It’s endless fodder for reality crime shows—especially those leading to the murder of one spouse or another, or that of an extra-marital love interest. Surprise! She’s a compulsive shopper! He has another wife and family in another part of the country! She’s living under a false identity! He’s perpetrating massive securities fraud! While not every act of duplicity in a marriage results in a capital crime being committed, most are murder on healthy relationships. More important, most of them could be avoided if people simply accepted the wisdom of television court Judge Judith Shiendlin of Judge Judy fame: “If it doesn’t make sense, it’s not true.” And in my experience, that goes double if you think you’re falling in love. One of the biggest mistakes people make is to avoid talking about money before entering a marriage or other long-term committed relationship, and often even after doing so. The result: financial issues are a leading factor behind break-ups and divorce. Even more dangerous than failing to talk about money: lying and engaging in, or failing to recognize, financial deceptions. It’s important for you to know the warning signs of financial infidelity, so you can address the issues before it’s too late—or delay, call off or get out of the marriage before further damage is done. Here are common signs of money secrets that kill marriages: One or both spouses are in the dark about their financial histories. You may say what’s in the past should stay there. But that back-tax obligation, child support order, outstanding student loan, home foreclosure or bankruptcy filing from before you tied the knot can and likely will come home to roost on your marriage. Look at it this way: commingling your finances without knowing each others’ financial (including credit) histories is like having unprotected sex without knowing each others’ HIV status. If you’re intimate in every way but financially, that’s a problem. Bills, credit card offers and other mail gets intercepted by one spouse before the other gets to see them. This is nearly always an attempt to hide income, debt, expenses or spending. Another sign: Doing all financial transactions, including spending, online, with no paper trail and no way for a spouse to see or check the accounts. Someone could be hiding a gambling problem, compulsive spending addiction, crazy debt, an extra-marital affair—or absolutely nothing. Or it could be an unhealthy power play, with one partner withholding financial information in order to control the other, or unfairly making one spouse responsible for all the financial obligations of the marriage (and the stress that comes with that) alone. Whatever the reason, marital trust will be at serious risk, if not damaged beyond repair. Hiding or lying about income. Some people understate how much they actually make. Others hide income from other sources, such as a bonus or raise, freelance work, a second job, or gifts from relatives. On the other hand, people may pretend they make more money than they actually do, or even lie about having income when they actually don’t have a job at all. You or your partner may be tempted to lie about your job situation due to shame, or fear that being unemployed may cause a break-up. Some pretend to work, desperately trying to find a new job before their spouses know they’ve lost the old one. In any case, hiding the truth about your income status puts both your household finances as well as your relationship at risk, in part because to maintain the charade you must continue to spend in ways that make no sense based on how much money is actually coming in. All of these issues can create major problems in an otherwise healthy relationship. One or both spouses keep details of their income and expenses secret from each other, budgeting as singles even though their finances are intermingled in the eyes of the law. Failing to work from a combined household budget and to manage finances jointly and openly is a recipe for financial infidelity. Must you have joint banking, credit card and other accounts? Not necessarily. But both of you must be fully aware of all accounts, what’s in them and what’s owed on them. More importantly, you need to be in agreement on what they’re for and how they are to be managed. Income deception is nearly impossible to maintain when both spouses are involved with managing the household budget, which should always be the case. If one of you is always in the dark about when, how and whether expenses are being paid—or worse, even what they are—that’s a problem. Knowing each others financial history is especially important if this is not your first marriage, if you or your spouse have children from other relationships, or if you have assumed legal or fiduciary responsibility for a parent or other relative. That’s because a former spouse, a parent of your child, or some else outside of your marriage could have rights or make decisions that could directly impact your current financial situation—and of course, cause stress, arguments and other threats to peace in your marriage. For example, your spouse needs to know that you co-signed on your mother’s mortgage from you, not from the banker who ran your credit reports and is now rejecting your mortgage application for your own home purchase because of it. Better to get all issues out on the table up front, so that together you can decide how you will handle them and plan accordingly. Ideally, you should do this before you put a ring on it. But if you are already married, you need to come clean about the details of your financial history, information and obligations right away. Remember, a marriage is a financial contract as much as it is an emotional and spiritual one. Lies about money violate the trust necessary to hold a healthy relationship together. Don’t let financial infidelity murder your finances and kill your marriage.
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