What is financial infidelity in a marriage?

I’ve found that men are the biggest secret shopaholics

There are three main types of financial infidelity: spending money your spouse/partner wouldn’t be comfortable with, secretly carrying debt and keeping a hidden credit card or bank account. I’d venture to guess that you’ve either done this, been a victim of this or know someone who has. It’s that widespread. And in my experience, millennials are the most likely to be hiding something.

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Financial infidelity is a big problem because it’s hard enough to meet your financial goals when you’re pulling in the same direction. It’s almost impossible if you’re engaging in a tug-of-war against each other.

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Secret spending often starts innocently enough. Perhaps one member of the couple gets a little carried away at the mall or with some late-night impulse buying online. But then the secret takes on a life of its own. He or she hides the merchandise, conceals the dollar amount and gets defensive. “Oh this old thing? I’ve had it for months.”

Contrary to the stereotype, I’ve found that men are the biggest secret shopaholics. Many men view money as a form of power, control and influence. This way of thinking can destroy a relationship.

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Money is regularly cited among the primary reasons for divorce. This topic hits millennials especially hard, because they’re more likely to have divorced parents than Gen Xers or boomers. Many millennials remember what happened when mom and dad split up, and as a result they keep a “freedom fund” on the side just in case their own relationship doesn’t work out.

The yours, mine and ours concept can work – but only if both parties agree on the parameters beforehand. I see an increasing number of couples benefiting from this strategy. They each contribute to one account for shared household expenses while maintaining their own pots of money that they can spend no questions asked.

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The key here is communication. You can’t afford to have one partner siphoning off money and spending willy-nilly without the other’s knowledge. But if you and your spouse agree that a certain percentage of each paycheck can go to your respective wishes, then that can be very healthy. Some people resent feeling like they’re subsidizing the other person’s designer clothing, electronics or nights out with friends.

We work hard for that money, right? And there are more two-income households than ever. That’s another reason why I believe millennials are more likely than their elders to commit financial infidelity. Plus, people are getting married later, which leaves more time to establish habits that can be hard to break after you tie the knot. Communication is key, but it’s still possible to effectively manage your money both together and separately.

Ted Rossman is an industry analyst at CreditCards.com.

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