How to Save Your Marriage After Financial Infidelity

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

How to Save Your Marriage After Financial Infidelity

Does this sound familiar? You’re out shopping, and something catches your eye. The cost is a little steep, but you know you’re going to get a lot of enjoyment out of this purchase. It’s worth it.  

But then there’s your partner. They probably won’t see the value in your new $180 sunglasses, chic as they may be. So you don’t mention the price tag, and you hope they don’t ask. You may feel totally justified in this — after all, they spent how much on (expensive hobby / frivolous item that brings them joy)? 

If you’ve been here before, you’ve engaged in a degree of financial infidelity — and you’re far from alone. It’s surprisingly common for people to hide purchases, price tags, and even whole lines of credit from their spouses, to the detriment to their relationships and their long-term financial health. 

Serious financial infidelity carries the sting of betrayal and the breaking of trust that sexual infidelity carries, along with real-world financial consequences for both partners. It can be difficult to repair a relationship in the wake of financial infidelity, and many couples need support from a qualified marriage counselor to heal and move forward. 

But I do have some good news for you: There is a proven road to repair after financial infidelity, and this article will tell you all about it. I’ve also recorded an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on this topic. My guest is Meagan T., a marriage and family therapist here at Growing Self, trained by the Federal Reserve in financial counseling for couples. Meagan understands the roots of financial infidelity, how to prevent it, and how to repair the damage it causes. Even if you haven’t run into big problems with financial infidelity in your marriage, I hope you’ll listen to this conversation — this is truly a scenario where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. 

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How to Save Your Marriage After Financial Infidelity

In the wake of financial infidelity, couples need to work through an infidelity healing process together. It can be emotionally difficult, but couples can and do heal from financial infidelity and create stronger, more balanced relationships in the wake of it. 

What Is Financial Infidelity? 

When one partner conceals important financial activity from the other, they’re engaging in financial infidelity. Like sexual infidelity, financial infidelity can destroy trust and leave one partner feeling hurt and betrayed. It can also wreak havoc on your relationship, and your shared financial goals

Financial infidelity comes in all shapes and sizes. It can look like a minor omission (like ‘forgetting’ to mention that you went a bit over-budget booking your vacation), or a major transgression (like draining the kids’ college fund to cover secret credit card bills). 

Examples of Financial Infidelity: 

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  • Not telling your partner about your $80,000 in student debt before getting married. 
  • Putting large purchases on an Amex your spouse doesn’t know about. 
  • Borrowing money in your partner’s name. 
  • Lying to your partner about an item’s price tag. 
  • Stashing large sums of money away without your spouse’s knowledge. 

Financial infidelity is surprisingly common. Over 30 percent of couples say they’ve experienced some level of financial infidelity in their relationship over the past year, either as the secretive spender or the unsuspecting spouse, according to a recent survey from U.S. News and World Report.  

The Reason for Financial Infidelity

Often, financial infidelity starts innocently enough and gradually accelerates into a major problem. It typically stems from a discomfort with open, honest communication about money

Many couples are either fighting about money, or not mentioning it at all, with no periods of healthy communication in between. In this dynamic, each partner’s natural impulse is to avoid conflict and the bad feelings that come along with it, and money is a reliable source of conflict. 

This is a ripe ecosystem for financial infidelity. When couples can’t have comfortable, honest conversations about their finances and how they want to manage money together, hiding things can feel a little too natural. 

The Effects of Financial Infidelity

Financial infidelity can create long-term trust issues, leaving the betrayed partner questioning what else their partner has lied to them about. The betrayed partner often feels angry and deeply hurt, while the partner who engaged in financial infidelity often feels a complicated mix of guilt, shame, and resentment. 

Aside from the emotional consequences, financial infidelity can carry some serious external consequences, depending on the severity, like significant debt, loss of future financial goals, or damaged credit that can follow both partners for decades. 

Given all this, it’s no surprise that couples can struggle to repair their bond, and many wonder whether the best course of action is walking away after infidelity. Repairing trust is a gradual process, but with the right support, couples can heal from financial infidelity.

