"Telling the truth and making someone cry is better than telling a lie and making someone smile." Paolo Coelho
What is it about money and secrets that keep tripping people up?
Perhaps it’s an avoidance or denial thing, but whatever the cause, as a financial planner, I’ve seen enough relationships fail because of money secrets to last a lifetime.
A couple of years back, a client referred his good friend to me for help. The friend is an MD, a few years out of residency and clearly an intelligent person. But here's what went down.
Married for over 10 years, Mr. MD maintained a separate credit card that his wife knew nothing about. It’s not that he used the card to carry on a secret affair or was hooked on gambling or anything, rather, he used the card for fun; gadgets, mountain bikes, sports equipment and vacations. The card eventually grew to have a $100k credit line.
Since I'm a financial planner and not a therapist, my first reaction was to wonder why, but my first question was how did you use a credit card for over 10 years and keep it a secret from your wife?
A Series of Secrets
Secret #1 - At first he had the statements sent to a private PO box.
Secret #2 - he later had the statements delivered electronically to his private email.
Secret #3 - when his wife questioned how they had extra money for all the new and many purchases, he said it was coming from profits in his stock trading account, which was not true, but since he was the one managing their investments, it was easy for him to get away with that story.
The crap hit the fan when it came time to buy a new home last year. Whether he forgot this debt would show up on his credit report or he was simply unaware, when it was time to apply for a mortgage and purchase the home they both really desired, they were denied.
Secret #4 - because of his now nearly $85,000 secret credit card debt, the mortgage company made approval of the loan conditional based on them paying off the credit card balance. Since that wasn't a possibility, the deal fell through.
Not only did Mr. MD not become my client, but his wife asked for a separation. I can't imagine how crushed she was upon hearing the scope of his money secrets.
Honesty is Always the Best Policy
This true story is but one of many situations that get people into hot water. Some have dubbed this behavior ‘financial infidelity’, for people on the receiving end it is a devastating betrayal of trust. And like all other betrayals, it’s important to note that men and women are equal offenders.
The problem with money and secrecy is that once you get started, the lies have a snowball effect. Many times, these are ingrained behaviors we have been carrying around with us since childhood. It’s an unhealthy aspect of our relationship with money that usually stays hidden in the shadow but needs to come out into the bright sunlight in order for it to change. Only when you confront yourself on this issue will you be able to modify your behavior.
Our Relationship With Money
At the end of the day, there are multiple ways we can sabotage our relationship with money. By keeping a secret bank account, a secret credit card or secretly offering a relative a loan - we manage to harm ourselves and our spouse or partner in unimaginable and often un-repairable ways.
Coming clean, both to our partner/spouse and to ourselves is vital to achieving sustainable and personal financial success. These secrets are burdens we carry around that weigh heavy on our souls and constrict instead of expand our financial integrity. The more secrets, the heavier the burden to carry and the more explosive to your relationship the revelations will eventually be.
Underneath the surface of these secrets you’ll very often find shame and blame. Both are disempowering emotions that get you nowhere fast. A more powerful and positive emotion would be forgiveness, by first forgiving yourself.
Secondly, owning your secret, holding yourself accountable for your actions and coming up with a clear and serious plan of how you will address this problem in the future is also as important.
And finally, if there is someone you cherish and love that you are currently keeping a money secret from, I hope this blog inspires you to fess up and lay your cards on the table. Know that the only way out of this problem is through honesty, radical humility and asking your loved one for forgiveness.
The sooner the better.
Image credit Stevendepolo
Snowball image by Redjar