When we first start dating someone, we’re bound to tell a few white lies. Perhaps you pretend you went out last weekend when you were snuggled up with pizza and Netflix, or you pretend your job is incredibly exciting. Over time, we expect these lies to fade out as we form deep, trusting relationships.
But some truths are harder to share than others. Particularly when it comes to finances.
A UK survey revealed nearly a third of adults ‘had little to no trust’ in their partner when it comes to financial matters. More than a third confessed to ‘twisting the truth’ about their spending habits.
Lying and hiding debt, savings, salary or transactions are all part of financial infidelity – financial behaviour that a partner is likely to disapprove.
In society, conversations around money have the same ick factor as discussions around weight. Research shows many of us worry regularly about income but don’t feel comfortable talking about it with friends. Part of this is due to a fear of judgment and comparison. There is also a worry that conversation around our finances will feel too awkward.
We each have different ideas over what we regard as a high salary. I used to have a friend, *Megan* who was gifted a three-bedroom house in a very affluent area of London, complete with a car and cash to obtain it. Her lifestyle of designer clothes and luxury with an up-and-coming career screamed good fortune, but she had much bigger ideas for how much wealth she needed.
Another old friend had much less handed to her – she was not one to accumulate life’s luxuries but considered herself wealthy.
As well as our salary ambitions, we also have separate thoughts on where and how our income should be spent. From leisure, investments, travel, dining… it’s easy to see how money can cause friction and complicate our romantic lives. No wonder some of us prefer to keep things hidden.
When should you talk about money in a relationship?
Keeping things hidden doesn’t build long-term commitment – if anything, it leads to arguments, friction and potentially a divorce or break-up. Some experts say you should talk about money before a relationship becomes serious.
This could be as simple as asking, ‘What are your financial goals?’, ‘Do you save monthly?’ and ‘How would you describe your spending habits?’ These types of open questions can give you an idea of how financially compatible you both are.
When incomes begin to mix (living together, travelling, marriage etc.) that’s when conversation usually becomes deeper, and things like salary are discussed.
I believe if you are struggling with huge debt or poor credit card history, this should be mentioned sooner rather than later. We each deserve to know how to plan for our futures and what money issues may restrict our goals.
The urge to commit financial infidelity
Growing up, my mum taught me and my sister to always have our own money. We understood what she meant when she able to buy her own property after divorcing my dad. Our income is personal – there is a sense that regardless of our relationship status, we have a right to guard what we earn and spend it how we choose.
Some of us might have grown up in households where money was scarce or frugally spent. We might have witnessed one parent struggling while the other lived extravagantly. This could encourage us to guard our full income or side-hustle earnings out of a fear of not having enough.
Power can come into it. We may keep finances hidden as part of autonomy – keeping our independence. But mostly, financial infidelity with our partners is based on embarrassment. Whether that’s feeling ashamed of your salary, not being on the same salary level or not wanting to tell your partner about your bad spending habits.
So how should we discuss finances?
Money is a sensitive subject so it’s best to treat it as such. Rather than just asking, ‘How much do you earn?’, you could ask, ‘Are you happy with your career and salary?’. Think about creating a conversation and not putting yourself in an interviewee position.
In the beginning of a relationship, try to avoid making quick judgments. Having worked in luxury retail, I know that owning certain items or visiting luxury restaurants doesn’t mean someone has vast wealth.
A piece on The Guardian advises to set clear money expectations – consider how much you want your finances to merge. If you talk and decide a certain percentage on paying bills and household items, you then have more freedom with choosing how to spend your excess income.
Besides setting expectations, the article advises to set money dates. This could be a brief conversation monthly where you go through spending and savings – ideal if you’re planning to buy a house or have a wedding.
Ultimately, it’s very unlikely that two people will be earning the exact same salary with the same financial attitude. It’s better to be open about your money situation early. Even telling a partner your views on money in a relationship can create healthy lines of communication.
Financial infidelity, like any type of deceit, can break down trust. My advice is to face the issue as soon as possible – it will hopefully lead to a stronger partnership.