Preventing Financial Infidelity

Your relationship is less vulnerable to financial infidelity when you have open, honest communication about money, early and often. Discuss your budget, your financial goals, your financial health, as well as your values and your priorities. Start these conversations as soon as you can, and keep them going as your relationship grows. 

By doing so, you’ll lay a foundation of trust and understanding in your relationship. You’ll feel more comfortable being transparent with each other about financial issues in the future, and negotiating financial boundaries together as the need arises. 

How to Save Your Marriage After Financial Infidelity

If you’re dealing with financial infidelity — or emotional infidelity or sexual infidelity, for that matter — you’re dealing with a lot of heavy, difficult emotions, and sometimes those emotions can be too much for your relationship to bear. Many couples need help from a counselor to survive infidelity, and it’s important that they get it. 

Look for a marriage and family therapist with experience in financial counseling for couples. These relationship experts are trained systemic thinkers, who understand relationship dynamics and how to shift them. They can help you heal after financial infidelity, repair trust, and restore love and respect

How to Save Your Marriage After Financial Infidelity: Episode Show Notes

[2:37] What Is Financial Infidelity?

  • Financial infidelity can range from withholding small purchase information to taking out large sums of money and loans in a marriage.
  • Like other forms of infidelity, it carries a sense of betrayal.

[12:01] How To Deal with Financial Infidelity?

  • Have an upfront discussion about your financial situation.
  • Transparency is one of the most important elements in building trust.
  • Be open about the values you grew up with surrounding your financial habits.

[21:02] Signs of Financial Infidelity

  • Feeling fearful of communicating about your purchases.
  • Conflicting financial beliefs, values, and future ideals.

[28:39] The Right Advisor for Financial Infidelity

  • A systemic therapist is an ideal person to resolve financial infidelity in a relationship.
  • Look for an experienced therapist who addresses financial betrayals and infidelity. 

[35:25] How To Be Financially Transparent? 

  • Have regular money meetings with your partner.
  • Support your partner when they make financial mistakes.
  • Transparency cultivates freedom, trust, and closeness in your relationship.

Music in this episode is by Blue in the Face, with their song “Love and Money.”

You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page: Blue in the Face. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to if further questions are prompted.

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How to Save Your Marriage After Financial Infidelity

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: On today’s episode of the podcast, we are covering a topic that so many couples have dealt with at some point in their relationships — and that is financial infidelity. This is not something that is often talked about, but it is a very real situation in the lives of many couples. 

Financial infidelity is a situation where one partner has lied to the other about money, perhaps concealing debt, omitting financial information — things that their partner really should know. It can create a lot of mistrust, betrayal, hurt, anger in a relationship when this happens. Many couples really need a guidance to figure out how to mend this very unique kind of betrayal, and ideally, prevent it from happening in the first place, or certainly in the future. 

To give you some guidance and a good roadmap for what to do if you are dealing with a situation, I have invited my dear friend and colleague, Meagan Terry, to join us on the show today. Meagan is a highly experienced Marriage and Family Therapist on our team here at Growing Self. She is an MFT, supervisor, and trains early career counselors, among other things. She is also trained in financial counseling for couples by the Federal Reserve. She is a true expert on this subject, and she’s here today to share her wisdom with you. 

Thank you, Meagan, for being here.

Meagan T.: Thank you for having me. I’m excited we can have this conversation together.

Lisa: Well, it’s an important conversation because this is common, and there are not many good resources for couples who are dealing with this.

Meagan: It is really common and also unique, which is why I think those resources aren’t out there. Whereas I think we could probably find book after book on sexual infidelity, but not financial infidelity. It is interesting because I was looking at some stats before we started talking today. It was something like over 30% of couples admit that this has been something that’s happened in their relationship. I would guess that many more have experienced it.

Lisa: Well, let’s just start at the beginning. Obviously, many of our listeners are intimately familiar with the experience of financial infidelity, but to both kind of honor and illuminate what they might be going through and create awareness about this topic for others who haven’t lived through it themselves. How would you describe financial infidelity? What are the forms that you have seen it take in your work with couples over the years?

