Ten Financial Things Your Spouse May Not Disclose

While reading the article by Catey Hill for Marketwatch below, I confess that I associated with item number four and know others that have experienced many other items on the list.  I worked for a man 25 years ago that shared with me that one secret to marital bliss was the way he and his wife managed their money.  They sat down together and agreed on their short, medium, and long term financial goals.  They funded their retirement accounts and then the remaining income was deposited in their joint checking account where all household bills were paid.  They made their agreed upon savings deposit and the remainder was split 50/50 between the couple.  They were then free to do what they wanted with their respective half of the discretionary pie.  Sounded brilliant to me!  My husband and I do the same and find that it does indeed work very well.  I personally cannot conceive of spending any more on tools than I absolutely have to, but my husband thinks they are really cool and is forever adding to his collection.  At the same time, I am sure he thinks my clothing costs are sometimes absurd.  Regardless, there is no argument because he is spending “his” money and I am spending “mine”.   How about you?  Do you relate to any of the items on Ms. Hill’s list?

1. “I spend more on my lover than I do on you.  Total Valentine’s Day spending is expected to hit a record high — $18.9 billion — this year, according to the National Retail Federation, with Americans who celebrate the holiday saying they plan to spend nearly $97 apiece on gifts for their spouse or significant other. While that sounds sweet, there’s unfortunately a flip side: Plenty of spouses will be spending a little bit more on the sly.

About 15% of married Americans admit they’ve had an extramarital affair — a rate that’s stayed relatively steady for the past couple of decades — according to the General Social Survey, which tracks extramarital affairs. And not only are married couples cheating, they’re spending a lot on their lovers.

If your hubby’s got a mistress, he’s likely to spend $125 on her holiday gift, compared with just $60 on yours, according to a survey of more than 140,000 users of AshleyMadison.com, a matchmaking site for married individuals looking for affairs. For their part, women are less likely to buy pricey gifts for their lovers, as they tend to be more cautious about leaving behind evidence of their affair, says AshleyMadison.com CEO Noel Biderman.

2. “I have a secret bank account.”  Think only the Bernie Madoffs of the world keep secret bank accounts? Think again. Six percent of Americans who live with a spouse or partner — or roughly seven million people in all — keep a checking or savings account or credit card secret from the other person, according to a 2015 survey from CreditCards.com.

For some, the reasons for this secret account can be innocent enough: Perhaps the account holder opened it before they were married and haven’t gotten around to closing it yet. But others’ intentions are more nefarious. Married people sometimes “like to keep secret bank accounts in the event of divorce, or to pursue expensive hobbies and other interests,” says Tina Tessina, a psychotherapist based in Long Beach, Calif. and author of “Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage.” While Tessina says this tends to be more common with men — who may secretly spend on habits like gambling or drugs — women also keep secret stashes of money for things like gifts for the children, going out with friends or shopping for accessories for themselves and the home, she says.

3. “I have an ‘office spouse’ I adore.”  She remembers your birthday, she knows you like Thai on Tuesdays, she even knows about the marital troubles your parents are having. But here’s the catch — she’s not your wife. About one in three business professionals has an “office spouse” — a colleague he or she is close to, but in a platonic way, according to a survey by career site Vault.com. “The role it serves is to give the working partners someone with whom they can share office secrets, exchange support and be companions on the job,” says Tessina.

Often, the relationships are completely harmless, especially when individuals are open about it with their spouses. But other times, it can be the source of immense jealousy for a partner, especially if he or she thinks the spouse is sharing too much with a co-worker, says psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, author of “Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness.” For women, it may be even worse: A study published in 2010 in the journal Psychological Science found that although both sexes experience jealousy over emotional infidelity, women tend to view it as an even worse betrayal than sexual infidelity. 

4. “I’m going to pretend I never bought that (or at least lie about what it cost).”  For decades, Wilmington, N.C., resident Syble Solomon — now an educator who helps people deal with financial issues — kept many purchases a secret from her husband or misled him about what they cost. When Solomon would buy a new blouse, she’d often hide it in her dresser for weeks. If her husband asked about it when she finally wore it, she’d often say she’d “had it forever.” “When I was growing up, my mom would always tell me after we went shopping: ‘Don’t tell your father.’ Without realizing it, I got the message, and here I was 40 years later still ‘not telling,’” she says.

Four in 10 women and three in 10 men admit to hiding purchases from their significant other, according to a 2014 survey from American Express. Often, the motivation is to avoid conflict, experts say, especially if one partner suspects the spouse won’t approve of the item or its cost. But like the impact of a hidden bank account, the results of such lying can be disastrous, both emotionally and financially. Meyer says she has advised multiple clients who felt compelled to file for divorce after discovering a series of secret purchases a spouse had made.

5. “I earn more than you think.”  While some people may inflate their compensation to make themselves seem more attractive, others actually go the other way, by hiding bonus checks or extra pay from a side job. In a 2011 National Endowment for Financial Education/Forbes study, about 10% of married individuals said they had lied to their partner about how much they earned. And younger couples are doing the bulk of the lying: Nearly 25% of people ages 18 to 34 admit to lying to a spouse about money, while just 3% of adults 55 and older do.

