Financial infidelity is replacing sexual infidelity as a leading cause of relationship breakdowns.
It's when people lie to their partners or deceive them about money, according to leading financial personal trainer, author and principal of financial advisers EnableMe, Hannah McQueen. She says financial infidelity is just as common in New Zealand.
Recent research in the US (a 2016 Harris Poll study for the National Endowment for Financial Education and National Foundation for Credit Counselling) confirmed one in three spouses are guilty of financial infidelity - lying to their partner about what they earn, concealing or understating costs or debt ignored or hidden.
A 2013 study from Kansas University also found arguing about money is the top predictor of divorce, regardless of the couple's income, debt or net worth.
"It's what my grandmother used to say," says McQueen: 'When money worries come in the front door, love tends to fly out the window'.
"As a financial personal trainer for over eight years, I have seen numerous instances of financial infidelity. Clients come to me at different stages of the 'let's come clean to each other' phase.
"One client decided their initial meeting with me was the perfect platform to tell his wife he had incurred $50,000 of debt in the business without her knowing. Another client shared that their combined credit card balances of $57,000 needed to be addressed. In both instances the spouse previously unaware of their financial position was jolted back to reality."
The wife of the first example burst into tears of frustration, anger and embarrassment. McQueen sympathised but also wondered (and asked her), how she could not know?
The husband whose wife had amassed credit card debt was surprised they were going backwards as he assumed there was enough money to get by, when clearly there wasn't.
He asked, somewhat accusatorily, what the money had been spent on.
"I could show him it went on nothing and everything. Stuff. Stuff that they had both enjoyed. The credit card facilitated overspending when they didn't have money in the bank," says McQueen. "He got it. He didn't blame, but he wanted it sorted and definitely didn't want it happening again.
"They are now in control and on track to be mortgage-free in 5 years, which includes the credit card debt."
McQueen says financial infidelity doesn't need to destroy a relationship when both admit they are capable of doing better - and actually do better.
Whilst some client situations are "scandalous" (with undisclosed debts of more than $100,000, most commonly to the IRD), many are simply the result of one person not being in control of their money and choosing not to share this with their partner. They don't want to know what tax or debt they owe, preferring to pretend that not knowing means debt doesn't exist and there is no need to discuss it.
"They hide performance, or the fact they are sinking, in the vain hope things will sort themselves out...They presume (perhaps justifiably) that any involvement of their spouse will be destructive instead of constructive," says McQueen.
The spouse who chooses to 'not ask questions' is often happy to remain in the dark - which she maintains is just as financially destructive.
"I believe the 'hands-off' spouse's disengagement from the finances enabled the overspending to occur in the first place - much like the argument that if 'you had been paying more attention to me, then I wouldn't have strayed'. Both parties are equally to blame," says McQueen.
Many of her older female clients are drawing a line through their relationship citing irreconcilable differences relating to finances: "They are sick of their partner being irresponsible with their finances. They would prefer to halve their income and be entirely responsible for their own financial future than have a disconnected spouse who does not seem to care about the necessary financial goals (like sorting retirement)."
Her advice to clients in this situation is to acknowledge the issue and work on fixing it - "If you are sinking, come clean. If you feel in the dark with your finances, start talking about it. If you feel you can't do this, then involve a qualified third party (not a friend or family member)."
"We get away with saying many things to my clients that if they said to each other would create offense, but hearing it from me is taken on board and actioned."
McQueen says money is complex and emotional; often a sounding board outside the relationship is needed and in many cases the "financial dynamic" is outsourced to their financial personal trainer.
"It's about working together towards a shared goal - not being accountable to your partner. Whether you have been cheated on financially, or are the cheater, this need not define you. But you need a plan to be able to work through the issue in a constructive way.
"Don't let your relationship become a fatality of financial infidelity."
Hannah McQueen is the founding director of EnableMe - Financial Personal Trainers, and author of best-selling self-help books Kill your mortgage and sort retirement, and Perfect Balance: How to Get Ahead Financially and Still Have a Life.