Being the best partner — 05 July 2009
Financial secrets are hazardous to a successful marriage

Though most couples understand that money may become a source of marital strife, they spend little time being direct about their monetary preferences and some use financial secrets to solve their personal emotional needs.

Most pre-marital couples discuss their goals and visions for their future. They relish planning their mutual lifestyle, careers, home, children, recreational preferences and even retirement dreams. What many pairs fail to discuss is their past financial history, money management styles or devise a mutual plan for their monetary practices.

Cheryl Broussard, co-author of “What’s Money Got to Do With It? The Ultimate Guide on How to Make Love and Money Work in Your Relationship” states: “Everyone is raised very differently, so we all have our own personal money history, and we are bringing this to the relationship.”

Some people are born “savers”, “spenders” or “balanced money managers”. Their family imprinting of parental values and experiences of success or misfortunes further mold their money management style. Some people are very concerned about having money and others are less interested in this commodity. Unless couples understand and respect each other’s ways and agree about their fiscal plan, they may be setting themselves up for relationship hardship.

How two people share their financial roles and responsibilities may reflect their power and autonomy status. The Hartford and MIT AgeLab study found that 53 percent said that they were equal participants in their financial management and execution of their mutual decisions, while 36 percent of couples studied reported that one spouse is the dominant financial manager. In this group, 17 percent were the “Drivers”, who were the dominant managers of all financial affairs in the family while 19 percent of “Passengers” were either minimally or totally uninvolved.

Money management is often associated with power. When one partner feels unequal to the other, he/she may reclaim control by taking unilateral financial actions such as opening a secret personal account, hiding funds or hording cash.

Other emotions that may create financial secrets include: mistrust, self-protectiveness, fear, shame, addiction or infidelity.

Mistrust about a mate’s spending judgment, may cause a partner to misrepresent the available financial resources or demand supervision of all spending. This tips the balance of equal partnership to a parent/child relationship.

Self-protectiveness and fear of becoming penniless in the event of a relationship breakup compel some spouses to obtain a secret credit card, hide personal earnings or secretly hold title to property as a sole and separate owner.

Over-spenders’ shame contributes to their hiding purchases or lying about their origin. Shopaholics and gamblers rationalize, justify and deceive their mate about their activities and losses. Infidelity, by definition, requires secrecy, lies and manipulations to cover up expenses associated with disloyalty.

Any secretive financial act is a violation of the marital commitment to unity. Financial truthfulness and respectful sharing of all assets are essential to healthy relationship.

• Realize that any financial secret you hold – is counter-productive to a solid marriage.
• Understand that monetary actions that you cannot share with your mate- are likely to be wrong.
• Abstain from holding secrets to preserve “autonomy” or tightly control your mate’s spending. A parent/child relationship dooms marriages.
• Accept that emotions such as: fear, resentments, hurt about inequality, shame, mistrust and self- protectiveness are indicators of a broken connection that separates you from your spouse.
• Battle addictions and infidelity that create lies and secrets that are hazardous to your self-worth and marriage.
• Act as a committed partner and not as a self-serving single person in a married situation.
• Discuss your money secrets with your spouse. Seek professional help in how to present it to your mate or seek couple therapy.
• Free yourself from secrets and lies. Honesty will liberate you as a person and make you an authentic spouse. Openness and sharing will help create the marital connection you both desire.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life.

Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions.

Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column “Relationship Matters” for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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