Money secrets destroy trust. It's not what you're thinking, although being sexually unfaithful to your spouse could certainly create one industrial-strength barrier to financial harmony in a relationship. I'm talking about financial infidelity, which is the subject of many letters I receive.
"Is there any hope for my situation? I have run up more than $75,000 of unsecured debt. My husband doesn't know, and I will never be able to tell him. It takes my entire paycheck just to make the payments on this debt. What can I do? I don't want to file bankruptcy, but I'm beginning to think that's my only way out. Please help me."
While not all financial infidelity is as serious as $75,000 of secret debt, money secrets between partners can grow into barriers of serious proportion. Money secrets destroy trust.
Spouses expect to trust each other - financially, sexually and emotionally. Stealing and dishonesty are things they need to watch for in the outside world, but certainly not within this intimate arrangement known as marriage.
Here is my standard response to letters like this one:
Imagine for a moment that it's not you but your spouse who wrote to me. How do you want me to respond? Shall I tell him to just keep quiet and do the best he can so you never find out? Or would you want me to plead with him to confess with total remorse and a willingness to make things right?
Because financial infidelity is such a pervasive problem these days, I'm going to reveal
Acknowledge. Call this what it is: betrayal and deceit.
Show remorse. Your spouse needs to know that you are truly, sincerely sorry for what you have done. You probably can't apologize often enough. True remorse says, "I was wrong, and I am sorry."
Understand. Remorse doesn't take away the pain, but it does put recovery in motion.
Promise change. If you can honestly say you are now committed to total financial honesty, let your spouse know your plan.
Share details. Your spouse has every right to know the full extent of your financial indiscretions, reassurance that you've stopped as well as your plans for recovery.
Commit yourself fully. One of the keys to financial harmony is mutual respect and accountability. Let your spouse know that you are 100 percent committed to debt-proof living.
Consider counseling. There are times, although rare, that a spending problem signals something much deeper, like addiction or serious depression. This may be a wake-up call that moves you to address underlying issues.
Unresolved anger. Anger is an emotion that masks hurt or fear. Talking, praying and confronting the issues behind the anger are the ways to dissolve it.
Whenever a couple's "trust account" is violated, the choice is to either resolve the issue or let it grow into a major barrier. And if it's standing in the way of an open and deeply honest marriage, it's time to schedule a demolition party.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org or Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630.