Some people lie about their earnings because they like to have a “just-in-case stash of money” that they can use for whatever they want and not have to consult with their spouse about it, says Lombardo. Other people are “afraid that if the spouse knows about the extra money, like a bonus, he or she will spend it,” she says.

6. “I’m jealous of your income.”  Yes, who brings home the bacon really does matter. Men who earn more than their spouse (no matter how much more) report significantly higher career satisfaction than men who earn roughly the same amount as their spouse, according to a 2009 Cornell University study of middle-income couples. Pamela Tolbert, the co-author of the study and a professor of industrial and labor relations and organizational behavior at Cornell, says this may be partially explained by the satisfaction men feel in being able to achieve the traditional role of breadwinner.

On the flip side, men who don’t fit the traditional mold may feel unhappy or act out. “Men can feel disempowered or emasculated when they have to depend on their wives financially,” says Alisa Ruby Bash, a marriage and family therapist based in Los Angeles. “It can feel childlike.” And some of them misbehave: A man whose wife is the sole earner, for example, is five times more likely to cheat on her than a man whose wife earns about the same as him, according to the American Sociological Association.

But the fact that a husband’s satisfaction — or dissatisfaction — comes from comparing himself to his wife’s earnings isn’t likely to be the topic of dinner table conversation, experts say. Some men don’t want to seem like they’re in competition with their wives over earnings. And those who earn less “don’t want to talk about how much less in control they feel knowing they are dependent on their wife,” Bash says. 

7. “I hate being the breadwinner.”  A wife may be open about loving her career, but don’t expect her to be as forthcoming about its effects on her happiness at home. In 1960, just 11% of wives were the sole or primary breadwinners in their households, but by 2011, 40% were, according to a study of households with children under 18 by the Pew Research Center. And while earning a significant chunk of the family’s income gives wives more career satisfaction, it leads to significantly lower family satisfaction, according to the 2009 Cornell study.

Tolbert says this dissatisfaction has its roots in the guilt many women feel when they violate traditional gender roles. Other researchers agree: “Women are likely to feel guilt and shame that they may not have the time or energy to give 100% [to family],” says Bash.

And though wives might complain about the dishes or the growing piles of laundry on the floor, they’re less likely to share with their husbands the familial dissatisfaction that often comes with being the main earner. Many wives “don’t want to emasculate their husband,” Bash says. “It’s easier to keep going, pretend everything is fine, and that they are strong enough to do it all.” 

8. “I married you for your money.”  Some men and women say they are comfortable doing a little gold digging. Two out of three women and half of men said they were “very” or “extremely” willing to marry an average-looking person they liked, as long as he or she had a lot of money, which on average they defined as $1.5 million, according to a survey of more than 1,100 people with incomes ranging from $30,000 to $60,000 people, conducted by wealth research firm Prince & Associates. As men get older, they’re more likely to say they’d marry for money (61% of men in their 40s would, compared with just 41% in their 20s), while women were most likely to make money a primary consideration for a marriage in their 30s.

People make money a major factor in their mating decisions for many reasons, including wanting a sense of security or more freedom, or thinking that having money will boost their self-esteem or self-worth, experts say. And while it’s true that “money can trump other flaws initially…that honeymoon period will end,” says Lombardo.

9. “I’d rather you cheat on me than lie about money.”  What would hurt you more — a spouse who cheated or one who lied about money? Nearly one in four Americans say honesty about money is more important to them than honesty about an affair, according to a survey of nearly 1,800 people conducted by Harris Interactive for Redbook magazine and Lawyers.com. And if you’re on the open-about-money side, prepare to be disappointed, as nearly one in three Americans admit to lying to their spouse about money, according to the NEFE/Forbes study.

Why the big fuss about financial fidelity? Experts say that because money is associated with some very personal emotions, a financial betrayal can be devastating. “Money is so personal — people put their blood, sweat and tears into making it — so this [lying about money] can feel like a complete betrayal of trust,” Lombardo says. Furthermore, the effects of financial infidelity can far exceed feelings of betrayal. These kinds of lies can sometimes be “unforgivable and jeopardize your own credit, future and freedom,” says Bash.

10. “I blew our savings because the saleswoman was beautiful.”  You two may be the happiest married couple in the world, but that doesn’t mean your husband is immune to the powers of a beautiful woman. Men often buy something expensive from a beautiful saleswoman because “this can show that woman that he’s successful,” says Tessina.

Part of this behavior may be driven by emotional immaturity. “He’s acting on his fantasy world, and ignoring the consequences,” says Tessina. But the behavior may also be driven, in part, by biology. In the presence of a beautiful woman, men get a surge of testosterone and take more risks, concludes a study on risk-taking from the University of Queensland in Australia. This behavior most likely offered an advantage in evolution, with men taking risks to show off their health and vigor in a competition for a woman.