse about themselves and less committed to their partner in questionnaires.”  

The study was conducted by four universities, including University College London. They surveyed more than 12 000 bank customers across 13 countries, including the UK.

According to the study, financial infidelity is common and both men and women are equally guilty of it.

“Financial infidelity has the potential to be as harmful to relationship health and longevity as sexual infidelity, as conflicts over money are also a primary reason for divorce,” the study said.

According to Ingrid Artus, a counselling psychologist from Roodepoort, Gauteng, deception typically seems more prominent in relationships where one partner is a saver and debt-avoider while the other is in the habit of spending.

“The spender tries to avoid conflict by hiding their spree, but since truth always has a way of revealing itself, they end up creating more conflict and a breach of trust in the relationship as a result of the deceit.”

Relationship expert Paula Quinsee says most couples don’t intentionally start off hiding their spending or debt from each other.

And sometimes the deception may also stem from their upbringing and how their parents managed their money.

“If partners have different perspectives about money based on their upbringing it can cause conflict and result in partners hiding their money,” she adds.

DebtBusters’ chief operating officer Benay Sager says they often see that impulsive luxury buys are the most common “hidden expenses”.

“People know that their partner or spouse wouldn’t approve since it defeats a joint financial goal that the couple might have or be the cause that they can’t pay for certain other living expenses.

They’re also looking for happiness in those purchases, Sager says, as they’re currently unfulfilled in their lives.

And to keep the peace the overindebted counterpart would rather avoid any conflict and therefore keep the expenses and debt a secret.

He says debt is generally seen as a very personal issue and many people will choose not to disclose theirs when they enter a relationship.

“South Africans are nowhere near ready to disclose their credit score and debt status – contrary to trends in countries such as the United States and the UK, where a ‘good credit score’ has become one of the first personal attributes listed on dating sites,” he tells us.

Artus says financial infidelity can be devastating.

“Trust is a foundational cornerstone in any relationship, and when that breaks down couples may feel that their partners don’t really have their best interests at heart.”

This may result in resentment, anger and hopelessness which causes further difficulty to maintain open communication, Artus says.

“The combination of a lack of trust and financial struggles are some of the main contributing factors for divorce.”

Sager says consumers often feel helpless and feel that they’ve failed themselves or their financial well-being when their debt piles up.

“This affects financial contribution to the household and puts a strain on the other partner who must then step up to cover the shortfall.”

“We’ve seen how financial stress and the reasons around it often lead to conflict between spouses, and even in extreme cases domestic violence,” he tells YOU.

Artus believes it’s best to talk about finances when both parties are calm, rational, teachable and truly value the relationship.

“But in reality, most couples only start the conversation when the relationship is already at tipping point and the trust levels are severely broken.”

She says couples need to be willing to see financial well-being as being in a much better position to create wealth as a team rather than as individuals.

“It’s much more meaningful to start the conversations about finances and values regarding money, spending and saving early on in a relationship. For those intending to get married, these discussions are imperative before they walk down the aisle,” Artus explains.

Quinsee says you shouldn’t have to disclose every penny you spend.

“However, there should be transparency on earnings – who’s paying for what when it comes to household or lifestyle expenses.”

She says you can’t run away from starting that conversation.

“Have a discussion with your partner that requires complete transparency. You may need to do a complete review of your financial situation and seek legal input if necessary,” she adds.

“If couples can’t have this conversation themselves, they may need to seek the help of a professional to assist them with the process.”

Sager says having this conversation will assist in identifying whether an antenuptial agreement will be applicable when getting married, or if a marriage in community of property would be suitable.

“Knowing this allows you to make smarter financial decisions from the get-go, so have these conversations sooner rather than later,” Sager advises.

“If you find yourself in a difficult financial position you shouldn’t intentionally hold on to this information or hide it, as it definitely causes more harm than good once it comes to your loved one’s attention.”

Quinsee says money conversations in the relationship should start early on once it’s progressed to a more serious level such as being mutually exclusive, moving in together and so on. 

However, there are some common signs or red flags to look out for in the beginning stages of a relationship:

• When you go out, notice and observe who pays for what. Does your partner always wait for you to take out your wallet, do you split the bill/go Dutch, do you take turns paying and so on?

• Notice your partner’s spending habits. Are they always shopping for the latest gadgets, fashion or trending items?

• Observe how your partner speaks about money issues, for example savings, investments, managing debt and so on.

• Observe how your partner tips when it comes to restaurants, petrol attendants and so on.