Meagan: There’s a real spectrum of it. I think that it can be as small of a single transaction of maybe purchasing something when you’re out shopping, and withholding that from your partner and not telling them — maybe, what you bought or how much it was — to significant, profound impacts like taking out large sums of money and loans in a marriage, and those loans being in a partner’s name, and having a profound long-term impact on somebody’s finances for the rest of their lives. 

It ranges, and I think that it all stems from this idea of betrayal. When it comes to finances, I always say nobody sits us down in school and says, “This is how you talk about money.” It’s such a rare time to have that education of not just like, “What do you do with your money?” But this is how you can have a healthy relationship with your partner and talk about money. I haven’t met anybody who had experience in their life.

Lisa: I didn’t. 

Meagan: Neither did I.

Lisa: We either fight about money, or we don’t talk about it at all, Meagan. Only two options right there.

Meagan: Could there be a healthy way? I think there is. I think that that’s what’s really led people to struggle so much because they haven’t had this safe platform of talking about, “What’s normal? What’s okay? Is it normal to feel like I’m afraid to tell my partner something about what I’m spending, and how can we give them a space to do that openly?”

Lisa: Well, this is kind of going into that next question that I had for you. Financial infidelity can take many forms. It feels like concealment, it feels like betrayal. Where does it come from? Are you saying that sort of the root of this is people just simply not knowing how to have overt conversations about money? Well, maybe there are a number of reasons why these outcomes can come into being. But where do you think it comes from?

Meagan: My guess is a majority of the smaller infidelities are coming from an inability and a lack of knowledge of how to talk about it, “How do we build trust? How do we start our relationship from the beginning when we’re in a long-term committed relationship? How do we talk about it? If we’re different?” If we’re the same, it’s a lot easier. But if we’re different, what do we do? 

I think on the other end of the spectrum when we have more serious things happening, there’s a lot of power dynamics, “Who has the power in the relationship? What does that mean? How does that impact decisions around money?” Also privilege comes into play as well, “How much privileges one person compared to another bringing into a relationship? How does that privilege impact their access to money? How can that impact the couple’s ability to come together and talk about their needs?”

Lisa: That is so interesting. Can we just dig into the… So there’s the communication piece, certainly, there are differences that are very real we should talk about. But I was not expecting you to talk about power and privilege. Can you give us some examples of what this can look like, and how you’ve seen this come up as part of the cause of financial infidelity?

Meagan: I often think like financial literacy and understanding money, budgeting, and access to money is a privilege. 

Lisa: Like drafting?

Meagan: Absolutely. If you have access to understanding those things and knowing those things, you’re more financially literate. If you have a partner who hasn’t had that experience and isn’t able to understand that, that can cause a real impact in your ability to come together and make some decisions, and feel like there’s equity in the relationship around decision-making. There’s a power differential there.

Lisa: You’re saying that some people by virtue of their life experience or maybe their family of origin come into a relationship with a different understanding of financial literacy, how money works, how you manage it. If their other partner maybe comes from a different class background, or family background, or circumstantial background, and they don’t know the same things, it creates a power differential, a privileged differential around money, is that it? 

Meagan: Yeah.

Lisa: Wow. That’s interesting because I could see how that could very quickly turn into that emotional dynamic that we’re both so familiar with where one person has a spreadsheet and a lot of very well-developed ideas about what we should or shouldn’t be doing with our money. The other person is like, “Stop trying to control me.” Is that where that comes from?

Meagan: It absolutely can. It can also just look like having different values because of different experiences with money growing up. There’s nothing wrong with those differences in values. They’re very important, and they can often provide a couple with a wide breadth of understanding of how to look at decisions and what to do. 

But because of different values around maybe having things feels like very important for someone, or having a full bank account feels very important to someone else. Those are different values, and those can come from different experiences with money and different privileges that they’ve experienced as well. That can create some friction in the relationship.

Lisa: Like just these fundamental, value-based ideas around, “What is the purpose of money?” I mean, basic kinds of… So interesting.

Meagan: There’s a lot of different things that I think can really cause what lands a couple in a place where they are uncovering financial infidelity in the relationship. Part of addressing that is typically going back in time and being able to say, “Okay, maybe we’re uncovering a betrayal here, and how money has been spent.” Or maybe hiding a credit card, or doing something that is withheld from the other partner, so there’s that breach that betrayal. 

