Why Smart People Don’t Recognize Financial Infidelity

Financial Infidelity

I have to admit I never recognized the term “financial infidelity” until recently but it does make sense. The expression recognizes the blindness many of us have in relationships to the spending habits of partners and the effect it has on our own finances.

Take the case of a recently widowed or divorced individual who has finally in her or his opinion met the person of her or his dreams.  In all other respects the person is kind and supportive.  It is difficult to believe that, where there has been honesty in other aspects of the relationship  there could be a darker issue to confront which is the issue of money. There are extreme examples of this but, frankly, the person in question might not even recognize there is a problem. Where a favored investment, activity, hobby or relationship has taken control over decision making or where a person has just been habitually careless with paying bills, the issue can come to the fore with catastrophic effect and it can be very unexpected.

What brought this question to my attention initially was a July 2019 article in “Next Avenue,” an excellent web publication mostly for those 50+ but useful for those  younger. The article was titled “Why Smart People Don’t Spot Financial Infidelity in Their Relationships.”

So the question is “why don’t we?” 

One suggestion in the article is “unfortunately people often hand off financial management to a partner when they do not feel confident managing money.”   Reading between the lines you might infer that, if, in a prior relationship whether it ended in divorce or death, your partner handled money issues and you did not develop the confidence or the motivation to become actively involved, you might again pass that job over to your new partner. Another possibility, although not suggested by the article, is that you might regard your relationship in terms of division of responsibility. It could be expressed as something like “he handles the outside bills and investments and I handle the household,” or “my wife always managed the money. She was better at it than I was.”

The article noted that financial infidelity includes among other things, “things like holding secret accounts and taking out credit cards without a partner’s knowledge” and says “it is shockingly common.” I might add that, if your spouse becomes suddenly enamored of a certain stock to the extent of investing most or all of your funds in it or spends a great deal of time trading on line without any real direction or understanding or gambles excessively, these are obviously signs of a potential serious problem.

Here are some tips suggested by the article to combat the possibility of “financial Infidelity.”

            1.  Don’t let go of the financial reins.  While it is noted that “it’s not uncommon for couples (married or not) to combine assets, buy property together or open joint accounts…having one partner be in charge of finances isn’t a problem.  What can cause issues is when the other one doesn’t pay attention to what’s going on with their money…”

             2.  Learn money basics. The article relates “if one partner is more skilled in money management it’s even more important for the other to gain understanding of the basics of investing, debt and financial planning…”  The article notes “There really are no silly questions when it come to personal finance.”

           3.   Don’t be shy. This one is critical. One partner could be reluctant to bring up money and feel it could be interpreted as a lack of trust.  The article notes “Trust isn’t automatic; it’s owned and built between a couple.” It recommends you insist on getting access to all joint accounts and passwords for all of your partner’s accounts and states “financial transparency between partners is imperative.” As an elder law and estates attorney I often see problems where one person handled the funds and dies. The difficulty in locating accounts, investment advisors, passwords and other critical information on death can be a serious problem.

        4.    Take time to read and understand financial documents before signing. Read what you sign and ask questions. If you do not get a satisfactory answer, do not sign.

       5.    Consider having a weekly financial check-in with your partner. Suggestion from me. Dinner out or takeout?      

About the Author Janet Colliton

Esquire, Colliton Law Associates, P.C. Janet Colliton has practiced law for over 38 years, 37 of them in Chester County, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. Her practice, Colliton Law Associates, PC, is limited to elder law, Medicaid, including advice, applications and appeals, and other benefits planning including Veterans benefits, life care and special needs planning, guardianships, retirement, and estate planning and administration.

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