Every couple knows that money can play a huge part in a relationship. Whether it’s debt, bad spending habits or a low credit score, money has a way of causing arguments and rifts among couples — especially if one person in the relationship is lying about their financial situation.
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In fact, being secretive about finances is the No. 2 deal-breaker in relationships, found a GOBankingRates survey. But, how can you tell if your significant other is holding a financial secret or lying about money?
“There can be many signs that your partner is lying about money,” said relationship coach Jodi Schuelke. “But these tend to go unnoticed until — or unless — an outside entity points it out — or worse, one partner decides to end the marriage, and it gets discovered during the divorce process.”
1. Your Partner Insists on Having Separate Bank Accounts
Joint bank accounts might not work for every couple, but for some, they offer plenty of useful benefits. For example, being able to hold each other accountable for purchases and staying aligned on shared financial goals are some of the biggest perks of having a joint checking account with your partner.
But if your partner refuses to merge bank accounts and doesn’t explain why they’re so against it, this could be a sign they’re lying about their finances. Perhaps they want full control over their own account so you don’t find out they have a spending problem, are dealing with debt or even something worse.
“If one partner is not involved with the finances, it’s much easier for the other party to lie or hide money, or not pay bills,” Schuelke said.
Have an honest conversation with your partner about sharing bank accounts and even credit cards. They might have valid reasons for not wanting to share money — maybe they don’t trust your spending habits, for example — but you’ll never know until you ask.
2. You Uncover a Secret Bank Account
Let’s say your partner not only insists on having separate bank accounts, but you also come across a bank account in their name that you had no idea about. The worst-case scenario: Your partner has a secret bank account so you never find out how much they’re really earning from their job and how much they’re spending on frivolous things — or other people.
However, don’t jump to conclusions right away. Sure, your significant other might be lying about how many bank accounts they have — but it might be for a good reason.
“You may find a secret bank account that your partner was keeping to buy you a birthday present they didn’t want you to know about,” said April Masini, a relationship expert and author. “When you find a financial secret, calmly ask (your partner about it). Waiting and gabbing with friends and family turns the secret into gossip and creates a festering wound — and you’ll probably pounce on your partner and demand to know why they’re treating you this way.”
3. Random Purchases Pop Up on Your Accounts
If your partner says they don’t have enough money to contribute to household bills or savings, but you notice weird purchases on your bank and credit card accounts, this could be an obvious sign they’re lying about money.
For men, these random purchases “might be a motorcycle, tools and power tools, brand-new golf clubs, guns or hunting equipment, (the) latest cellphone or electronic gadget, etc.,” Schuelke said. “For women, it might be designer purses, a new wardrobe, expensive jewelry, designer shoes, new household décor, designer kid’s clothes, etc.”
To get your partner to stop lying about money and their spending habits, encourage them to share the details without sounding confrontational. It can be tricky, but you have a right to know — especially if that money could have been deposited in the family account.
4. You Notice Sudden Changes to Your Bank Accounts and Passwords
If the bank or credit union calls you to authorize the closure of a joint account, or you find out one of your shared accounts suddenly is out of funds, you might be in the middle of a money scheme coordinated by your significant other. Your partner needs to consult with you first about any major changes to joint accounts.
Also, pay attention to your shared online bank accounts. Hopefully, your partner doesn’t change passwords or make any other major account changes. If “only one party has access to the online accounts, or they’ve recently changed the passwords,” this could be a red flag your significant other is lying about money or keeping a financial secret, Schuelke said.
But what exactly are they lying about or hiding? That’s up to you to find out. Perhaps your partner blew your savings and doesn’t want you to see the transactions. Or, maybe they’re spending money on extramarital affairs and don’t want to leave a trail. The situation might not be as bad as you think, but you owe it to yourself to find out. If you sense something is amiss, confront your partner about the changes you’ve noticed, and let them know the bank has been calling you.
5. You Discover ‘Cash Under the Mattress’
You might not literally uncover cash under your mattress, but if you find out your significant other has been hoarding money you know nothing about, this might be a sign they’re lying about their finances.
Hoarding activities “can be as simple as every time they go to the store and use their debit card, they get smaller amounts of cash back — $10 to $20 — and stash it away, and also toss out the receipt so there’s no paper trail,” Schuelke said.
For all you know, your partner might be hoarding money to pay for something they know you would never approve of or for a big purchase you disagreed with. Or, they might be making other big plans without your knowledge.
If you find the stash of cash or notice things aren’t adding up, talk to your partner about the problem. Be tactful, and ask them if they were saving money to buy something as a surprise for you or the family. And, definitely ask them why they feel they need to hide this from you.
No one wants to be in a relationship with someone who lies about money. But keep this tip from Masini in mind when you’re dating someone or even thinking about getting married:
“If your partner is a chronic liar, don’t expect financial honesty. Financial secrets don’t happen in a vacuum. They happen because of personalities and relationship dynamics. It’s not usually about the money. It’s about feelings.”
How To Overcome Financial Infidelity
If you discover that your partner has been financially unfaithful, you may be tempted to throw in the towel on the relationship. But there are ways to move on from financial infidelity. First, determine why your partner has been dishonest about their finances.
“Financial infidelity happens at all levels,” said Howard Dvorkin, CPA and personal finance expert for Debt.com. “The No. 1 reason for divorce in this country is financial pressures. Fifty percent of all marriages fail, and the No. 1 cause is money. When two folks aren’t being completely transparent with each other, it adds another level of conflict to a marriage or relationship. Typical cases involve compulsive shopping or gambling debts. Sometimes I’ve seen it where it involves infidelity — true infidelity — where one spouse might have a girlfriend on the side or boyfriend on the side, and could siphon funds away from the family.”
Once you figure out the root of the issue, if you determine it’s something you may be able to move past, follow these tips to recover from financial infidelity.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
“If somebody buys a $45 item and didn’t disclose it to the other spouse, so what? But if they bought a $4,500 video system, yeah, that’s probably a problem,” Dvorkin said. “Sometimes financial infidelity just happens because you forget to tell somebody something. You’re not used to reporting back to your significant other or nor do you think you need to.”
If it’s a one-time omission, consider letting it go. But if your partner continues to make even small purchases that they then try to hide, this could be a red flag.
“Unfortunately, small white lies do add up over time, and they do harm when they culminate, so you’ve got to be very careful,” Dvorkin said.
Have Open and Honest Conversations About Finances
Perhaps your partner has been hiding something about their finances simply because they don’t feel comfortable discussing money with you. Start having open and honest conversations about your money situation, spending habits and financial goals so that everything gets put out into the open.
“You need to make a plan together,” Dvorkin said. “Talk about your finances regularly. Review your credit card statements and your bank statements every month together to make sure you’re on the same page. Create financial goals together and achieve them. If you want to buy a house, (talk about) how you’re going to get from point A to point B.”
Issues around money can take time to fix. Be patient and avoid jumping to conclusions as your partner works on improving their financial behaviors.
“Realize that the problem may not go away instantly and be a little lenient,” Dvorkin said. “I’ve seen it where couples have been forthright and honest, and then all of a sudden another bill pops out of nowhere, and the one spouse finds out about the extra bill and says, ‘You lied to me again!’ Bills pop up, and sometimes you forget about bills. Have some patience, and if you have patience and you overcommunicate and you’re overly honest, things will work themselves out.”
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