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Practice financial fidelity to strengthen your relationship

Last Modified: February 15, 2021

money and relationships

This post was written by Heather Burgette, MBA, employee financial educator, Parkview Health.

According to a recent study, nearly half of all couples keep money secrets from each other. This is problematic because being honest about money is essential to a healthy relationship and a sound financial future. The Journal of Consumer Research defines financial infidelity as “engaging in any financial behavior expected to be disapproved of by one’s romantic partner and intentionally failing to disclose this behavior to them.” Financial infidelity admission rates range between 13% and 22%, with hidden bank accounts (35%), significant credit card debt (23%), unpaid student loans (8%) and bad credit scores (8%) as the most pervasive financial secrets consumers keep from their significant others. While these statistics may seem overwhelming, there are steps you can take, both separately and together, to practice financial fidelity.

On your own
  • Examine your attitudes about money. Developing a positive attitude about money will make it easier to cooperate with your partner. Take a moment to conduct a candid self-evaluation and be willing to make practical improvements. For example, you may decide to shop for groceries more carefully or contribute a little more to your retirement accounts.
  • Seek fulfillment in non-material ways. The more you value your relationships with family and friends while finding fulfillment in other parts of your life, the more likely you'll be to keep money in perspective. Playing with your kids is better therapy than shopping.
  • Try to be more flexible. People tend to feel tense about money because it plays a significant role in determining our life conditions. Be gentle with yourself as you work on making gradual adjustments.
As a couple
  • Discuss your finances early in your relationship. Start by sharing relevant information with your partner about your net worth and spending habits. Remember to discuss your personal beliefs about money as well.
  • Declare amnesty for past errors. Encourage your partner to level with you by focusing on solutions rather than analyzing past events. For example, think about how good you feel when the library declares an absolution month, and you can bring back that book that got "lost" in the trunk of your car last summer.
  • Be respectful of your differences. You and your partner may hold different beliefs about managing money. Most people "inherit" their views about money from their parents or the financial circumstances of their childhood. Despite these differences, you can still work as a team if you strive to negotiate fairly.
  • Agree on how to handle debts. If one of you entered the relationship with past debts, ensure you have a mutually agreeable plan in place to handle the situation. In the future, keep track of how much you owe to keep it from piling up.
  • Save together. Approach saving money as a team. Motivate each other to put money aside for retirement or other goals like college tuition, then praise each other for doing so.
  • Collaborate on major purchases. Many couples find it helpful to set a rough dollar amount for how much they spend before checking in with each other.
  • Run a price check. As you may have noticed, women and men tend to spend money on different things. Head misunderstandings off at the pass with a little education on how much designer handbags and power tools actually cost.
  • Set aside some mad money. Each of you may want to set aside a designated amount each month that you can spend on what you want and in any way you want. She may use her mad money for lunch dates with the girls or weekend garage sale finds. He may use it to take in a baseball game or grab a drink after work with his friends.
  • Take responsibility for your situation. Remember that you are both accountable for the outcomes no matter how you set up your accounts or who handles the paperwork. Keep each other informed all along the way, so there are no surprises.
  • Seek professional advice. The decisions we need to make about money can get complicated and have far-reaching consequences. Talk with a financial planner if you need help understanding insurance or investments. Consider getting a lawyer when it's time to draw up a will. You may even think about couple’s therapy as a way to help defuse major money conflicts.
  • Protect your emotional and economic well-being. Be truthful with your partner about money issues. You'll feel better and even develop greater intimacy with your partner after liberating yourself from any financial secrets you were keeping.
Final thoughts

Lastly, if you're looking for help and unsure where to start, please reach out to a financial professional or contact your Employee Assistance Program if your employer provides these services.