Ask Chuck: How to Recover from Financial Infidelity
Some of my closest friends are going through a nasty divorce right now. Apparently, they had both been hiding financial information, credit cards, debt, etc. from each other for a number of years, and the fallout has been detrimental. I’ve heard of more couples experiencing “financial infidelity” lately and it makes me so sad. How can I help my friend and others like them?
Fighting for Fidelity
This saddens me as well. Financial infidelity is, in effect, cheating on a spouse. Learning that both had been deceiving one another had to be particularly difficult for you. But I cannot personally imagine the emotions in discovering one’s own spouse’s deception. Let me give you some facts and then some specific advice.
Financial Infidelity on the Rise
A poll from the National Endowment for Financial Education found that 2 in 5 Americans admit to lying about or withholding money information from their partner. USA Today reports that 15 million people have admitted to hiding financial information from their spouse, and 9 million used to but don’t anymore.
It is a growing problem. The repercussions can be as significant as emotional or sexual infidelity. Financial Family law attorney Steven Mindel says, “More marriages fall apart for financial reasons than for fidelity reasons…marriages are built on trust and anytime you breach the trust of the other party, it damages the relationship. Getting married is like the merging of two enterprises.”
He’s right! Marriage is a relationship that could be described as a “yoke” where two are tied to the same harness, pulling to accomplish a common task. But, it’s more than that, because a yoke can be removed. A marriage is much more like the partnership of the left and right hands of the same person. They are perfectly matched but totally opposite. God says the two become one.
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)
To function properly, a marriage takes both hands working together under a common head. Communication and planning grounded in biblical financial principles are the keys to financial success. Objective and measurable goals grant couples the opportunity to dialogue, encourage one another, and celebrate victories. It is assumed the relationship is built on trust, a currency of greater value than any amount of money.
An interesting insight is found in Jesus’ words regarding the deceitfulness of riches in Matthew 13:22 – As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
Deception dulls spiritual awareness. Guilt causes believers to withdraw from God, making subsequent deceptions easier because less conviction is felt. A pretense of spirituality may remain but the hypocrisy can lead to frustration or overwhelming guilt.
How to Help
Pray and ask God to give you wisdom and discernment and to give you the right words to say. Ask Him to prepare their hearts to receive truth. Go with the hope of restoration.
With an attitude of compassion, seek honesty in the situation. Often, a spouse may lie to avoid conflict or ignore financial problems. Sometimes the truth is withheld because one spouse felt they had no confidence in the other. Maybe they fell into deception out of embarrassment of poor decisions or the inability to provide as expected.
Whatever the motive, confession and forgiveness must take place. A private setting may be the best approach to this. Complete honesty and transparency are essential. Gently point them toward rebuilding a foundation of trust built on the love of God.
Like Solomon said, “Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool.”
God’s way is always best. If they can commit to plan for their future together, trust can be rebuilt. They need to hold each other accountable and find ways to celebrate achievements along the way.
Learning God’s financial principles is the next crucial step. Our MoneyLife Indicator is a free assessment that measures what a person believes about money and how those beliefs are actually put into practice. This is a great tool to get couples on the same page financially and spiritually. In addition, I highly recommend they participate in a financial Bible study, to learn what God says about money. They’ll need to create a budget, where all accounts, debts and responsibilities are discussed openly.
They may need to repair their finances. Christian Credit Counselors help free individuals and families from the burden of credit card debt.
Offense and Defense
With many couples I have counseled, one is better at making or earning the money and one is better at managing or protecting their finances. Ask if they are willing to divide up responsibilities to solve this problem as if they were a sports team. One takes the offense (earning and multiplying the family income) while the other takes the defense (managing the family budget and being sure all the bills are paid). Both will commit to being fully transparent about their accounts and use of funds. In this way, the couple can focus on fighting the problem and not each other. I have seen it work very well in most marriages.
God is more than capable of helping in this situation. Trust Him and praise Him for every step made in restoring this marriage!
My wife and I wrote a book to help couples struggling to get on the same page, Money Problems, Marriage Solutions. It will be a helpful resource to help this couple get reunited.
Originally published on the Christian Post July 27, 2018