Over the course of the 25 years that I have been advising couples about their finances, I've noticed a dramatic change in the role that money plays in their relationships.
Early on, when I met with married couples, I would hear from time to time that our meeting was his way of disclosing to her what they had in savings and investments. In fact, I recall being told that he was hiring me and checking me out to see if he was comfortable with me caring for her as a financial adviser if something happened to him.
It’s really not like that anymore.
What's trending now is not that he needs to disclose money issues to her; instead, it's that both of them haven't disclosed certain financial information to the other—and they’re not planning to do so either.
Some spouses meet with me individually. They have separate plans. They don’t want the other to know what they have in savings and investments. Even when we are doing financial planning for them as a couple, frequently we’re running into new relationship obstacles.
During several meetings recently, I was trying to reconcile year-over-year changes in net worth. Some changes were attributable to returns, some attributable to earnings and spending, but the numbers weren’t adding up. When we asked questions, the room got quiet. On a few occasions one-half of the couple came back to me privately to confess a role in the money discrepancy. The reasons ranged from shopaholic tendencies to supporting another family on the side.
Some people are married in all ways but the money. It’s like an open marriage in which it’s okay for one spouse to spend lavishly while the other one saves for retirement.
I have no problem at all with husbands and wives keeping separate accounts. I have no issue with them having different causes. In fact, I rather enjoyed working with a staunch Democrat married to a staunch Republican who carried on about cancelling out each other’s votes every year. But if you are planning a life together and money is a means to support that life, you need to get this money conversation on the table, with full disclosure.
I believe that most people still agree that honesty the key to a healthy relationship. But being dishonest about your finances with your partner can hurt your financial well-being and your relationship. Here are some reasons why:
- You're eating away at your self-respect. What you think of yourself is important. Knowing that you are a liar may not sit well with your conscience. You may find yourself to begin sabotaging your own well-being, feeling unworthy.
- You're damaging trust. If you get caught (and you probably will; see #4 below), you will have doubled the damage to your relationship, adding lying to the earlier misstep of an iffy spending decision. If you’ve become a habitual liar, it is extremely difficult to restore a prior level of intimacy.
- You're undermining your financial well-being. If you’ve pooled your money or if you have any shared financial goals, you are almost undoubtedly getting off-track and potentially frustrating your partner or spouse. He or she cannot make a correction, because you're hiding the true problem.
- You're not getting at the root cause. It's likely that you're hiding financial information because you're trying to avoid conflict. Maybe you're lying about something because you know it’s wrong and you want to do it anyway. Maybe you think your spouse will disagree with your actions, even though you believe you’re right. Or maybe your spouse has some major unresolved financial issues you don't want to address. In any case the damage from financial infidelity is likely to spiral until you have a crisis in the relationship.
We’re called to be honest and transparent and to “speak the truth in love.” It certainly can be difficult to come clean with your spouse, but it will get you on the right track financially. It is likely to be worth the discomfort and the risk.
If you’ve been on the receiving end, I encourage you to listen. Then, process, pray and seek counsel if necessary. Ultimately, your part is to forgive. While that may be difficult in some instances, you are ahead of the game when your spouse is willing to share the truth about your finances (or anything else for that matter). A healthy marriage with good communication is part of a great financial plan!
Read next: Why Couples Need to Get Financially Naked
Kristine Hartland, CFP, is the founder and president of Peace Wealth Management, responsible for ensuring that financial planning activities are orderly, systematic, logical and Biblical in order to best serve clients’ needs. Kris has more than 25 years of professional experience in the financial services industry. She serves on the board for the National Christian Foundation of Tampa Bay, and she is a team assistant for Fab 50 Women on the Run.