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FINANCIAL INFIDELITY: What to do if your spouse is breaking the bank

QUESTION:

My wife is hiding purchases from me, which wasn’t a problem until my hours were recently cut at work.  I don’t think an ultimatum will work and I want her to be happy but I also don’t want to go broke and we need to start saving for our kids’ college.  What should I do?

ANSWER:

Research shows that financial infidelity – – defined as making important financial decisions or expenditures without the knowledge or consent of one’s partner – – is real, increasing, and has a devastating impact on a relationship, particularly when combined with a spending or hoarding addiction.

You didn’t mention how you know that your wife is trying to hide what she’s spending, but here are a few signs of potential issues that need to be addressed immediately:

  • Your partner becomes defensive and closed off when asked about finances;
  • Items (including new credit cards) begin appearing;
  • You are removed from a shared credit card or joint bank account;
  • Your spouse handles the finances and bristles when you ask for transparency;
  • Your partner becomes increasingly concerned about your financial status; and/or
  • Cash goes missing (or what you should have is short).

 

More signs and symptoms of financial infidelity can be found in
Ten Red Flags of Financial Infidelity and What You Can Do About It

 

You’re right that ultimatums rarely work and often make the situation worse, but you don’t want to wait to address this important topic so allow me to make some suggestions:

First, resist the temptation to panic.  You might assume the worst when you see a dip in your bank statement, only to find that your partner has made some reasonable investments in a new hobby or necessary items for the house.  Get the information you need to create a complete picture of the habit or pattern before initiating this discussion.

Second, as you conduct this conversation, don’t allow it to dissolve into a blame game.  Keep your eyes on the prize, which means expressing your concern, getting to the bottom of any dishonesty, and committing to a joint effort to set thing right.

Third, order your credit reports to assess how you’re doing and what you need to do to get on track.  Your credit score has a large impact on all kinds of decisions you’ll need to make as a couple during the course of your marriage, so this is an important number to watch and try to increase over time.

Fourth, if you haven’t been seeing them, make sure you have access to all financial and bank statements, whether on paper or online.  Check them frequently and discuss anything that doesn’t look right.

Finally, commit to a budget you both agree to and review it on a regular basis.  Distinguish wants from needs and discuss any disposable income and how it will be used after all your bills are paid and you have set aside what you need to for savings goals like your kids’ college funds.  It may be that your wife just needs to have a sense of control over an amount she can use as she wishes, whether that be $20 or $2000.

You may also be interested in our blog on
Money Matters: What Couples Fight About Most

 

If things get worse and you grow concerned about keeping your home or supporting your children, do whatever is necessary to protect yourself!  Because your spouse’s debts and bad credit can follow you as long as you’re legally married, you may need to take steps to secure your funds by separating or closing your joint accounts and credit cards.

If you’re struggling to resolve your differences or your spouse’s inability to control their spending habits, reach out to us for help.  We’ve worked with many forms of financial infidelity before and seen couples go on to conquer negative money habits and live their dreams!

 

 

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