Not communicating openly about finance can lead to resentment and bitterness. Picture: Pexels

Infidelity, a word synonymous with cheating and disloyalty, doesn’t only happen within the confines of the bedroom.

Lying to your spouse or partner about how much something cost, lending money (belonging to both of you) to a friend or relative without their knowledge, or being secretive about your income may seem innocuous. However, what you’re actually engaging in has a name: financial infidelity, and the consequences can be incredibly damaging.

What exactly is financial infidelity?

According to Faeeza Khan, the Legal Marketing Specialist at Liberty, “It is when one partner in a committed relationship makes unilateral financial decisions which risks the financial future of both parties. These actions jeopardise the core of the relationship, namely trust and communication.”

There are different ways in which a person can deceive their partner in respect of financial non-disclosure. For example, Khan said, they will not disclose one or more of the following circumstances:

  • total income earned
  • source of income
  • illegal activity to gain wealth
  • credit spend
  • increase indebtedness of joint estate (in community of property marriages)
  • common expenditure
  • actual price of goods purchased
  • actual term of credit
  • actual interest rate given
  • money borrowed from loan sharks
  • indebtedness with drug dealers
  • indebtedness as a result of a gambling addiction
  • supporting one's wider family
  • supporting another partner

What are the crucial steps, with regard to setting boundaries and making agreements, that need to be taken to prevent, and overcome, financial infidelity?

  • Getting married out of community of property. This ensures that your estate is governed by the terms and conditions of your registered antenuptial contract. “Each party has a separate estate and can contract without the consent of the other party and any financial decisions which may have a negative impact will only affect the contracting party and not the spouse,” said Khan.

  • Seek counselling. This aids in uncovering the root of the problem.  Khan said, “Try to obtain a solution; if it is an addiction of some sort, perhaps seek guidance from a professional.”

  • Consider creating an emergency savings fund. “Each party contributes towards it and has access, however both parties consent is required in order to make withdrawals.”

  • Align your financial goals. “The financial path and goals of a couple should be aligned to obtain the common goal  - when this is missing, problems are inevitable,” she said.

  • Before getting married discuss the marital regime options and which one is most suitable for you as a couple.

  • Consider all your options. “Remember that marriage in community of property is a regime whereby all assets and liabilities are shared between spouses, so in order to ensure protection of your assets from your future spouse's financial riskiness, it might be a better option to get married out of community of property,” said Khan.

  • If you are not married, but cohabit, it is important to have a domestic partnership agreement. This is necessary for reducing the possibility related to potential disputes regarding financial assets by clarifying ownership of property during the partnership or provide guidance for dividing property if the decision is made to end the relationship.

How does financial infidelity dissolve relationships?

Rakhi Beekrum, counselling psychologist at the eThekwini Hospital and Heart Centre said, “In order to maintain a healthy relationship, couples need to agree on how they manage their finances within the relationship. Financial secrecy and lack of transparency about finance can lead to overall mistrust in a relationship.”

Not communicating openly about finance can lead to resentment and bitterness. “This is often the case when one party feels that they are contributing more than the other or that the other party spends more on personal (luxury) expenses compared to shared expenses,” said Beekrum.

If the issue remains unspoken about, the resentment will simmer and eventually boil over into other aspects of the relationship. “One may wonder, what else the partner may be hiding from them? Couples can grow apart and feel emotionally distant from each other. Some couples who do now know how to resolve conflict maturely may resort to unhealthy strategies such as hurting their partner in other ways (e.g. deliberating doing things that they know would upset the partner or trying to show them a point),” she said.

Financial infidelity feeds off of secrecy, lies and shame. “With the basis of any healthy relationship being trust, for it to be established and maintained, there needs to be transparency, honesty and open communication,” said Beekrum.