How Financial Planning Can Prevent Financial Infidelity

Jun 13, 2024
Bearded man in a yellow polo holding one finger to his mouth in a

Financial infidelity is a topic that has been getting more and more press in recent years. On the whole, that is a good thing for us. 

 

I have seen firsthand and in the lives of my clients the adverse impacts that financial infidelity can have on an intimate relationship. 

 

Recently, I was interviewed by Betty Lin-Fisher of USA Today about financial infidelity. This topic is near and dear to my heart — I have committed financial infidelity in the past. I found myself committing financial infidelity not because I am a (fill-in-the-blank… whatever is coming to your mind). It’s more complicated than that. 

 

I have seen how accusations of financial infidelity play out in my family’s divorce experiences. I have worked with couples recovering from financial infidelity.  Financial infidelity is linked to many mental health conditions. 

 

This is not a topic that someone grows up aspiring to be an expert in. I certainly didn’t; I wanted to be a firefighter (and I was for a while). 

 

Infidelity is a loaded word. It’s not one we want to be associated with. It ultimately means we have committed a breach of trust. This is also what sets a trap for many who commit various types of infidelity; they don’t know how to find their way out. 

 

The answer might seem obvious and easy: tell the truth. On the surface, that is the solution and the best way forward. 

 

From years of working as a couples therapist and financial planner, I know that it can take some real learning, healing, and growth before we can be honest with ourselves and the person we have lied to. 

 

Here is the real tricky thing — I have yet to see where there wasn’t some contribution to the problem from the other person involved. Please don’t misunderstand me; I am not blaming the victim. Oftentimes, there is a psychological avoidance of the topic of money, or there are criticisms and judgments by the person that feels like that victim that leaves the offending person stuck in their financial decision-making. (Please see the Karpman Drama Triangle for a further discussion of this. This is a great video that explains the topic; I don’t know anything about the coaching program.) 

 

Why is this? 

 

Simply stated, the topic of money can evoke very painful and uncomfortable emotions, distressing sensations in our bodies, and challenges to our sense of self. This combination of experiences can make it very hard to find our way forward as a couple. Underneath and behind these realities are often patterns of insecure attachment and childhood trauma. Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Bruce Perry have a wonderfully accessible book on the topic of attachment and childhood trauma. 



The Role of Financial Planning In Preventing Financial Infidelity

Great financial planning is about so much more than the money. It includes the money and what to do with it, and it challenges clients to become more clear about their financial expectations and desires. 

 

One of the things I hear from clients most often in the Therapy-Informed Financial Planning process is that they appreciate the safe place to talk about their full range of feelings and expectations about money. They know that they will be heard and respected. They also get to see how their partner is heard and respected. 

 

This safe place starts to set a new mental model for couples about what it can be like to talk about money. When I ask the couples I work with about the money conversations they saw in their home, what they describe is anything but a psychologically safe space to talk about money. 

 

It is not a given that couples feel comfortable talking with each other about money. Many couples who love and care for each other deeply do not feel comfortable or safe talking about money. 

 

As we create a safe space to talk about money together, I start to see the financial transparency increase between the couples I work with. For couples who can talk openly and honestly about money, this is a huge gift. It helps them navigate the next unknown of their lives, which is often a new level of income and/or wealth that is unfamiliar to one or both of them. 

 

Challenges can arise due to real and imagined relational experiences that make it difficult to talk about the many dynamics of money. Developing financial transparency between couples helps them feel more empowered to make collaborative financial decisions that honor both their individual and shared desires. 

 

This ability to make shared financial decisions helps prevent financial infidelity. Financial infidelity thrives in an environment where it is not relationally acceptable or safe to talk openly and honestly about your financial needs, wants, and desires. 

 

Fostering the psychologically and relationally safe environment for the couple they start to flush out and re-evaluate their shared visions for the role and rules of money in their lives. 

 

As an example, one husband I worked with held very rigid rules about categorizing expenses for their family spending and would criticize his wife about her spending habits. This led her to open up secret credit cards so that she could spend without his criticism. 

 

Over time and with the help of financial therapy, this couple healed their financial wounds from childhood that led the husband to be controlling with money and the wife to take on secretive financial behaviors. 

 

Why Financial Therapy Becomes Necessary

The reality of financial infidelity is no secret to financial planners. In the process of pulling together clients’ financial picture, we ask about all the financial accounts a couple has. 

 

One of the biggest values of financial planning is helping clients get a clear, comprehensive picture of their financial situation and what that means for their present and future lives. 

 

When we start to ask questions, the financial infidelity gets exposed or it will stop the financial planning process from moving forward. There is a level of financial transparency needed to help a family gain clarity and confidence in the direction of their financial lives. 

 

While financial planners are great at identifying financial solutions for their clients, in most cases they don’t have training in helping couples work through problematic patterns of relating to each other regarding money. 

 

This is where a financial therapist can help. Financial therapists have training in understanding people's psychological relationship with money and how to help them when money is a source of psychological and/or relational distress. 

 

There is a wide range of interventions and exercises financial therapists use to facilitate the couple’s process of healing and restoring relational and financial trust. 

 

How To Find The Right Help

Finding the right help for you is essential both in the prevention of financial infidelity and recovery from it. 

 

The truth of the matter is that at times, I have felt very uncomfortable talking with my wife about our financial reality. There were places where we were pretty strong, like how much to spend on childcare, housing, eating out, and groceries. Where it got more challenging was around our different desires for the pacing of saving for our future, the starting of businesses, and that one of us makes more than the other. 

 

This is why I have dedicated my career to combining couples therapy and financial planning. Both professions have valuable knowledge, skills, and abilities to offer families, but they also have some major blind spots. As I sought help for my money dilemmas, I felt that neither profession really got where I was coming from or offered holistic guidance and support. 

 

The field of financial therapy is supported by the Financial Therapy Association. The number of trained financial therapists is continuing to grow. You may also come across terms like behavioral finance, which is a fascinating field of study and research. However, it will not likely help you to navigate or prevent financial infidelity as it is more focused on investor behavior and psychological biases. 

 

By engaging in the Therapy-Informed Financial Planning™ process, you will be working with a professional who understands and knows how to work with couples around their individual and shared relationship with money. 

 

To learn more about how Therapy-Informed Financial Planning™ can help you prevent or recover from financial infidelity, let’s schedule a time to talk. 

 

Wishing You Healthy Love and Money,
Ed Coambs

MBA, MA, MS, CFP®, CFT-I™, LMFT

 

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