But we don’t just look at that in just that incident. We have to go way back in the relationship and understand, “What has trust looked like? What are their backgrounds around money? What are their values associated with that money? What motivated some of this hiding in the relationship? Was it self-preservation? Was it a need for independence? How are they looking at this in the relationship?” Then, we can usually start to understand what impact this is going to have on the couple and how they can start to navigate through the experience.

Lisa: You’re saying that it really requires a sort of like peeling that onion of going back and trying to compassionately understand what was the motivation, what was like the function of the financial infidelity, the hiding of the whatever it was. That can look different for different people. In your experience, are there kind of common themes? What are the usual suspects? Is it somebody feeling…? 

Meagan: Controlled. 

Lisa: Controlled.

Meagan: That’s a very common scenario I see where maybe one partner has a lot of anxiety or maybe more controlling behaviors, and that’s coming from a need to have some stability and consistency of value of maybe needing to save or have certain ways that they’re spending money, which is very understandable. 

But that’s coming across to their partner as they’re being controlled, or restricted, or parented, or like they can’t make their own decisions. Oftentimes, that leads to some hiding, or withdrawing, and pulling out loans or credit cards to feel some of that independence. Probably the most common scenario, I think.

Lisa: I could see that. I’m glad you’re talking about this because I think anytime we use the word “infidelity”, it can be very easy to immediately vilify the partner who has done the betrayal, and create a very negative narrative. Certainly, you’re responsible for your hate behavior no matter what the circumstances are — we all have choices. 

But at the same time, I like the way you’re illuminating kind of the systemic nature of that, that what the couple is sort of creating together is this perception of power and control that the partner who winds up engaging in like hiding behaviors feels like they can’t talk to their partner directly, their priorities, or needs, or feelings aren’t honored or valued. They have to let go around them to get their needs met because they can’t feel heard and understood directly.

Meagan: Lisa, as you’re saying that, I just think of that couple, and how they must feel so disconnected, and how they are really looking at trust in the relationship. They’re saying, “Can I trust you?”, to each other? “Can I trust you to trust me to spend money in an appropriate way? Can I trust you to not be controlling?” 

How can we help that couple come together so that they can see that they have a committed relationship and they’re devoted, and what are things that they can align on so that they can have that emotional intimacy back in the relationship because any time there is that betrayal, or that withholding that couples being pulled apart, they’re disconnected in that experience?

Lisa: I’m guessing that that must be one of the biggest fears that you would have to deal with in the beginning of that work is like, “Okay, so you’re lying to me or concealing things about money, what else are you potentially hiding?” It just calls into question many different facets of trust. Or is it different? Is it usually sort of more localized into just financial mistrust?

Meagan: In my experience, I’ve really only seen it in finances specifically — though, I’m sure there are outliers. It’s similar to sexual infidelity in where, oftentimes, more can come out as it’s discussed, which is very difficult because it’s like, “Oh, yes, there was this one purchase. But Then there were these others too.” Then, there were, “Oh, maybe there was this credit in it that can really build.” 

That’s part of… It can be re-traumatizing in that way for the couple to have to relive some of that coming out. Then, in other cases, it’s more benign, and a misalignment, and differences. What I noticed is it’s very preventable if a couple is able to sit down and say, “Okay, we have to talk about money. We know that this is going to be a part of our relationship. There’s no way to live in this world if it’s not.” And start to have upfront discussions about their financial situation. 

Once they’re in that long-term, committed relationship about money, budgets, goals, dreams, their values, how do they make decisions? What are their habits with money? That way, when they are starting out having some of those conversations, they’re starting to build that trust, they’re going back to that ability to turn towards one another, as Gottman says, as opposed to turning away, and opening up and being able to show each other, “Here’s who I am, this is what I come from. Can we talk about it?” 

Transparency is one of the most important things when it comes to money and building that trust as a couple. Being able to give them that opportunity right from the beginning to talk about it helps build that. The longer it goes on, the more damage it does to the relationship.

