“Secrets, secrets are no fun. Secrets, secrets hurt someone.” -Elizabeth, the exotic dancer -“The Office”, Season 3, Ep.14
Let's continue our journey of exploring financial conflicts in relationships. The above-referenced quote was advice given to the beloved Michael Scott, who is filled with guilt and anxiety after he gets a lap dance at a bachelor party. He is advised that he should disclose the dance to his girlfriend in a melodramatic tone. But is the advice really melodramatic?
I use this example to explore the various shapes of betrayal in relationships and how infidelity intersects in the realm of money. What crosses the line between a fib, a lie, and a betrayal?
A never-mentioned lap dance? A sole drunken kiss barely remembered? Fibbing about your credit card debt by $5K? More importantly, how do you navigate your relationship when your partner’s idea of betrayal looks different from yours?
What do you envision when you hear the words Financial Infidelity?
It is essentially defined as substantial secrecy, deceit, or lying about finances in a relationship. It could be in the form of deliberately overspending after agreeing on a budget with your partner. Perhaps you just had to have that inflatable party sheep for a rainy day. You're welcome in advance for the visual.
Financial cheating can encompass a wide range of behaviors extending to secretly cashing out a 401(k), taking out a second mortgage, a gambling addiction or supporting a secret love child in New Hampshire.
As a clinician, I have discovered that many people avoid conversing about money with their partner until there is no escaping the conversation. Do you really want to wait it out until your partner discovers your over-the-budget monthly subscription to inflatable farm animals on a secret bank account statement? Do you?
Ok, I’ll cool it with the inflatables.
Does financial infidelity differ than having an emotional or physical affair? Essentially the word infidelity equates to a betrayal in the relationship. Must another person necessarily be involved?
Take the following for example:
Scott is married to Jana. Scott has a fun playful “work spouse” who he has flirty lunches with daily for months. Eventually, they begin to text sexy photos and desires outside of work in secret. Scott tells himself it’s innocent and that "this isn’t cheating”. Would his wife see it that way?
Ok now, a scenario with money: Tracey “minimized” her credit card debt to her fiancé. She planned on paying half of it down before the wedding so that the love of her life never had to know!
But with just a couple months before the big day, Tracey has actually added another $2000 onto the balance! If Tracey jumps the broom without disclosing her true debt, is that a betrayal?
What level of financial transparency (or lack of) is healthy in our relationships?
To answer these questions, we have to do some unpacking. We have to uncover the vulnerabilities wrapped up in our individual relationship with money. What are your early memories of money? Do you associate it with conflict, shame, happiness, or abandonment?
The delicate and often overlooked relationship that we have with money develops early in childhood. There is no escaping this. As psychologist and social activist Jean Baker Miller said, "Conflict begins at the moment of birth".
We must recognize our own stories around money and resolve the ones that are not serving us well. Not doing so only delays the overhead combustion from over-packed baggage when we link up with another person. Cathy (from Part I of this blog) forgot her baby in a shoe store for goodness sake!
An interesting thing to note is that we tend to associate conflict around money in a relationship with a lack of money. Keep in mind that financial conflicts come about from all angles. Crisis can arise from the discovery that one spouse makes significantly more than they told you resulting in devastation and confusion.
For example, some subconscious stories swimming around that might impact our behaviors and secrets regarding money might be:
Could he love me if he knows I was born into money? Will she think I’m spoiled? Will he expect me to take care of him and take on all of the financial responsibility? Will he judge me if I want to split the utilities even though I make twice as much as him? Is that wrong of me to even request?
What an “Ah-Ha!” moment it is to recognize an ingrained family narrative around money. You may be walking around with a subconcious story of “You never discuss money with anyone. Not even your spouse”. Whoa.
Perhaps your childhood memories recall that when your parents spoke about money that strife, yelling or tears followed. We must begin with tackling what prevents us from feeling safe enough to have these conversations with our partners!
“HEY!” to the reader who just rolled their eyes!! I know it’s terrifying! How scary is it to “let it all hang out” with your partner? To share your raw fears not knowing how they will respond is vulnerability at its best! But the avoidance of these conversations could essentially be you passing up a level of intimacy that you didn’t know existed.
The secret “habits” that you convince yourself are harmless and insignificant usually hold so much insight and value. To avoid tapping into that insight is a disservice to your growth and the growth of your relationships.
So what’s your relationship like with money? What do you keep hidden in the back of your closet that drips in guilt or shame? What are your first memories of money? What messages did you get from those moments? Most importantly, what comes up for you emotionally as you remember?
When it comes to money, what’s your mistress?