Financial Infidelity and Financial Intimacy

I have recently seen a number of articles on the topic of “financial infidelity” — telling lies about what you spend money on to your spouse or life partner, or keeping secret from him or her your ownership of a hidden stash of assets.

The consensus view is that it is bad because it undermines trust in relationships. I agree. But I think that there is an added harm done by financial infidelity that is not as frequently noted.

Financial Infidelity

Sexual infidelity not only undermines trust in relationships. It also undermines the efforts of those who engage in it of achieving true sexual intimacy with their spouses. It’s the same with financial infidelity. Those engaging in it not only risk seeing harm come to their relationships as a result. They also give up opportunities to achieve growth.

The first way in which financial infidelity robs you of opportunities to achieve greater intimacy is that it makes it possible for you and your spouse to go for long periods of time without sharing with each other how you spend your money.

Say that you keep a budget and that both you and your spouse review it at least once a month. In that event, you always have at least a rough idea what your spouse is spending money on.

That means that you know more about what your spouse is all about as a person. You know more about her weaknesses and you know more about her strengths. You know more about the ways in which she is sharp and you know more about the ways in which she is goofy. You know more about what she fears and you know more about her hopes for the future.

Marshall Crenshaw had a song entitled “What Do You Dream Of?” It was about watching his lover as she slept and wondering what was going through her head at the time. What Marshall Crenshaw needs to do to obtain a good answer to his question is to ask this young lady to put together a budget and to permit him to review it regularly.

Budgets tell all to those who have enough experience with them to know where to look for the insights contained in them.

The second way in which financial infidelity robs you of opportunities to achieve greater intimacy is that it robs you of an opportunity to learn more about yourself.

Financial Intimacy

It’s not just your spouse you need to know well to achieve deeper intimacy. It’s you too. Intimacy takes two, and you are one of the two. It is only by knowing yourself well that you can effectively arrange for the meshing with another that you are seeking when pursuing deeper intimacy.

You don’t know yourself as well as you think you do. We all think we know ourselves well, but our self-knowledge is always to some extent an illusion. To know yourself completely, you would need to be able to stand outside yourself and examine your behavior objectively. It cannot be done. How many of us really are aware of how others see us?

Perfect self-knowledge is not attainable. But you can attain enhanced self-knowledge by refraining from financial infidelity. If you are honest with your spouse about how you spend money, you are going to hear feedback. Sometimes the feedback will surprise you.

It’s when the feedback surprises you that you are learning what others find remarkable about you (in either a good or bad way) that you do not. Knowing that is an aid to achieving enhanced intimacy with your spouse.

The third way in which financial infidelity robs you of opportunities to achieve greater intimacy is that it diminishes the pressure that would otherwise exist for both you and your spouse to develop over time a respect for your differences.

You and your spouse have different personality types. Every personality type has its good points and its bad points. Deep intimacy comes from both of you developing respect for the strengths of the personality type of the other spouse.

If you are honest in your reports to your spouse about how you spend money, there are going to be times when friction develops over the choices you make. Good. Learning comes from friction. Put that friction to constructive use, and you will over time develop not only an understanding of how your spouse is different but also a respect for those differences and an appreciation of how they are in some circumstances a positive.

Your spouse likes to spend money on flowers to put in vases in the house. It’s not a necessary expense. You would rather add the money to the kids’ college fund. Can you come over time to see the benefit of spending money on the flowers?

I am not saying that you should always go along with the money choices your spouse makes. You should not. It might be a better idea to put the money into the kids’ college fund.

My point is that, if you avoid financial infidelity, you will be forced to struggle over your personality differences. Handled properly, that struggle brings a deeper level of intimacy. Have you ever had a fight with your spouse and resolved it and found that all of a sudden you were more turned on by her (or him) than you had been in a long while?

The fourth way in which financial infidelity robs you of opportunities to achieve greater intimacy is that it robs you of a safe way to work through your differences in perspective.

Debt in MarriageI am advocating the use of money discussions to achieve deeper intimacy. You don’t have to rely on money discussions to do this. You could achieve the same effect through discussions of religion or of child rearing or of health matters or of any of a large number of things. You should be having discussions about all those other things, of course. But you know what? Money discussions are safer.

Money discussions are ideal for achieving enhanced intimacy for two reasons.

One, money discussions are significant. How we spend our money determines how we live our lives. So you don’t need to force things to make money questions matter enough to bring intimacy. Money questions always matter.

But, two, they usually don’t matter all that much. Money stuff matters, but indirectly. Talking about money is not like talking about religion or about how to raise the children or things like that. Those discussions can be so intense that they can be intimidating. Money questions are generally not life-and-death questions. So money discussions always matter, but generally do not matter so much as to be too hot to handle.

Money discussions are hard enough to require the struggle needed to reach deeper intimacy, but generally not so hard as to cause upsets that the two of you cannot handle. We all care about money. But there are few of us who make the accumulation of money our highest priority in life.

The fifth way in which financial infidelity robs you of opportunities to achieve greater intimacy is that it robs you of a self-perpetuating line of discussion.

Say that you were to seek to achieve deeper intimacy by talking about a movie. That could work. But if you want to continue the effort the following week, you need to go to another movie. There’s a good chance that the next movie will not be significant enough to achieve the desired effect.

Money discussions are never-ending. If you discuss ways to cut spending through the month of January, come February you are going to need to begin discussing how to invest the money that the January cuts permitted you to save. Somewhere down the road you will need to discuss how to spend the money generated by the investments.

There is no end point to our money desires. So there is no end point to the use of money discussions to bring about deeper intimacy with your spouse. Avoid financial infidelity and learn how to discuss money issues with your spouse constructively, and you will find yourself riding a never-ending wave.

The sixth way in which financial infidelity robs you of opportunities to achieve greater intimacy is that it robs you of a discussion topic that regularly takes you to unexpected places.

Money issues start out being safe issues to discuss for the purpose of achieving deeper intimacy. But they don’t need to stay safe. As soon as you and your spouse begin to feel that the money discussions are getting boring, you can put your foot down on the accelerator and take things to a wilder place.

Say that you are discussing where to take your vacation. It’s between the mountains and the beach. You discuss all sorts of pros and cons. Then, from out of nowhere, your wife says “You know, it would really be great to be able to go to China.”


Fighting Over Money

You didn’t know that about her. You didn’t know she had it in her. Now you do. Forget the financial side for a bit. Explore the non-financial questions that just got brought to the table as a result of the financial talks. She wants to go to China. What does that tell you about her that you didn’t know? What else is there coming from that same place that you didn’t know about her until now?

Money discussions can lead you anywhere at all. Financial infidelity keeps you chained to a boring self-oriented place. Vote no. Infidelity is a bore. It’s deep intimacy that is truly sexy.