Lisa: For sure. I can’t help but thinking of your work right now. I know that you had done a ton of premarital counseling, and you’ve taught our lifetime of love premarital class. Are these topics that couples… Well, I know when they do premarital counseling with you, or anybody on our team, they will be talking about money. 

But how many couples actually get to do this work, or even know that this is a thing worth doing in the beginning of the relationship? Or in your experience, do most couples just kind of raise their hand, and like, “I think we need to talk about money” after they have run into trouble several years. 

Meagan: I think couples are getting a little bit more savvy lately. I think they often think they’re talking about it, but they’re not. 

Lisa: What do you mean?

Meagan: They’re not talking about their values and how they plan to spend their money, or how their habits around it, and how those habits grew out of experiences they had in their childhood or with their families. They’re talking about, “This is how much money I have in my bank account”, “This is how much I like to save every month”, and kind of there. That’s important. That’s a good start, and that’s going to help you build some good habits as a couple. 

But when you’re committing to a relationship for the long-term, having discussions around where are you seeing things going in your future, what would you do if somebody withheld money, Why would that ever occur, what do you need to talk about to make sure it doesn’t occur and the relationship is really important. Those values and that background that you have growing up make a huge impact in those discussions. 

I’ve noticed a lot of couples will come in and say, “Oh, yeah, we talked about money.” Then, I say, “Oh, so you’ve talked about your childhood, and the positive memories you have, and the negative memories.” They often say, “Oh, no. We didn’t talk about that. We just talked about what’s in our bank account right now.”

Lisa: But I mean, that makes so much sense, though. What you were saying at the very beginning of our conversation is that we are not socialized to talk about money, or understand our relationship with money, the meaning of money, the values we have around money. It’s like there’s just this sort of blank spot in everybody’s awareness in a lot of ways. 

So how could you possibly, without some support, be communicating that understanding of yourself to your partner when maybe you don’t even know as a sort of this subconscious broth, or sort of simmering in. I could see how it’s so fundamentally important to not just understand yourself, but understand your partner because as you also said in the beginning, people have very real differences about those things. I think it’s very easy too to kind of, even subconsciously, judge other people’s values, practices, orientation towards money if it’s different from our own.

Meagan: Well, yeah — and for partners to feel like they’re “less than” than their partner who maybe had more privilege and has more financial literacy or understanding around money. There’s nothing wrong. They’re not less than. They didn’t have the same experiences, they didn’t have the privilege of having some of that literacy or education brought to them. 

Oftentimes, when we can talk about that openly, and build some of that equity and connection in the relationship, it feels like a really secure attachment for both partners, and they feel like they can really move forward together. But I think that it can build a lot of different feelings for both partners. 

Lisa: Yeah. Wow. 

Meagan: I often think about it like — we have a culture of avoidance when talking about sex. I think we also have a big culture of avoidance talking about money. Those are two big betrayals that happen in relationships.

Lisa: Definitely. Well, there’s a lot of shame, I think, around money, or secrecy. There’s shame if you feel like you don’t have enough money, but there’s also secrecy if you come from a privileged background where it’s like it’s nobody’s business how much I make.

Meagan: Same effect — shame and avoidance have been a big part of our culture. I think about Brené Brown, and she says, “How do we deal with shame? We have to squash it. We have to talk about it. We have to put it out there.” Yes, exactly. 

Lisa: Okay, you mentioned that couples will often have differences in a relationship as it relates to money. As a result of those differences — not being known or understood at the get-go, a couple that does not have the privilege of coming to visit with you for premarital counseling or doing some like marriage prep work that specifically addresses the deeper issues of finances.

What would you say are some early warning signs that you might be in a relationship dynamic that could be vulnerable to financial infidelity, or that it could even be happening are starting to happen? What would you say are some of the ways that can look early on before it gets…?

Meagan: Small ways of being afraid to tell a partner about a purchase. I’ve noticed that there are sometimes differences around where excess funds should go. For example, during the pandemic, student loans payments were halted. I remember talking with a couple about where should that money go, “Do you have to keep paying? Or should we put it into savings?” Or should you maybe go buy that new bag or shoes that they were really wanting? 

