When Financial Infidelity Shakes Up a Marriage
K.S. had transferred Rs. 5 lakh to a cousin’s account to help him with his business, but didn’t inform his wife. “In the beginning, she didn’t have a problem, but when the business didn’t pick up, she asked me to stop giving money. I continued to help him because he promised he’d return it,” he says. A few days ago, K.S.’s cousin came to return a part of the sum he had loaned him. It included the 5 lakh, too. “My wife was around and since she had no idea about it, she was shocked and told me I had betrayed her trust,” K.S. adds.
Their relationship has not been the same since, he says.
“It’s not like I cheated on her with someone else,” he adds. “I gave money in my own family and I know it was a huge amount. I was confused, I had to help my cousin.”
Lying and manipulating accounts, and hiding money or transactions from a partner or spouse with whom you share combined finances, constitutes financial infidelity, experts say. And according to this 2015 Times of India survey, many seem either to be unaware of this as a concept, or are okay engaging with it. While 39 percent of respondents believed it is okay to lie about money in a marriage, another 56 percent said they spent money without telling their spouses. 16 percent of respondents also said it’s only okay not to disclose money matters that involve bigger sums, and 27 percent said they hesitated to have a discussion about money with their partners at all.
However, the same survey revealed that one in 10 respondents agreed that it was a hidden credit card purchase that had played a role in their split with their partners.
“Infidelity, no matter what kind — sexual, romantic or financial — will cause a trust deficit. Discovering the smallest of secrets can feel like big betrayals, and it’ll also make you believe that your partner has been hiding something more, and bigger,” says Dr. Adil Shah, a psychologist with a private practice in Mumbai.
But unlike sexual or romantic infidelity, which is easily identifiable, financial infidelity is more confusing. For those who earn, it boils down to one question: don’t they have control over their own money?
“The one who earns wants to have the freedom to do what they want with their money,” says Dr. Shah, “but there’s a difference between being independent, and [being] secretive about money.”
Take the Iyers for instance: both are employed and share all expenses equally. “From the house rent, to food, to the money we’re supposed to send to each of our homes, we divide it equally and inform the other,” says S., a banker. However, S. says, “If my wife was to send even an amount as small as Rs. 5,000 and not tell me about it, I’ll have a million thoughts in my head, and vice-versa. I’d think about why she hid it from me; have I told her anything in the past about her expenses; is she hiding something else?”
He says that informing each other about finances is not to scoop on the other person; it just helps keep the budget in control and balanced — the other person can make up if one of them has gone overboard. “We never ask each other why we spent an X amount, because we’re independent about our finances, but we don’t want to hide it from one another,” S. adds.
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Being secretive about money can point to more dangerous things, says Dr. Shah. For instance, a partner’s gambling addiction or obsession with expensive things.
“To fulfill these, he or she might resort to illegal means and sometimes, the other partner or family won’t know until there’s a larger problem — for example non-payment of bills or mortgages,” says Dr. Shah. And, any type of infidelity will get someone to think of other types of infidelity — sexual or romantic — from their partner, creating additional distrust even if there’s been no physical or emotional betrayal.
Financial infidelity can often be avoided, though, when red flags are spotted and discussed openly, Dr. Shah says.
“One of the common signs is one partner being flaky about money. Before or after marriage, some lie about their income and salaries, and others hide money matters. Some might get too defensive when talking money,” he says.
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But Dr. Kshama Patel, a marriage counselor from Mumbai, says not all people who engage in financial infidelity do it on purpose. “Some lie about or hide money because they fear being controlled by their spouse, while others may not want to reveal their expenditure out of guilt of having spent too much or lack of trust,” she says. “In some cases, it’s also about reverse expenditure, when one partner wants to prove their financial independence, or get back at something lacking in their relationship.”
No matter the reason, financial infidelity will cause friction — potentially even separation and divorce, says Dr. Patel. “When you hide financial matters from your partner, you’re showing that, on some level, you don’t trust them enough to be honest with them. Sooner or later, the deception is bound to come out, and when it does, your partner won’t trust you, either,” she says. “It will have financial consequences of its own. A few secret purchases may cause your budget to fail at the least.”
It is a breach of trust between the partners, and a key part of recovery is finding a way to restore the trust, says Dr. Patel. “The first step, like in any other conflict, will be to communicate,” says Dr. Shah. “Be open about finances and one step that could work out in resolving things is to work out an agreement with your partner about what is acceptable and what isn’t.”
Ultimately, it boils down to understanding between the couple. “The reason you look at bills and statements together is not so that you can keep a check on each other or don’t trust each other enough. The practice will only restore financial trust, and at least keep you from overshooting the budget.”