How To Deal With Financial Infidelity

By on December 21, 2012 No Comments

In our series “Couples and Money” we’ve discussed money fights, setting goals, spenders vs. savers, and how to deal with one spouse not changing.  But what happens when both spouses are presumably agreed on a strategy, but one keeps going off-script and behaving badly?

Every relationship has rules.  Whether these are socially imposed rules like ‘married people don’t sleep with other people’, or rules you’ve agreed upon within your relationship like ‘no posting relationship secrets online’, breaking these rules can and should have serious consequences for the relationship.

Similarly, breaking the money rules within your relationship is cause for some serious conversations and consequences.

Most people wouldn’t view bad spending with true infidelity, but financial infidelity can be just as painful in terms of feelings of betrayal, loss of respect, and promise for the future.

What is Financial Infidelity?

If you and your spouse are on a budget, financial infidelity would be when one of you spends beyond what was agreed on.  This is never a black-and-white issue.  Going over the grocery budget by $50 because you bought some nice cheese when your friends were coming over is a less serious issue than spending next month’s gas bill money on lottery tickets because you ‘had a good feeling’.

Was it An Honest Mistake?

Your partner brings over the laptop and says “I just realized that those clothes I bought yesterday put us over our budget for clothing this month.  Here’s what I was thinking we can do about it…”

Yes, a budget mistake was made, but they’re being upfront about it and offering a solution.  This is not a crisis, just a bump that needs to be smoothed over.

Were They Just Not Paying Attention?

If you’re going over the numbers and realize your partner has overspent by a moderate amount in one of your categories, don’t jump to conclusions.  Bring it up and see what they say.  If every purchase is being tracked on your debit or credit cards, they’re probably not trying to hide anything.

One partner is usually more of a spender, and that person probably had a much harder time getting on-board with the budget in the first place.  It’s common for these people to let things slip from time to time.

Don’t ignore the issue, but don’t blow it out of proportion either.  Sit down and have a conversation about what happened, and where the money will come from to cover the difference.

Don’t be accusatory, as you want the conversation to be constructive for both of you, both to reduce the number of these incidents in the future, and to keep things positive moving forward.

Was This Malicious?

Spending can be a form of rebellion – an act of defiance that one person either doesn’t agree with the budget, or is frustrated about something in the relationship and is acting out in this way.

This is both childish and damaging.  Have a general conversation about your budget and find out if there are any areas where one of you feels their needs are not being met.

It’s common for the ‘saver’ to do most of the budgeting work, and for the ‘spender’ to feel the budget was in some ways imposed on them.  Both of you have an equal vote in the way things work, so discuss your priorities and ensure the budget reflects that.

Is it Really Serious?

Overspending or minor mistakes can be easily fixed.  When it comes to addictions like alcohol, drugs, and gambling, you obviously have much more to deal with than a budget issue.  Sure, the budget might be the catalyst, but don’t try to solve a chemical addiction with budget restraints – it’ll never work and you’ll only get angrier that the problem isn’t being solved.

Your budget is your contract with your partner.  Breaking that contract might be the problem, or it might simply be evidence that there is another problem.

Regardless, this agreement between the two of you should be a cornerstone for your relationship, and when one of you breaks it it needs to be dealt with in a mature, positive, and serious manner.


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