There can be real differences around where that money should go and where that lies in terms of values. When that conflict really lands at an impasse, or there starts to be feelings of resentment or anger around how a partner’s making decisions with their money, then absolutely, there needs to be some support for that partner. 

Sometimes, there can be, I think, incompatibilities where somebody has very strong values around how much debt or lack of debt or anything, and then somebody else really likes to believe in spending more, having more debt — in certain ways of feeling stable within that. That’s probably is going to be a really big red flag and something that is very difficult for that

couple to ever navigate through. 

Lisa: I think even people who are fundamentally very similar in some ways, there are always differences within a relationship — somebody who’s a little bit more of a spender, a little bit more of a saver. But you’re saying that when that gap is too big that sometimes there is not actually the opportunity to build a bridge to the center. It’s just sort of something that needs to be recognized. Is that what you’re saying?

Meagan: If it’s a significant gap, it’s going to be something that is a pervasive issue in the relationship that’s going to probably feel like consistent betrayals. That would be very hard I think for a couple to navigate. There’s never going to be a couple that’s perfectly aligned on every level. We know that all couples have perpetual issues. There is always going to be degrees of difference within this, and that’s good. 

Like I said before, I think some differences in values give this breadth to a couple of creativity and their ability to make decisions. But when that gap is really different, I would be concerned about how they’re going to build the bridge there.

Lisa: Well, I could see especially with money because I think if the values are very different, it starts to impact one’s vision for one’s life. If it’s retirement savings or being able to do certain things later in life, versus being able to have a life worth living for maybe somebody who feels better with spending more as they go. I could see that really starting to take a toll.

Meagan: In those tangible moments, those big life moments. That’s why a lot of the conversations we have are, “What are your hopes, goals, and dreams? What is important to you?” Now, if somebody has a hope to have a big house and nice cars, and another partner says, “Well, I could go for that, but it’s just not like my big dream.” 

We talk about what that difference is, and what would it mean, and what would you have to do to achieve that together as a couple, what sacrifices — are they willing to make, or not willing to make in that process? Oftentimes, a couple tends to align with each other really well. Those are fun conversations. Couples love to talk about their dreams and their goals together.

Lisa: We both want to quit our jobs and live in an RV for a year. To bring this kind of background, I think this has been a really good conversation about just some of those basic pillars of having a healthy financial relationship with your partner. 

But let’s just talk for a second about the situation that I know is all too familiar in your practice where you get a call from a couple who has just — a financial betrayal feels like it just blew a hole in the waterline of their relationship. It feels like a crisis, and it’s like all this stuff is coming out. 

For people who might be listening to this podcast who have experienced that, or who are currently going through it, can you give us some insight or recommendations for how to even think about trying to repair this, or maybe even situations where it’s actually not repairable?

Meagan: Well, in thinking to try and repair it, the first step is you’re going to need help. You’re going to need somebody to sit there with you and help you sift through that, and there’s a process to that. There’s ways that we can help understand what happened, why it happened, and what we need to do to start to heal and repair if they’re ready to do that and want to move in that direction. 

If it’s been irreparable harm and is on that other end of the spectrum that’s very damaging with long-term impacts, and typically a couple, is it working in our office at that point, and they are working in other places? Then, there’s a lot of damage control because infidelity with finances has a long-term impact on somebody’s life. When you’re married, that’s shared. Typically, that debt isn’t just impacting one person, it’s impacting the whole family.

Lisa: How enraging to be cleaning up that mess. Even if you do decide to end the relationship, it’s still your problem for a long time. It’s just enraging.

Meagan: That goes back to that powerlessness and that devastating experience. There’s a lot of support for them. I think emotionally taking care of their mental health, and trying to take it a step at a time to try and pull themselves out of that so they can get stable again.

Lisa: That’s good advice. I’m also glad that you brought up an important point, which is with any kind of infidelity, be it sexual infidelity, emotional infidelity, it is extraordinarily difficult — I would even say impossible for couples to figure that out without some kind of support because the emotions are so intense, and they will destroy the type of work that is needed to repair a relationship unless you’re working with somebody who can help you manage those, as you say, kind of crack into…

Anger is such a big part of this. How can you have emotionally intimate vulnerable conversations when you’re in that, “How could you have done that?”, kind of space — and so just to recognize that. Given that, you really need professional help, what advice then would you give to a couple who is trying to figure out where to look for help because I know you and I both know that it can be very difficult to find appropriate help for even relatively basic things. 

