Her cheating heart (and the shopping cart)

10:33, Apr 04 2009
Buy bye: money secrets are the death of any relationship.

FINANCIAL ADULTERY is a common fact of life - but we are pretty good at hiding it.

British money writer Simonne Gnessen, co-author of Sheconomics which arrived in bookshops this month, says her experience as a financial coach has convinced her that many couples engage in a deceptive dance around their finances.

Gnessen, who runs UK-based Wise Monkey Financial Coaching business, defines financial adultery as handling money in a way that betrays one's spouse.

Those who are doing it may be unaware of the damage it can do to their relationship and their bank account, Gnessen says.

"Money secrets are the kiss of death for any relationship," and often correlate with high debt and bone-dry bank accounts.

"If you are not happy to manage your finances and share your financial secrets with your partner, that is telling you something.

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"Money is often a barometer of the health of your relationship and money problems are often a symptom of something deeper."

One of the most common financial secrets women keep is having a stash of "running away money" or RAM.

Gnessen describes this as the epitome of financial adultery.

"It is alarming how many women confess to having a stash of RAM," Gnessen says.

Some clients even confessed to stashing money in offshore accounts, a level of extreme secrecy that even Gnessen found surprising.

In many cases, the very existence of RAM money should be ringing warning bells.

"If you have your own RAM hoard, ask yourself what's at the root of it. Is lack of autonomy an issue? Are you protecting yourself in the case of a break-up? Do you resent the fact that your partner controls your spending?"

Squirrelling away money isn't always the answer it appears to be. Gnesson recommends trying to work out the cause of the need for such secrecy and tackle it.

In some cases that action could be as radical as using the running away money to do just that.

Lesser acts of financial infidelity often involve unwise and selfish personal spending.

Burying illicit spending is common.

Gnessen's clients have confessed to many tricks.

Excessive spending on cosmetics, for example, can be concealed in the bill of the weekly supermarket shop. Emotionally, some women find such tricks consoling, as spending "does not seem to count" if it is buried in this way.

She said some can develop quite a talent for fooling themselves.

New clothes can be passed off as old if hubby isn't very attentive, with the wife saying she just hasn't worn them for a long time. Some women have even confessed to getting the kids to lie to their fathers, for example, telling them not to tell their father when they have been out shopping.

"That's an incredibly unhealthy thing because of the messages they are sending," Gnessen says.

There's also spending that is for the satisfaction of one partner but is passed off as for the benefit of the family. Excessive spending on stuff for the kids can come under this category.

That could be spending up on stuff for the baby, when the thrill of the spend is all about the spender.

Another common way is to abuse credit cards in secret.

Some women amass crippling debts this way, says Gnessen, and reach a point where they can no longer keep juggling, and have to confess.

Some will come to Gnessen and work secretly to reduce their debts before confessing. They see that as a means of making amends and showing they are sorry in a bid to reduce the anger of their spouses.

She gives the example of "Jo", a client who turned out to be one of the 40-odd percent of British women who hide the extent of their personal debt from their partners.

"She had even managed to keep her husband of 15 years in the dark."

Jo was horrified at the idea of confessing to her husband, whom she felt sure would lose a lot of respect for her. It turned out he had an inkling of what had happened and had turned a blind eye to the signs that Jo was spending too freely.

The case showed something important, Gnessen says.

"Although we feel pathetic owning up to messy finances, we don't suddenly become a lesser being in the eyes of others. We may even become more human in their eyes and, generally, they will be empathetic and caring."

For some, financial adultery is bare-faced. It could involve depriving the family of funding for the ordinary needs of life in order to overspend on a luxury.

An example of this could be men blowing a fortune by continually updating their car. Though there's nothing illicit about it, it is a betrayal nonetheless.

Financial infidelity can stem from imbalances in a relationship and is not necessarily an indicator of a selfish person.

Perhaps one partner is overbearing and controlling of the finances. Perhaps one refuses to get involved, as was the case with Gnessen's own father when he was widowed, Gnessen realised her dad had never in his married life written a cheque, let alone paid a bill. One may have a neurotic compulsion to gamble or shop excessively.

One may share their entire salary, while the other keeps some back.

Getting beyond financial adultery means addressing root causes.

In most it involves facing up to your problems and solving them. In some cases that can be as simple as turning the TV off and taking it in turns to talk and listen. Gnessen says it is amazing how many people try to discuss important things with one eye on the TV.

"There's a large proportion of couples who do not talk openly about money. I regularly facilitate discussions between husbands and wives," she says.

Trying to listen and not be instantly judgemental is a big challenge for many couples.

Often though, her work is about preparing one partner, usually the woman, to engage in discussions with their partner.

Often money secrets go right back to the start of a relationship. Early on we're not good at talking about money. It seems somehow rude.

But Gnessen says it's ludicrous to think that attitudes to money are less important than sharing a sense of humour, wanting to start a family or being good in bed.

Some tips for creating long-lasting financial harmony, are:

* Agree a fair way for salaries to be divvied up, perhaps using a joint account for expenses, with a set amount each month, and separate accounts for personal use. Make sure you are clear on what the joint account can be used for.
* Review the situation regularly to ensure both are comfortable with the way it is working.
* If either partner isn't happy, accept that there's something wrong and work to fix it. Do not attempt to argue your partner into submission. 

Sunday Star Times