My neighbor, a lawyer, has been working longer hours than usual, and his wife is angry. “She tells me I’m not getting paid enough to put in the hours I’m putting in,” he told me. “I’ve stopped talking to her about what I’m making.”
As work expectations and time demands have risen, financial communication between couples has declined to the point where partners often don’t talk to each other about what they earn, spend — or stashes away.
A June 2015 study by Fidelity Investments found that 72 percent of the couples surveyed believed they communicate well. But four in 10 of the pairs didn’t know how much their partner earned, and one in five admitted to hiding some of their finances from their significant other.
“For some couples, money can be a taboo topic like politics,” says Jeff Motske, a financial advisor with Trilogy Financial and author of A Couple’s Guide to Financial Compatibility. “They are uncomfortable talking to each other about finances.”
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Stressful work situations are notorious for driving a wedge between couples who disagree over how long a significant other should go without a raise, how much money a spouse should pour into a fledgling business, or how much time a person should spend at work considering the size of the paycheck he or she brings home. “Often, if they are working hard and not getting anywhere, they don’t want to talk about it with their spouse,” Motske says. “To maintain their lifestyle, they might even take on debt and hide it.”
Most of us in relationships realize is not easy to be on the same page financially as a partner. Breadwinners, male or female, who often work at an insane pace tend to feel they have the upper hand in financial decisions. One wife who earns less than her husband told me she resents his control over her spending and hides her purchases.
Indeed, financial infidelity is on the rise with 33 percent of adults admitting to having hidden a purchase, bank account, statement, bill, or cash from their significant other, according to a January 2014 survey conducted for the National Endowment for Financial Education. (That’s up from 31 percent in 2011)
In addition, the dynamics of marriage has changed financial partnership. According to census data people are delaying marriage to an average age of 27. By the time they tie the knot — or marry for a second or third time — women and men have established their own accounts as well as debt and credit. Often, they don’t want to answer to their spouse how they spend their splurge money.
Married for 12 years, Matt Pack, owner of Primal Fit Miami, a personal training facility, says he has doesn’t know precisely how much his wife Grace, a corporate lawyer, earns, nor does he share his earnings with her. They each have certain bills they pay for the household and for their 6-year-old daughter, and they both chip in to pay debt. “If my wife wants to by an expensive purse or those red-bottom shoes, she can buy them. She works her butt off, so she can do whatever she wants,” he said.
Today, being upfront about finances with a spouse doesn’t mean that you have to pool all your money, says relationship expert Sameera Sullivan, owner of the Portland-based matchmaking firm, Lasting Connections: “It’s OK to keep some separate accounts as long as you communicate about it and are truthful.”
One way to boost communication is to establish a financial date night. “Once a month, go out to dinner, have wine and talk. You don’t have to pull out financial statements, just talk about big picture things,” Motske says. “The purpose of a financial date night is to get couples thinking, talking and discussing finances and feeling like a team. It really does work.”
The more you talk about finances, the less likely someone will hide something or become resentful, says Cary Carbonaro, financial planner and author of the Money Queen’s Guide For Women Who Want to Build Wealth and Banish Fear. Carbonaro, whose first marriage ended when her ex-husband kept money secrets, says regardless of who works or earns more, both partners must know what money comes in and goes out. For some couples, working with a financial planner helps, she says.
In many marriages, one partner does most of the bill paying. In Melisa Chantres’ marriage, bill paying is her realm because her husband Carlos, a minor league pitching coach, travels for work six months of the year. Sometimes, her husband will question how much she spends or why she is trading flexibility for less income at work: “He doesn’t see the whole picture, but he does worry about what I’m spending.” While that could cause friction, Chantres says she has no money for splurges or a desire to be anything but transparent. Most important, the couple has a shared goal. “It’s tricky and there are things we disagree on but we talk about it,” she says. “Everything we make goes to our kids.”
Cindy Krischer Goodman writes on work life topics. Connect with her at email@example.com.