Something that you and I often talk about is the fact that most counselors, seeing couples for garden variety relational stuff, do not have specialized training, or experience, or expertise in working with couples, and that can create really non-ideal outcomes. I think the general public doesn’t even understand that if they want to work on their relationship, they should work with an MFT who has specialized training in the modalities that we know work. 

Because most of the time, somebody will show up in the office of a licensed clinical social worker, thinking that they’re there for couples counseling, and they’ll be told to go on a date night or whatever, and it doesn’t help. Then, they think that couples counseling has failed, and their relationship is irredeemable, and they genuinely don’t know that they didn’t know enough to go to a qualified professional. I think that’s a real dark part of our field in general. 

What we’re talking about today, though, Meagan is an even more specialized facet of couples counseling that… I know we work with a lot of MFTs in our practice here at Growing Self. I know that you have, so graciously, conducted a number of trainings for our group on the subject of financial counseling for couples because it’s something that you know so much about. 

I know for a lot of people, even in our group is going through these internal trainings, is really the first time that they’ve gotten specialized training and experience around financial counseling for couples. I just wanted to bring that out because I know that there is somebody dealing with a situation — they need help. But where would you even look? Are there things to ask?

Meagan: The other day I was asked, “Who should I go see for —  my husband and I are struggling. Who should we go look for?” I said, “You always want to look for a systemic therapist.” They’re like, “What is that?” When we think about infidelity, financial infidelity — we’ve been talking about, Lisa — this is a systemic issue in a relationship. This isn’t in a vacuum. This goes back to values, this goes back to identity, this goes back to financial implications, the family, it’s trust, loyalty, what does the commitment mean? 

You have to work with someone. I would say step one is find a systemic therapist. A systemic therapist is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist — somebody who’s trained in that system’s thinking. Then, also look for somebody who actually has experience working with couples and talking about money. They need to have that comfort with talking about money, being able to ask these questions about money, and know that it is a longer process, that it is not something that is going to be resolved within six sessions. 

This is something that takes a while to address. That reminds me that many couples who are talking about money need to talk about it throughout their relationship. It’s not just that premarital times, it’s about — values change throughout our lives, and we shift just like income changes throughout our lives often. How can we continue to have that conversation? It takes a really long time to understand that and continue to build that trust as a couple just as it would going through the therapy process to address any betrayals or infidelity, so that recurs. It’s going to take a while.

Lisa: To be looking for an MFT, that systems-minded person, somebody who is competent, and comfortable, and experienced in working with couples around financial aspects. But also I want to highlight what you’re saying, but you didn’t say this out loud. But it’s like, on a very deep level is where we need to go to really create healing, and growth, and change in a financial relationship because I think that even some, coming out of my air quotes, again — “the financial people”, their answers, in my experience, tend to be quite behavioral. 

“We need to create a budget. We need to create separate checking accounts.” There are very specific do’s and don’ts related to financial practices — and I did not hear you talk about any of that in our conversations. 

Meagan: It has nothing to do with that, and more to do with respect, loyalty, and emotional intimacy, and a relationship, and how to repair those so that the fidelity in the relationship is strong. Sometimes, through that process for a couple, it is being able to build evidence of trust. A partner may ask to see bank accounts, may want to track spending, so that they can feel that trust built, and have evidence of those behaviors. 

But building a budget with a couple is not going to address a financial infidelity. It’s going to leave them feeling confused. The deep pain of the betrayal isn’t being addressed and the ways that they need to heal.

Lisa: I’m so glad we’re talking about this because I think people need to hear this important message from you because we just don’t talk about this enough, and so many couples are struggling with it. If you go see a financial planner, they’ll be like, “Okay, let’s bring in the three months of expenses, and let’s build a budget.” 

Before I let you go — this has been such a wonderful conversation. I hear that like, at the beginning of the relationship. It’s important to have very deep meaningful conversations.There is a path of repair many times when things are starting to go sideways, and that financial infidelity is really a symptom of many things, but fundamentally, lack of alignment, emotional safety, understanding of each other, and that there is a path to repairing that. 

