Today’s topic is something we’ve seen a lot as we have worked with different couples, and that’s financial infidelity. Couples at the altar generally don’t promise to be completely honest about all financial information from this day forward.
Maybe they should.
Because not being honest about finances can wreck a marriage.
Signs of financial infidelity may be:
- A bank or credit card account concealed from you
- Missing cash in your bank accounts
- Late payments on bills because money is not available
- Financial transactions one spouse is hiding from the other
- Spending $500 or more on a purchase without telling your spouse
The discussion about how much you can spend without talking to your spouse varies by couple. For some couples, it’s $100. For others, it may be $50 or $200. But the real problem isn’t the amount; the real challenge is both spouses being totally open and honest about all financial transactions
If openness about finances is putting your marriage at risk, a good place to start the conversation is by sharing your goals, because a discussion about goals naturally leads to a discussion about finances. (Check out the goals sheet we have at CompassCatholic.org / Resources / Financial Spreadsheets / Financial Goals.
Each of you should separately make a list of ten goals that are truly important to you. What things do you want out of life in the next 5, 10 or 20 years? Don’t worry about what your spouse may be writing, just write down what is most important to you. Then when you each have your list of 10 things, get together and discuss your lists.
Like any couple, you are going to have some shared goals and you’re going to have some personal goals. That’s a good thing—it’s healthy and normal. What’s not healthy is when you allow your personal goals to overtake your joint goals as a couple. By sharing what is important to each of you, as a couple, you can agree to focus your financial efforts on the items that overlap.
As you work through these goals together, you may each discover things you didn’t know. Maybe your spouse has hidden some financial transactions from you. Let’s be honest. We’re all human. We all do things that we regret, usually because we put a very short-term emotion or desire above a long-term plan or goal. If you do discover secrets in this process, you need to forgive your partner’s mistakes. Jesus tells us we must always forgive. In Matthew 18:21-22 we read: “Then Peter approaching asked him, ‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.’” Instead of concentrating on past mistakes, concentrate on how to move forward.
If you and your spouse can’t get through financial differences on your own, you may want to consider marital counseling. It’s a structured system where people can talk about the challenges of their relationship in a non-confrontational environment. For some couples, that can be incredibly helpful as they dig through their challenges. If you’re truly struggling with financial infidelity and the trust in your relationship, counseling will help.
Once you get things back on track, keep them on track by having a weekly “money date.” It may not sound romantic but handling money well as a couple affects every area of your marriage. These weekly money dates are vital because they establish the habit of regular financial conversations when there’s no crisis.
Too many couples don’t even begin a conversation about money unless a problem has surfaced and the panic button has already been pushed. Tension can reach the boiling point in a hurry when blame and defensiveness take over. That’s when it gets personal and hurtful, with a couple in conflict with each other instead of working to resolve the problem.
The weekly money date is something you can do at home by selecting a time to completely focus on your finances.
The first thing to do on a money date is to pray together. Jesus makes this remarkable promise in Matthew 18:19-20, “If two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” When a couple prays together about their finances they invite the God of the universe to be personally involved with how they earn, spend, save and give. They also learn what is important to their spouse.
After praying, review your income and spending to make sure that you both know where you are financially. Do not use this as an opportunity to argue or nag one another! Instead, use it as a time to discover the facts, because couples simply make better decisions when they are both fully aware of their financial situation. In addition to looking at the past week, look at what is coming in the future. Is there a big expense on the horizon that needs to be planned? For example, your money dates in July are a perfect time to discuss back to school expenses.
Your money date should end by celebrating success, no matter how small those successes are. Celebrating financial progress is important because you are more likely to continue your progress if you celebrate along the way.
Too many times when couples think about money or discuss it, they are dealing with problems. Someone is spending too much or not earning enough. Frequently these discussions end in an argument, and the whole experience feels negative.
Married couples will always face financial challenges, but we should balance problem-solving by intentionally creating a culture of prayer, encouragement, gratitude, and celebration.
Financial infidelity can be a very challenging matter to overcome in a marriage. It’s often a core symptom of two people who aren’t communicating well and have different visions for their future, which results in a damaged relationship. Financial infidelity can be overcome, of course, but it requires honest effort from both parties.
Accusations won’t solve the problem, nor will anger. It takes time, trust, communication, and calmness. And it takes a lot of prayer. Moving forward isn’t about “winning” or “losing,” it’s about finding a new direction that works for both of you. In Mark 10:8, we hear the verse about how two will become one flesh.
And that mindset is absolutely required in a marriage—even when it comes to finances.
May God bless your journey.
Listen to the Compass Catholic podcast for more on this topic.
How do you and your spouse stay on the same page about finances?