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Financial Infidelity: When Love is Blind to Bad Behaviour

by:
Laurie Campbell

Here’s something to think about in the Valentine’s Day aftermath: The fruits of romance can be sweet, provided that the love that’s shared isn't blind to bad financial behaviour.

Unfortunately, some couples turn a blind eye to each other’s questionable (and sometimes even downright dishonest) financial conduct, which can threaten the very foundation of the relationship. Hidden debt or bankruptcy, running up credit card debt on a shared credit card, or a secret stash of cash—it's all considered financial infidelity, and the behaviour is more widespread than you might think.

One-third of Canadians are victims of financial infidelity.

Credit Canada recently joined forces with the Financial Planning Standards Council (FPSC) to commission a survey that showed more than one-third of Canadians, or 36 percent, are victims of financial infidelity.

Here are some of the survey’s standout findings:

  • 34 percent of those in a relationship keep financial secrets from their current romantic partner.
  • 36 percent of those in a relationship have lied about a financial matter to a partner.
  • Younger adults who are not married, aged 18-54, tend to be victims of financial unfaithfulness.
  • Women and men are equally likely to become victims of financial infidelity (men: 35% vs. women: 37%), keep financial secrets from their partner (men: 35% vs. women: 34%) and lie about a financial matter (36% for both).

Finances can put a lot of stress and strain on relationships.

To put this into perspective, we’re talking about millions of couples across Canada that are hiding some form of financial information from their significant other. Personal finance educator and FPSC’s Consumer Advocate, Kelley Keehn believes that this can have significant repercussions in a relationship.

“Talking about money can be difficult for an individual, but when in a relationship, whatever issues each of them has is exacerbated,” says Keehn. “For example, 50 percent of Canadians are $200 away from not being able to pay their bills and we owe $1.71 for each dollar we bring in. That means we owe a lot more than we’d like to think about, and that can lead to a great deal of stress and strain on a relationship.”

Clean off those rose-coloured glasses.

The courage to face facts, and the ability to be open to forgiveness and solutions once the cat's out of the bag, can make the difference between a happy, healthy relationship or one that is doomed to fail. If one or both people in the relationship are hiding some form of significant financial info from the other, it's really only a matter of time before everything comes to light. And when it does, it might be too late to regain the trust that was lost. In many cases, financial infidelity can cause a relationship to essentially self-destruct.

We are all constantly growing in life, and there may be a lot we don’t know about each other even within the confines of a home. The rose-coloured lenses of romance may need some cleaning from time to time. Otherwise, we leave room for miscommunication at best, and at worst dishonesty and possibly financial abuse.

Here are some tips to help couples combat financial infidelity. Look for the red flags, and take some preventative action. 

Red Flags to Watch Out For:

  • Regular cash withdrawals.
  • Purchases and expenditures that are not accounted for or cannot be explained.
  • Lying about purchases and expenditures to you and/or to others.
  • A change in spending habits or in attitude toward you and money, meant to deflect attention away from themselves.
  • Spending more on themselves and/or others.
  • A change in mail, including statements or promotions from credit cards you don’t normally use, or investment firms you have never dealt with.
  • Less frequent mail from your regular financial services and creditors.
  • Your partner is very concerned about the mail and doesn’t want to let you see it first.

What You Can Do:

  1. No surprises. Have regular discussions with your partner about money, as well as your individual assets and debts, whether in savings, chequing, or credit accounts.
  1. Keep a detailed budget and spending plan. This will help you know exactly how much money is coming in and how much is going out (and on what).
  1. Read the fine print. Do not sign any document without reading it first, and pay special attention to any “mice” type. If you’re not sure what something means, seek advice from a professional or an expert.
  1. Maintain separate accounts. But keep one joint account for all household expenses which each partner contributes to in proportion to their respective income.
  1. Get individual credit cards in your own names. Don’t run the risk of someone else ruining your good credit. Plus, two good individual credit score histories are better than one joint history when you apply for a loan. And if one of you has a blemished credit record, the other's clean record can be an asset.
  1. Speak to a certified credit counsellor. Some non-profit credit counselling agencies can do a free soft inquiry on your credit report to check for any inconsistencies. Couples can also see a credit counsellor for advice on managing money together and setting future goals.

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Topics: Financial Management, Debt, Credit Card Debt, Financial Stress on Relationships

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