Can you say a little bit more about, in your experience, when couples are engaging in healthy ways with each other around financial practices, matters, their financial life — what does that look like in your experience when a couple is actually doing this well?

Meagan: There is transparency through — they know their finances, they know what’s happening with their money, and where it’s being spent.

Lisa: Are they sitting down with each other and looking at finances together periodically? 

Meagan: Typically, it starts off with maybe a bigger conversation early in the relationship about, “Here’s my money situation, here’s my credit report.” I always encourage couples that it’s very, very important to show your… It’s such a hot date, right? But put your chips on the table. Let’s not hide anything. Because if we are hiding, it’s going to come out — it always does, and so, can you do that? 

Then, we do money meetings. How do we have a money meeting consistently to the point where we feel like we’re completely on the same page? Then, you space them out. Sometimes, couples are doing these weekly. Sometimes, they’re doing these monthly. Then, after a while, they feel like that trust has been built, they’re in such sync with each other, they know what their spending is, their habits have been established, the trust is strong there. 

There’s consistent communication around money, but it’s maybe not as structured as that money meeting, and those couples are able to say, “Oh, okay, great! We’ve met our goals”, and those goals can be a variety of different things for couples. They’re always different. There’s not one specific set that needs to happen. They feel freedom, and trust, and closeness in the relationship because they’ve been able to establish that. 

There’s those conversations in the beginning, money meetings to establish only through behaviors, supporting each other, coming to each other when mistakes are made — because those happen when you forget to pay a bill or when the credit card expired, and whatever, and talking through those things — and having that established trust with one another. That’s

really good. 

Lisa: That’s wonderful. I’ll also share — there was another idea that you shared with our team when you did a training on this topic that I actually took to heart personally because you were talking about the importance of both people in a relationship having access, and knowing where all the stuff is, knowing where all the passwords are, knowing how to like do different things. I think it’s very easy in a long-term relationship for one person to just sort of naturally take on more of those tasks.

That really resonated with me because I’m more of that person in my own marriage. It was actually after that, like, “Wow, if something happened to me, would Matt know where to — even the logins, and the passwords, and what’s happening.” I really appreciated that, and we haven’t done this. I will take your great advice at some point, but you recommended even switching off sometimes — like who’s in charge of doing the things, like letting your partner manage the practical stuff. I’m working on that part, Meagan.

Meagan: We all are, right? It’s such a great thing to do, and it’s such a good exercise for both people because one partner takes the first six months of the year, and then the other partner takes the other six months of the year. 

It’s a long enough period of time where they’re really getting a deep understanding of, “Where are all the bills? What’s happening with our retirement accounts? How do we do direct deposit?”, any of those things and stuff that always comes up for couples throughout that time like, “Oh, no. The refrigerator broke. We have to get a new one. How do we pay for that?” And talking about that with each other. 

That doesn’t mean the other partner doesn’t know what’s going on. They know everything, there’s still all of that communication, but they then switch. It’s a real tragedy when we have a client who comes in and they were unaware of what’s happening, and maybe something happened to their partner — and they don’t know where the bank accounts are, and they don’t know where to access things or pay the mortgage. 

They’re already dealing with enough stress in that moment to have to deal with that too. It’s really important to be able to have those roles switched, and that one person is always in charge of it. That is something that we work towards when we’re dealing with infidelity — how do we get to the place where we feel confident enough to switch those roles?

Lisa: I could see that being a big victory for couples that have been on this path when they feel comfortable. Well, I’m sure that there’s always some apprehension, but that trust of being able to hand this over you, and “You tell me how we’re doing with our finances.” I would have imagined in your role when that shift happens, you think, “I think our work is done.”

Meagan: Quite a bit of celebrating.

Lisa: That’s good. What a great conversation. Thank you so much, Meagan, just for talking about this very sensitive topic with me today, and just providing so much of your wisdom and experience — both with our practice, but also with our listeners today on the podcast. Thank you.
Meagan: Thank you, Lisa. I always love talking with you.

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